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Kemp: Magic deal a ‘good day for Dodgers’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Matt Kemp couldn’t believe what he was reading. As his cell phone kept buzzing with text-message alerts while he sat at U.S. Airways Arena in downtown Phoenix Tuesday night, taking in a game between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder didn’t believe what people were telling him. “My phone started blowing up,” Kemp said. “I started looking at the texts, and everyone was saying Magic was our owner. I thought people were just messing with me. I didn’t know it was real until I started getting text messages from some important people.” That would include, presumably, the mass text sent out by Dodgers team travel director Scott Akasaki informing all of the players that a deal had been reached to sell the team to an investment group fronted by Los Angeles Lakers legend and local civic leader Magic Johnson. That group, largely funded by Guggenheim Capital chief executive officer Mark Walter, agreed to purchase the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium and a 50 percent stake in the parking lots surrounding the ballpark from Frank McCourt for $2.15 billion. “I think it’s tight, man, for Magic to be one of our owners,” said Kemp, a devoted NBA fan. “He knows what the Dodgers mean to L.A. Magic is very important to L.A., and the fans love him. This is a pretty good day for the Dodgers.”Appearing on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” Wednesday, Johnson said that he’ll have an office at Dodger Stadium, but that Stan Kasten, a member of the group tabbed to run day-to-day operations, is “the baseball man.”"I won’t get in Stan’s way. I won’t get in our manager’s way,” he said, but added, “I will be heavily involved. I’m writing a big check here.” Johnson said his role would include recruiting free agents, and while he can’t talk hitting or pitching with players, he “can talk winning.”Johnson said that he will help “sell the Dodger brand” to fans who might have turned their back on the team during the recent turmoil.Legendary Dodgers manager Tony Lasorda thinks that fans who have left will follow Magic back.”I think Dodgers fans will come back. I believe that,” he said. “They just had a bad feeling and they left. We just have to bring them back. … And the players have to play a vital role in that. Those guys have to get out there on that field and bust their tails and give the fans exciting baseball.” Kemp, whom the Dodgers signed this winter to an eight-year, $160 million contract extension, the largest in franchise history, said he was blown away by the sale price, which broke down to $2 billion for the team and the stadium and $150 million for half of the parking lots, with McCourt retaining the other half. “Do I feel underpaid?” Kemp said, repeating a question from a reporter. “I feel broke. What I got is pretty good money, but $2 billion? That is a lot of money, man. That is a lot of dough. It’ll be cool to pick (Johnson’s) brain about some things, so hopefully one day I can be a billionaire.” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, cautioned against reading too much into the ownership change or expecting an immediate, dramatic overhaul. But he also said that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because Kershaw believes the team general manager Ned Colletti assembled during the winter with a $90 million payroll cap is pretty good now. “I don’t think it makes a big difference as far as us winning,” Kershaw said. “We’re kind of the same team. We should win no matter who our owner is.” Kershaw also wouldn’t say the new ownership group, which presumably will have far deeper pockets than McCourt, will be better able to improve the team at the trading deadline. “People keep saying that,” he said. “It will be great if it happens, but if it doesn’t happen, that means we don’t need it, which is great too. So it’s really no different now.” Right fielder Andre Ethier, who potentially is a free agent after the season, has made no secret in recent years of his desire for a long-term extension. He was non-committal on whether he believes having a new owner will make that extension more likely. “I’m not looking at that right now,” Ethier said. “I’m just looking into winning games, and that’s it. You win games and we put a good team together and make the playoffs, and everybody will be happy at the end of the year.” Still, Ethier contended it was good news for the organization. “It’s a great opportunity for this team and this franchise to get back on the right track and to see stability,” he said. “It’s a chance to bring the Dodgers back to being the franchise they can be and deserve to be.” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the backgrounds of both Johnson, who won five world championships with the Lakers, and Kasten, who ran the Braves during their run of 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, is a sign that Dodgers fans and players can expect a similar type of success. “At the end of the day, we’re here to win championships,” Mattingly said, “not just to be competitive or provide entertainment for the people of L.A. to come to games. We are here to win championships, and we have people here now to do that, people who know how to drive an organization toward a championship.”

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