02/06/08 11:19 PM ET
Ethier happy with any role he can fill
Outfielder waits on tables at Dodgers Winter Caravan
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
They acquired Andruw Jones and didn't trade away Juan Pierre, placing yet another obstacle between Ethier and the starting lineup.
Nonetheless, Ethier said he's ready to do whatever the Dodgers ask. On Wednesday, the Dodgers asked him to don an apron and wait on tables at the Panda Inn restaurant as part of the 50th Anniversary Winter Caravan. Ethier did it with a smile.
"My role on the team is not something I can control," said Ethier, who hit .284 last year with 13 homers, 64 RBIs and 447 at-bats in 153 games while caught in an awkward rotation with Matt Kemp and Luis Gonzalez for the two corner outfield spots.
"In my position, I have no say. I want to be here. The Dodgers have my rights, they have the power. I've prepared for Spring Training like I did before. I'm out to win an everyday job. I feel I have something to prove, like always. You can always better yourself, become more consistent."
Gonzalez's departure as a free agent seemed to put Ethier in line for the left-field job, with Kemp slotted into his natural right-field spot. Then came the signing of Jones, the 10-time Gold Glove center fielder, displacing Pierre, who still has four years left on his contract.
New manager Joe Torre has indicated only that he can count four outfielders for three positions, offering no clue about how he will parse playing time. Ethier said he hasn't heard from Torre or received any indication what his role will be this year.
There were times last season when Ethier was reduced to pinch-hitting, never an easy assignment, especially for a young player.
"You try not to get caught up in trying to prove something every day, but you might go 0-for-3 when you get a chance and your mind starts playing tricks on you that you're not holding up your side of the deal," he said. "You wonder if they still like you. I struggled with that last year, but you learn and hopefully it makes you better in the long run. I think I'll handle my situation better this year because of what I learned last year."
Ethier said he never expected a best-case scenario, so he wasn't shocked by the offseason developments.
"I've never been handed anything," he said. "I've faced adversity and bounced back. You learn to deal with it.
"The team obviously is trying to make itself better and put the best players on the field. We've added a quality player and I can learn things from him. He's had a lot of experience and success and his style can rub off on us."
Ethier said playing is important, but winning is more important.
"I just want to be part of a winner," he said. "If [rotating] leads to winning, fine. Last year, we didn't better ourselves with a situation like that. If we're winning and make a run to the playoffs, so be it. The thing that best helps us is what we should do."
Ethier was right in the middle of the help Wednesday. He was joined waiting on tables by teammates Brad Penny, Nomar Garciaparra and new starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda; former Dodgers Eric Karros, Ken Landreaux, Bobby Castillo; Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda and Spanish language broadcaster Pepe Yniguez.
The day began with a ceremonial sendoff of the team's Spring Training equipment truck from the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
The bus carrying Dodgers past and present then left for Duarte so players could meet cancer patients at City of Hope Hospital, a partner with the Dodgers in the ThinkCure charitable program.
This proved to be a particularly poignant and unexpected opportunity for Kuroda.
"I lost my father to cancer last year," the new Dodger explained through an interpreter. "The visit to the hospital was an ironic experience for me and I am very glad that I was able to go. If it is possible, maybe it was helpful for the patients. It was a good learning experience for me."
The caravan moved on to Washington Accelerated Elementary School in Pasadena, where Lasorda delivered another spirited motivation speech to students, who followed with a question-and-answer session.
The final stop after lunch was an autograph signing at Universal Studios CityWalk.
In other Dodgers news, trainer Stan Conte reported from Arizona that he watched pitcher Jason Schmidt throw off a mound. Conte said Schmidt continues his recovery from serious shoulder surgery, and Conte was pleased with what he saw. Schmidt is expected to be throwing off a mound in Spring Training.
The Dodgers also announced the signing of Jason Johnson to a Minor League contract. Johnson, 34, has a career Major League record of 55-98 and pitched in Japan last year.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.