Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly (8) looks over the lineup with bench coach… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)
Reporting from Phoenix — Consider the excitement, arriving here and finding Vin Scully's car parked in the stenciled spot reserved for Dodgers "ownership."
If that were only true, but like Tommy Lasorda saying he never says something he doesn't believe, things are not always so.
So far The Times has sent six writers here in the quest for truth. Most of them have left Phoenix singing the praises of the Dodgers as if this team suddenly got good. And believe me, you don't want to hear Dwyre sing.
But digging deeper, beyond the fact the Dodgers were waiting on a rental agency to retrieve or repossess the car, the Dodgers are the same dogs they were a year ago.
The biggest difference between last year and this year is that the Dodgers got rid of the team mascot.
They didn't try to bring back cuddly Jamey Carroll, the team's MVP two years ago while averaging .290 in his stay.
Instead they chose to replace him with the Automatic Out.
"Mark Ellis, he's a better offensive player than Jamey," says Don Mattingly, and it's no surprise he knew who I was talking about.
Ellis, the Dodgers' power response to the Angels' signing of Albert Pujols, hit .248 over the last two years.
"Mark Ellis is solid," says Mattingly. Yet for some reason, the El Hombre Ellis billboards have yet to appear around town.
Now maybe you have been reading our Dylan Hernandez's love letters from Dodgers camp, Dwyre's slobber about catcher A.J. Ellis or Plaschke throwing his support behind Mattingly.
I've heard about wishful thinking, but never wishful writing.
James Loney hits a home run the other day, but Hernandez fails to tell us whether Loney will hit more home runs this year than he did cars back in November on an L.A. freeway.
Dwyre begins his ode to Ellis: "If we search for a silver lining in the aftermath of the Frank McCourt scorched-earth era, we might find A.J. Ellis.''
I'd rather find Ellis playing on scorched earth in Albuquerque. The Dodgers already have one Ellis too many.
Plaschke hung in there longer than most with McCourt and wanted Andrew Bynum gone before his 21st birthday. Now he's gung-ho about Mattingly as if that's as good as it gets.
Lasorda could close his eyes, or fall asleep, and finish better than third place and 111/2 games out in one of the league's weakest divisions.
And that's with Mattingly having a Cy Young Award winner and MVP runner-up on his side.
But then everyone agrees Mattingly is a nice guy, Plaschke writing the same about Mike Brown to start the season. Here's hoping they both don't finish last now.
In reading about the Dodgers before arriving, I see that Todd Coffey is comfortable being fat. That worked so well for Jonathan Broxton. But apparently Coffey is different because he likes to run from the bullpen to the mound.
On a bright note, with Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano in the pitching rotation, Coffey might get the chance to run himself into shape.
There doesn't seem much to write about around here, which explains why Hernandez concentrates on Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. He wrote 25 inches on Kemp switching to Manny Ramirez's locker.
One writer searching for something of note confronted Mattingly with the disturbing news Monday morning that he had heard Coffey had pitched in a secret simulated game a day earlier.
Why anyone other than Coffey's immediate family would care when the guy pitches is beyond me.
"He threw in the cage,'' said Mattingly, while adding, "He ran from the lunch room to the cage."
The reporters covering the Dodgers begin each day here writing down everything Mattingly has to say. Now you know why Hernandez took last week off.
A year ago, Mattingly was telling these same guys how much he just loved the weapons he had to platoon in left field. Everyone believed him.
Now Mattingly says, "I had to love it," essentially admitting he lied while talking about Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames, who disappeared.
"I'm going to back my players; I'm not going to sit here and tell you this guy can't play," he says, which explains why he's still high on Juan Uribe.
But is there any reason for Dodgers fans to be excited about this year's team knowing it's essentially last year's team, which wasn't very good?
"This team played the game right last year," Mattingly says. "This team was a good club."
I wonder whether he's saying the team played the game right last year, because that speaks well about the guy preparing them to play.
I know this, the Dodgers were not a good team. They were terrible.
And it really doesn't matter what this year's team is going to be like because in a few weeks a new owner will begin making plans to start over.
The new owner might be stuck with these guys this season, but do you think he's going to make his mark in L.A. going with Ellis & Ellis?
If the new guy doesn't do better than that, those Frank McCourt parking lots are just going to sit empty.
Not that I'm complaining.
THE ANNUAL NCAA bracket trip to Las Vegas got off to a rough start with Mike Piranio's announcement at Mandalay Bay that "during the basketball season there's no Tebowing allowed in the sports book."
Piranio, the race and sports book director, turned out to be the highlight of the trip, which isn't good if one is wagering on games.
"If you use your cellphone waiting in line to wager," he announced, "we can taser you."
A call to my daughter, who was standing in line to bet on Notre Dame, went unanswered. She would have been better off answering the phone.