They had seen the man. They had heard his promises.
But not until they shook his hand and looked him in the eye were Dodger season-ticket holders afforded a close encounter with new team owner Frank McCourt.
And the verdict?
McCourt’s first sales pitch was a strike.
“Meeting with him in this very small group, I had a sense that he is sincere about bringing championship baseball back to L.A.,” said Rick Rittner, 54, of Reseda, one of about two dozen fans invited to join McCourt on Friday for an informal luncheon at the Stadium Club at Dodger Stadium.
“I believe him when he says he’s going to put a team on the field that’s more than competitive, of championship caliber year after year. That’s what we deserve. This is L.A. This isn’t Kansas City. We deserve to be in the hunt every year and in the World Series every few years.”
McCourt, who met with the group for more than an hour, said he wanted to share his vision for the team while soliciting feedback. The group discussed everything from nacho cheese (one woman wanted McCourt to bring back a brand no longer used at Dodger Stadium) to the warning track (several fans favored dirt over the rubber-like surface in use).
“I could have sat there with them for the rest of the afternoon, quite frankly,” McCourt said afterward. “I learned a ton from them, and I loved seeing the enthusiasm and the passion for this team. We have a lot to learn, and this is the best way to learn it, from the people who love this team.”
Several season-ticket holders said that although McCourt was short on specifics, especially in terms of his financial plans, he seemed genuinely sincere.
“The main message I received was that he truly cares about baseball and that winning games and winning championships is his first goal,” said Elizabeth Shapiro, 56, of Northridge, a 24-year season-ticket holder.
McCourt and his wife, Jamie, the Dodgers’ new vice chairman, made a point of shaking every season-ticket holder’s hand.
Frank McCourt said he’d told the group that he “wanted them to know first and foremost that I’m a fan, just like them. We’re real people and we really care. This organization, as of yesterday, has a heart and a soul.”
After his address, McCourt took questions on a wide range of topics.
“I was impressed with the fact that he didn’t try to duck anything,” said Tina McCashin, 57, of Pacific Palisades.
“He was as specific as he could be at this point in time,” added Jim McCashin, Tina’s husband. “An analogy he used was, he was jumping on a running freight train trying to get up to speed in an awful short period of time. He’s working hard to make it all come together.”
Rittner said he was less concerned about McCourt than the anemic Dodger offense, which has yet to be upgraded during the off-season.
"[McCourt] said there’s still time,” Rittner said. “Even though spring training starts in three weeks, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the trading season or getting players. I believe [McCourt] is going to go out there and have some surprises for us.”
Bill Bernstein, 51, of Los Angeles said McCourt deserved the benefit of the doubt until further notice.
“He’s saying the right things, and now we have to give him some time,” Bernstein said. “It’s a long process. He’s going to have to spend a good part of next year figuring these things out, some of it by coming to the game and being there himself. But I can’t ever remember Rupert Murdoch being at a game.”