LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers hosted their eighth annual "Viva Los Dodgers" festival Saturday afternoon, drawing thousands of fans to Dodger Stadium as many as six hours prior to the first pitch of the team's game against the Astros.The event, which drew 10,000 fans last year, featured a host of famous Latin performers, including Grammy Award-winning vocalist Jon Secada and multi-platinum group K-Paz de La Sierra. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke briefly at the event, thanking concertgoers for being fans of the Dodgers and of Los Angeles itself. "I want to thank you all for supporting the Dodgers, [and] for supporting Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said, adding in Spanish that Dodger fans are "the best fans in the world." While far from a fluent speaker like Villaraigosa, McCourt did his best, briefly remarking in Spanish, "Welcome, friends. My house is your house." Kind words weren't all that concertgoers took home Saturday, as sponsors such as Alta Dena, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Toyota, 21st Century Insurance and others handed out truckloads of freebies. As if music from artists like Secada, K-Paz de La Sierra, Mariana, Obie Bermudez, Los Baron de Apodaca and Los Amigos Invisibles wasn't enough, fans were also able to get autographs from many of the musical performers as well as a host of Latino Dodgers. Players, coaches and broadcasters who signed autographs included Elmer Dessens, Jaime Jarrin, Ricky Ledee, Manny Mota, Dioner Navarro, Franquelis Osoria, Antonio Perez, Odalis Perez, Duaner Sanchez, Fernando Valenzuela and Pepe Yniguez. Last year's "Viva Los Dodgers" was recognized with the 2005 Gold Reggie Award for promotions in the Multi-Cultural/Ethnic Promotion category, an honor that is also reflected in the Dodgers' Latino fan base, which market research firm Scarborough Research says has grown from 32 percent in 2001 to more than 42 percent today. "'Viva Los Dodgers' has become one of the most anticipated events of the year," McCourt said. "The Dodgers take great pride in having strong ties to the Latino community and providing all of our fans with high-quality family entertainment all season long." Perhaps fired up by an afternoon of rousing music, the Dodgers scored five runs in the first inning Saturday against Astros starter Roy Oswalt, one of the stingiest pitchers in the Major Leagues this year.
Mark Thoma is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.