Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Baseball Legend Pays Suns Welcomed Visit; Former Dodgers Manager Lasorda, Who's Now a Special Adviser, Tutors Young Players

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Baseball Legend Pays Suns Welcomed Visit; Former Dodgers Manager Lasorda, Who's Now a Special Adviser, Tutors Young Players

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF ELLIOTT

Tommy Lasorda made the first of several trips to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville this week to do what he does best: motivate and instruct.

Regarded by many as baseball's most popular ambassador, Lasorda sat in the stands for Thursday night's Suns-Carolina Mudcats game, which was postponed because of rain after 3 1/2 innings.

Lasorda smiled when a Suns batter to whom he had offered some suggestions during batting practice stroked a hit. The former Los Angeles Dodgers manager and current special adviser winced when the next batter grounded meekly to second base.

Now in his 57th season, Lasorda still takes the game seriously, but he's having more fun than he did in recent years. Two years ago, when Frank and Jamie McCourt bought the Dodgers, they sought out Lasorda -- even before the deal was finalized -- just to make sure he would continue to be a part of the organization.

"That meant a lot to me because before that, I wasn't having much fun," said Lasorda, who in 1997 became the 14th major-league manager to be named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "The organization wasn't asking for my help or my thoughts. But the McCourts got me involved in the game again. They put the fun, the inspiration, the desire back into baseball for me. That's something I'm so appreciative of them."

Lasorda travels to the Dodgers' minor-league affiliates, observes the talent and speaks with the players. He doesn't act like someone who will turn 80 years old in September 2007.

During the Suns' hour-long batting practice the last two days, Lasorda pulled players aside and showed them a flaw in their swing. Once the player went back into the batting cage, Lasorda stood behind him and bellowed out such phrases as "Hit it like you mean it" and "Now that's the way to smack that thing."

"Tommy has so much knowledge, and he's such a tremendous motivator that if you're not willing to listen to what he has to say, a player is missing out on a great opportunity to better himself," Suns manager John Shoemaker said.

Lasorda was only in town for three days, yet he called everyone by their first name as if they had been friends for years. …

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