Ready for the World Spotlight

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Dodger players take time to reflect and soak up the moment, ahead of today’s World Series opener.

Ground crews ready the field for the home team workout Monday at Dodger Stadium. The World Series begins tonight as L.A. hosts the Houston Astros. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor

If there’s any doubt the players are just as excited about the 2017 World Series as the fans, one glance at what the Dodger stars found precious is a solid clue.

Yu Darvish towered over stadium staff, a few reporters and some TV crew as they all clamored into a small elevator at Dodger Stadium. Dressed in a T-shirt and warm up shorts with a set of headphones around his neck, Darvish carefully maneuvered his prized possession into the crowded car, so as not to bend or scuff it.

Darvish was carrying the placard that bore his name just below the official World Series heading, which hung at the small table where he was fielding questions during Media Day on Monday.

Most of the players from each team, the National League champion Dodgers and their American League counterpart Houston Astros, took part in a scrum of an event, during which reporters from near and far asked all manner of questions.

“You hope and dream of this,” said Andre Ethier, the longest-tenured member of the Dodgers, who missed most of the 2017 season due to injury, but has come on to contribute in the postseason. “I’m grateful and honored, really, to be given this opportunity, to be in this position.”

Dodger manager Dave Roberts speaks during Monday’s press conference. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

A little less than two years ago – Dec. 1, 2015, to be exact – Dave Roberts was introduced as the manager of the Dodgers, a team that despite being a perennial contender, hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1988. On that day, Roberts vowed to bring a title back to Los Angeles.

“I’m really excited to be here, and though I’m usually caught up in the moment of whatever’s happening, a look forward to finishing this off with a championship,” Roberts said during Monday’s press conference.

The manager was guarded with his emotions on a day that most certainly is filled with anticipation, yet he shared a few intimate details.

Asked about being the first Asian-born manager to reach the World Series and possibly the first African American skipper to win it, he recalled a phone conversation with a true Dodger legend.

“I feel the weight of those who have come before me, and those I represent,” he said. “To have Don Newcombe call me, in tears, after I was named [2016 Manager of the Year] reminds me of that.”

He gets his daily reminder as well, throughout the season, as he takes that same elevator to the bottom level of the stadium and walks past dozens of historic awards, including the Dodgers’ World Series trophies from 1981 and 1988.

“That kind of blows me away,” Roberts said. “I don’t take that lightly.”

Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw will take the mound for L.A. in tonight’s Game 1, with Dallas Keuchel starting for Houston. He said he has been hearing constant comparison between his team and the Dodgers who won it all in ’88.

“Hopefully, in a week or so, we’ll be talking more about 2017 and less about 1988,” he quipped.

A major part of the Dodgers’ success in the postseason has been their relief pitching, with an unexpected member paying dividends.

Kenta Maeda was moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen for the playoffs and has been solid as can be, not allowing a baserunner in five relief appearances and recording outs with a minimum of pitches.

Kenta Maeda listens to questions during Media Day. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

“Of course, I think anyone who’s accustomed to being a starter wants to go there and pitch deep into the game,” Maeda said. “It’s a tough decision, I know, but this is how I can help, and I’m happy to do it.”

Ethier expects to be on the Dodgers’ World Series roster when it is finalized, as does star shortstop Corey Seager, who was sidelined during the National League Championship Series with a back injury. Roberts said barring some unforseen situation, Seager should be able to play.

Though he will likely see limited action, Ethier is relishing the opportunity to change a little personal history.

“For me, this is the first World Series in eight playoffs,” he noted. “I’m probably the most experienced losing player in baseball.”

Kershaw’s legacy has, to some extent, been dogged by an inability to succeed in crucial playoff moments, but he had an answer ready when asked what he likes best about competing in the big game.

“Winning,” Kershaw said.

Follow the Rafu’s live World Series updates from Dodger Stadium on Facebook here, and Twitter here.

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