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BILL DWYRE

Dodgers spring training means something to these San Pedro brothers

On its face, the annual MLB spring rite might seem irrelevant in terms of a team's success. For Zach and Matt Zuvich and other faithful, it is a chance to bond, and the thrill is just being there.

February 28, 2014|Bill Dwyre
  • Fans get an autograph session with outfielder Yasiel Puig after the Dodgers completed a spring training workout last week at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.
Fans get an autograph session with outfielder Yasiel Puig after the Dodgers… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)

PHOENIX  -- If you are escaping the cold of winter, the lure of baseball's spring training is logical. Forget the games. Here's a chance to sit in the sun and watch the blood flow back into your fingers.

The lure for brothers Zach and Matt Zuvich is less understandable.

They come from that frosty, iced-jammed city of San Pedro. When they sat in the stands Thursday at Camelback Ranch Stadium to watch the Dodgers, they had traded a 75-degree temperature for 76.

"We left at 3 a.m. to get here," says older brother Zach, 25. "It would have been nice if he hadn't slept the entire way."

They will make the nearly seven-hour return trip after Sunday's Dodgers game and arrive back in San Pedro about 2 a.m.

"I have to be at work Monday morning," says younger brother Matt, 21, who assures his chauffeur, Zach, that he will sleep all the way back too.

Matt works in the hotel and restaurant business; Zach is a tugboat engineer in Los Angeles Harbor. Both played high school sports, Matt at San Pedro High and Zach at Mary Star of the Sea.

For them, this is not a vacation, per se. The only sight seen will be of L.A.'s boys in blue. They will get to four games in four days and are already talking about doing it again next year.

Nor is it as if this is their only opportunity to see the Dodgers. Zach says he goes to about 25 to 30 Dodgers games a year; Matt to about 10 to 15. That's solid fan loyalty.

Asked whether they go to Angels games, Zach says, "Maybe if somebody gave me a free ticket." Matt says, "Only that preseason thing" — the Freeway Series — "where they play the Dodgers."

They were not difficult to pick out of the crowd. They sat side by side 10 rows behind the dugout on the third base line — where tickets run $40 to $50 — and wore their affections on their backs. Matt's jersey was No. 22, Zach's No. 13. They were, left to right, in matching whites, Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez.

The wardrobe will vary, day to day.

"I have two others' jerseys," Zach says. "I have a [Yasiel] Puig and a Kershaw."

Matt says, "I have a Hanley jersey and I have Kershaw in gray too."

Such dedication deserves reward.

They got shorted in their first game when right-hander Zack Greinke threw four pitches and left with a sore calf muscle. Refreshingly, the Zuvich brothers did not complain about getting less for their ticket money.

"If anything is wrong, they wouldn't let him stay in there in the first inning of the first spring game," Zach says. "That's stupid. I knew as soon as I saw the trainer, he was out."

Matt says, "They'd take him out if he had a mosquito bite, and they should."

In the Zuvich brothers, then, we find the type of fan Major League Baseball loves and wants.

If you take a hard look at MLB spring training, it is a vast wasteland of irrelevance. It was most likely created years ago by a handful of New York writers who wanted to escape the winters for some sunshine in Florida. Their sports editors bit, and here we are today, with the big-league teams split between Florida and Arizona and an multimillion-dollar market created mostly to watch athletic young men stretch and play catch.

If you get lucky and get a game where the big-name guys are in the lineup to work out some kinks, you'll probably see them for a maximum of three innings.

As Manager Mike Scioscia of the Angels said Friday morning, before his team's opening spring game, "If Mike Trout has to go gap-to-gap in center field four or five times in the first few innings, you won't see him in there for long."

No MLB manager has ever kept his job or gotten a salary raise based on spring training.

Still, there are moments. Thursday, the Dodgers' Scott Van Slyke hit a towering homer onto the walkway next to the Dodgers clubhouse.

"Wow!" says Zach.

"He's a monster," says Matt.

Somehow, for the faithful such as the Zuvich brothers, spring training is the mountain that exists, so it must be climbed. The thrill is not what happens. It is being there.

And being there allows them to get an early start on stretching their loyalty muscles.

"Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball," says Matt.

Says Zach, "Our team is the best in baseball. I love how we are spending money now. I liked the Manny [Ramirez] days. That was fun for awhile, but then he got dinged with the drug stuff and it was over."

Brotherly love takes on different forms. For the Zuviches, it is shared Dodgers' affection. They watch the game, root for the newer players and keep their cellphones in their pockets. There is no skepticism, just baseball.

Bud Selig ought to clone them.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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