Magic Johnson and Frank McCourt rise from their seats to get a better view… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
SAN DIEGO — It was the day Magic Johnson flew again.
"When Dee Gordon ran all the way to third on that dropped fly ball, I was so excited, I swear, I jumped completely out of my seat," he said.
It was the day Magic Johnson dished again.
"The Dodgers have their Kobe, and his name is Matt Kemp," he said.
It was the day Magic Johnson physically planted himself in the middle of the Los Angeles sports scene again, as he grabbed a front-row aisle seat at Petco Park on Thursday to watch his group's newly purchased Dodgers defeat the San Diego Padres, 5-3, in a 2012 season opener.
"Man, it was fun," he said. "I was like a kid at a candy store."
He spent the game in the awkward position of sitting next to despised former owner Frank McCourt, just a week after fronting a group that bought the team for $2.15 billion. Yet judging from the sound of his voice as he excitedly gabbed about the game during a phone interview with The Times afterward, the view was just fine.
"Watching somebody like Clayton Kershaw go out there and pitch even though he was really sick, I'm falling in love with the passion and energy of this team, and I know Los Angeles will be the same way," he said.
Johnson arrived shortly before the first pitch, sticking his head briefly in the visiting clubhouse to shake hands and drop jaws.
"I looked over there and saw Magic Johnson and I almost started crying," said Gordon.
The kid restrained his tears long enough to pretend to post up the giant Johnson, even though Gordon is barely 5 feet 11 and barely weighs 160. Those sorts of challenges have been a bit of a joking theme in the clubhouse since the players first learned about Magic's involvement. Kemp has claimed he could beat Johnson in a one-on-one game of basketball. So too has the former basketball star Gordon. For the first time Thursday, Johnson laughingly addressed those claims.
"You're kidding me, right?" he said. "I don't step on their field, yet they want to come to my court? Do they have any idea that I can still play?"
Johnson immediately made two predictions of his own.
"First, I beat Dee Gordon, 15-3, because he's too small for me," Johnson said. "Then I beat Matt Kemp, 15-7, only because he's just a little bigger."
As for all other potential challengers in that clubhouse, Johnson said he can't wait.
"I'll play any of them after the season, we won't be boss and baseball player, we'll be just two guys going at it," he said. "Anybody else wants some of this, they will get some of this."
For now, Johnson is content to watch his new team shine, so much so that he couldn't contain himself after Kemp hit an opposite-field, two-run homer in the eighth inning to give the Dodgers a four-run cushion. He not only jumped out of his seat, but he actually walked over to the dugout, stuck his head in and congratulated Kemp.
Said Johnson: "I just had to show him my respect and appreciation. It was amazing to watch him, to see how he loves the big stage and creates the big moments."
Said Kemp: "That was kind of cool.... He was like 'Nice job, kid,' and I was like 'Hey, that's Magic Johnson right there.'"
Kemp was still in awe later, saying, "Wow. It was good to have him around. It was good to see him. That was a little motivation right there."
Johnson owns only a tiny percentage of the team, which will be run by longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten and funded by Mark Walter's Guggenheim Baseball Management. There are not yet any guarantees about the scope of his daily influence or power.
But this much is clear. He is their new face. He is their new voice. He is even their new conscience, as the Dodgers kept sneaking peeks at him before taking the field each inning Thursday, and then glanced up at him as if seeking approval after each big play.
"When my group bought this team, I said I was going to be there with them, and for them," he said. "Today I wanted to show the players exactly what I meant."
On a day his new Dodgers battled to a season-opening win with their Cy Young winner flat on his back, Magic Johnson was beaming, and that light was contagious.