— Jon SooHoo (@JonSooHooPics) July 2, 2016
By Jon Weisman
It almost feels like time’s playing tricks on us.
But in today’s 5 p.m. Old-Timers Game and ceremonies at Dodger Stadium, along with stars from decades past like Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills, there will also be members of the 2013 Dodgers.
Mark Ellis, who just turned 39. Nick Punto, 38. Skip Schumaker, just 36, for cryin’ out loud.
“I thought it was Old-Timers vs. Legends,” Schumaker joked at this afternoon’s reunion luncheon in the Stadium Club. “I thought we were the Legends.”
Sitting together, Schumaker, Ellis and Punto quickly reconnected to find the spirit that powered the 2013 team to an historic 42-8 midseason run and within two games of the World Series before a National League Championship Series loss to the Cardinals.
“The team that we were on in ’13 was probably the most fun I had in the Major Leagues,” Schumaker said. “Elli and Nick, my two favorite teammates in the world. Also I grew up a Dodger fan, so to see the Old School guys here, Orel (Hershiser) and some of the other guys — it’s gonna be awesome.”
Ellis said that the way the clubhouse came together despite a 30-42 start to the season was what he remembered most about the year.
“We had a lot of fun,” Ellis said. “A lot of good personalities and a different mix of cultures with a mix of people, but we all made it work.”
For fans hungry for a World Series title, 2013 still feels more than a bit like the one that got away.
“For me, it was just an unbelievable team,” Punto said. “We ran into the Cardinals — they were pretty hot. There was no reason why we couldn’t have beat them. (We had) a World Series-type ballclub — just sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“It would have been nice to go the World Series with those guys. Like Skip said, you couldn’t have a better group of guys pulling for each other and playing hard. It was fun to come to work every day.”
A painful memory from that NLCS was the Game 1, first-inning pitch to the ribs that neutralized Hanley Ramirez, who had a 1.618 OPS in the National League Division Series, but Schumaker adamantly turned that down as an excuse.
“That had nothing to do with it, in my opinion,” Schumaker said. “I think we ran into a really good team that was hot, like Nick said. I don’t think it had anything to do with a hit-by-pitch. We had plenty of guys who were capable — Nick filled in, we had Mike Young on the bench for godsakes. We had plenty of people to (carry) us.”
Less than three years later, they’re Old-Timers. Ellis and Punto played their last big-league games in 2014. Schumaker was in 131 games for Cincinnati last year, but recently took a job with San Diego as an assistant to baseball operations and player development.
And yes, it’s a big change.
“First time I’ve slept in a long time,” Schumaker said about hanging up his uniform. “It was an emotional couple of weeks for me. I don’t know how these guys were, but the anxiety is gone, the panic is gone. It’s fun being a dad and husband for a change. It’s been nice seeing the game on the other side.”
“It’s been good,” Ellis said. “I knew it was time. I just wasn’t able to do it anymore. But it’s been great — like Skip said, being home with family and spending time with them, it’s been great.”
“I think that’s the important thing, to have no regrets,” Punto said. “When I said ‘it’s over,’ like Skip said, it was super emotional. I remember I was weeping and crying. But once you get rid of that, you feel stress free. As long as you played the game right and hard and gave it your all, it feels amazing. There’s just no regrets.”
The trio looked forward to today’s game with a mix of enthusiasm and, given that they no longer have a player’s edge, wariness. Schumaker, ever the gamer, has been asked today to take the field at first base, which, amazingly, he never played in the big leagues, even though he played five others — including pitcher.
He said he’s more nervous to play first base than he was taking the mound.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve got Shawn Green toe-tapping right down my throat, so I’m not really happy about that.”
But with spirits high, he’ll take the field just the same, ready to lead the new generation of old-timers — that is, legends.