Bernie Sanders tugged at his Brooklyn Dodgers cap. He had already met with manager Dave Roberts, posed for pictures with outfielder Yasiel Puig and watched closer Kenley Jansen throw a bullpen session. Now the senator from Vermont and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination explained why he paid a visit to Camelback Ranch on Sunday.
“My memories of the Dodgers go back a little bit before L.A.,” Sanders said. “We were in Brooklyn. The Dodgers were more than a team. They were a way of life. The team meant the world to the kids of Brooklyn. I’m sure that’s the case now.”
The arrival of Sanders, in town for a rally in Phoenix, broke the tedium of an otherwise sleepy morning. Sanders signed autographs for Dodgers fans as members of the team streamed past. He traipsed behind the batting cages to introduce himself to players like outfielder Andrew Toles and utility man Enrique Hernandez.
Sanders waxed poetic about his affinity for the Dodgers of his childhood. He said he learned how to do math by calculating “the batting averages of Gil Hodges and Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, and the pitching records of Don Newcombe.” He attended high school about 20 minutes from Ebbets Field. Sanders described that group as “a sociological phenomenon” and “just an intrinsic part of my life.”
This story, of course, did not end well. In the 1950s, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley warred with Robert Moses, the titan of New York urban development. Sanders was a teenager when O’Malley opted to move the Dodgers to California, choosing Los Angeles over Moses’ preferred destination in Queens. The decision crushed Sanders.
“It was a disaster,” Sanders said. “Walter O’Malley, his name remains in infamy. It really was a very deep thing. Because when you’re a kid and the name of the team is called the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Brooklyn Dodgers, you assume that it belongs to the people of Los Angeles or Brooklyn.
Sanders indicated he was not following baseball’s budding labor dispute, in which players have wondered whether owners are colluding against them to deflate salaries. Sanders did not address the players on Sunday morning. “He’s got bigger fish to fry,” Roberts said.
There was still time for Sanders to meet in Roberts’ office.
“It’s good to know that you’re a Dodger,” Roberts said. “You look good in that Dodger hat.”
“The reason I’m really here,” Sanders said, “I think it would be great for the team to have a 76-year-old shortstop. What do you think?”
Roberts laughed at the suggestion. He mentioned that Corey Seager, the two-time All-Star, was not cleared to play the position.
“We need a 76-year-old,” Roberts said. “You’re right. I just want you to catch what you can get to.”
Before he left the complex, Sanders posed in front of a framed photograph of Jackie Robinson. His staff posted the picture on Twitter with a message: “We’re here to bring the Dodgers back to Brooklyn.”
Stewart headlines first wave of cuts
Late on Saturday night, the Dodgers pared 20 players from their clubhouse and sent them to minor-league camp. The list of cuts included four optioned players: pitchers Brock Stewart, Henry Owens and Dennis Santana, and infielder Tim Locastro.
Stewart was unlikely to make the opening-day roster, but his early departure came as something of a surprise. Stewart, a 26-year-old right-hander, reached the majors in 2016 after dominating in the minors. He dealt with shoulder fatigue at the outset of 2017 and could not secure a foothold on the big-league roster.
After three lackluster performances this spring, the team shipped him out. Roberts mentioned a lack of consistency with the velocity of Stewart’s fastball, plus intermittent control of his slider and changeup.
“There’s spurts where it’s really good,” Roberts said. “And the last couple years, he’s been battling some injuries. So now it’s just about going out there and competing and pitching well and staying healthy.”
Owens will work as a reliever in the minor leagues. A former first-round pick with Boston, Owens has struggled to throw strikes. The Dodgers claimed him off waivers in December, hoping they could revamp his delivery.
Short hops: Bullpen coach Mark Prior is serving as the acting pitching coach with Rick Honeycutt away from the team for personal reasons, Roberts said. Honeycutt is expected to return to Camelback Ranch next week . . . Veteran second baseman Chase Utley was given the weekend off to attend to family business of his own, Roberts said. Utley was scheduled to be back in the lineup on Monday.
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes