By Jon Weisman
This week of the Dodgers Love L.A. tour (presented by Bank of America) is all about the community … almost.
There’s one other tiny aspect of it, largely unnoticed and not all that important, but meaningful just the same.
For the first time in the new year, a Dodger player puts on his uniform.
That moment, just a few days before Punxsutawney Phil reveals himself, turns on the pilot light for the coming season.
“It was a long season last year, had some ups and downs,” Dodger reliever Chris Hatcher said. “As I’ve gotten longer into baseball, the shorter the offseason gets. This year, I’m raring and ready to go. Putting the jersey on, it pushes it a little closer and in your mind, you’re tightening it up a little bit.”
Putting on the Dodger whites today was particularly special for some players, such as 24-year-old right-hander Jharel Cotton, who did so for the first time as an official Major League member of the 40-man roster.
“It’s coming up really quick,” Cotton said. “I just got done playing ball in November, and it’s already Spring Training. I’m ready to go — I’m excited.”
Added to the thrill for Cotton was getting the opportunity to hang with his teammates, before the season starts.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s my first time seeing them. It’s been a long offseason for them. I’m just ready to be in the clubhouse and share (moments) with them.”
If this was admittedly just one moment in time for Hatcher, Cotton and the Dodgers, it was a moment of a lifetime for the people they met, including those members of the Wounded Warriors Project who previously wore uniforms of an entirely different kind.
Sporting an Andre Ethier jersey, East Los Angeles native Jonathan Nunez was effusive about the lunch he shared with the Dodgers at City Hall, after joining the team in attending today’s Vin Scully Avenue vote.
“It’s a great honor and a great privilege to not only be associated with the Wounded Warrior Project, but to be alongside these great gentlemen from the Dodgers organization,” said Nunez, who was most thrilled to see past Dodgers including Maury Wills, Eric Karros and Orel Hershiser. “It means the world because it feels they haven’t forgotten about us, and they recognize what we have done for our country.”
Nunez has been involved with Wounded Warriors for six months, as he aims to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder after serving separate tours for the Marine Corps in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I have seen progress, not only in the way I cope but how I cope,” Nunez said. “I’ve been introduced to veterans with similar problems, and we’ve picked our brains for lack of better words as far as how to deal with our various disorders. We’ve built a network, and because of that I’ve seen a growth in how I act, how I not only deal with my disorders but how I move forward with them.”
And at the end of the day, meeting men and women like Nunez is what meant the most to Hatcher.
“We go out there and play 81 games in front of all of these people,” Hatcher said. “Not very often do we get a chance to get out in the community and socialize with people.”