It is not easy coming home and yet it is so wonderful.
Mo Vaughn knows what Mike Scioscia was feeling Thursday night. Vaughn knows what it's like to return where you went from kid to grown-up, where you became beloved because of the way you played baseball, where you knew every secret corner, where you recognized every smell, where your own tears had fallen after tough losses, where you still might hear echoes of your own laughter, your own bawdy jokes, your own angry tirades and enthusiastic pep talks.
"It's gonna be a great feeling for Mike," Vaughn said, "and it's gonna be a lot of nostalgia because you have two worlds coming together and don't quite know which world you're in."
Vaughn knows this because he endured a homecoming last season, when he returned to Fenway Park where everybody knew his name and was happy to see him.
Scioscia came home to Dodger Stadium, to a place where he was loved and respected, heroic and argumentative, popular and hard-working and where one would be hard-pressed to find anyone to say anything bad about him, then or now.
Not then, when he accepted the bruises and bone spurs and body slams which he received by being a combative catcher with no concern for anything but blocking the plate and knocking in runs.
Not now, when Scioscia arrived as a rookie manager for the Angels, when he delivered a Dodger opponent's lineup card to the umpires before the game.
"This is," Scioscia said 90 minutes before Thursday's first pitch, "a special ballpark."
Scioscia was sitting up straight in the visitor's dugout as he made sure not to spit or drop anything on the floor, careful as a guest to keep things tidy, so as not to be labeled a visiting slob.
His eyes weren't looking at the Angel players stretching or the coaches on the field schmoozing. Scioscia's eyes were somewhere else, somewhere far away, a place when he was 21 years old, eager and naive and with goosebumps all over pondering having arrived at such a place as Dodger Stadium.
"My excitement was overshadowed by my nervousness," Scioscia said. "I came out early to shag in the outfield, I walked out alone and that perfect field came into focus and it was awesome.
"I stepped onto the field and I saw the blue wall and the green mountains behind it and, believe me, for a kid like me, that was quite an experience. And when I came out today, I felt the same way. My time as a Dodger, it laid the foundation for what I am."
Everybody, it seemed, had their own special welcome for Scioscia.
Rick Dempsey, who played with Scioscia on the Dodgers and is a Dodger coach now, still spoke of Scioscia as if the old catcher was just taking a sabbatical, that Scioscia would be back in Dodger blue someday.
"This is a great learning deal for Mike," Dempsey said. "He's got his foot in the door now, he's a major league manager and so who's to say that he won't be back someday as the Dodgers manager? You know, it is hard to picture Mike here in this park in some other uniform. I can only picture him as our catcher, making all those bang-bang plays at the plate. That's the picture I have of Mike."
Scioscia played 1,441 games as a Dodger.
"He will always be a Dodger to me," Joe Saroni said.
Saroni, who said he was a Dodger fan before he was born, bought a ticket to Thursday's game because, he said, "I wanted to show my appreciation to Mike. I loved the way he played and I can tell already I love the way he manages. I wish he were managing our club."
And in Scioscia's Angel clubhouse the mood was upbeat on the first day after the All-Star break. The Angels have done better than most expected. "That's all because of Mike," Vaughn said. "It's because of the attitude he has brought to this team. I have nothing but positive things to say about Mike."
Over on the Dodger side of the field, Manager Davey Johnson was being quizzed about who's to blame for the Dodgers not being in first place, not dominating the NL West, not doing this, not doing that. There wasn't much fun over there.
"You don't ever forget what you were," Vaughn said. "You don't ever forget the place you got your start or where you made your name. But Mike, from the day he walked into our clubhouse, he's been an Angel. He doesn't need to talk about how it was when he was a Dodger player. We all know that. But we also all know what it means to him coming back here. Mike wouldn't talk about it but I will. We'd love to win this game tonight for Mike. It would be a great way for Mike to come home."
Scioscia would have none of that talk. He joked about tight quarters in the visitor's dugout. "They haven't had a visiting manager as big as me," Scioscia said as he patted his healthy stomach. Angel coach Joe Maddon said maybe the Angels would figure out a way to let Scioscia catch a few warmup pitches, make a few tosses to the mound from a crouch behind home plate. No way, Scioscia said.
As many times as the word "Dodger" was uttered on this night, no matter who else talked about Scioscia and the Dodgers, never did Scioscia say the word. Not once did Scioscia hsay "Dodger."
The word "Dodger" left unspoken like a true Angel.
Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.