02/17/08 8:55 PM ET
Notes: Koufax makes quick visit
Dodgers legend catches up with Torre, staffers
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
He met with new manager Joe Torre, caught up with club officials and clubhouse attendants, then darted off the grounds before players came off the field, unseen by the throngs of fans visiting the complex.
"It was great to see him," said Torre. "After we won our first World Series with the Yankees, one of the first congratulatory calls I got was from Sandy. After I had surgery, a get-well note on the top of the stack was from Sandy. After my meeting in Tampa [when Torre cut ties with the Yankees], I'm at the airport, and the phone rings -- and it's Sandy. When I got the Dodgers job, I'm at the chiropractor's office and Sandy calls. He's a class act."
Koufax, 72, splits his time between homes in Vero Beach and a small Caribbean island.
Chan Ho II: One player disappointed to hear he missed Koufax was Chan Ho Park. Koufax was a surrogate mentor to Park through his friendship with then-pitching coach Dave Wallace when Park blazed the modern trail for Asian players to the Major Leagues.
It was 1994, one year before Hideo Nomo's arrival from Japan, when Park, only 20, came to Dodgertown. He made the club with no Minor League experience, ultimately becoming an ace and an All-Star.
It's been a long, strange journey back for Park, who at 34 is trying to revive a career where it started. He's a non-roster invitee, trying to overcome long odds to return to the Major Leagues, and he's not doing it for the money. Park has earned over $80 million in his career, more than any current Dodgers player -- including Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra.
Park cashed in big when he left the Dodgers after the 2001 season via free agency. Agent Scott Boras sought an $80 million contract, and Dodgers general manager Dan Evans, resisting internal pressure to keep Park, never made an offer. The right-hander (80-54 as a Dodger) signed a $65 million deal with Texas and hasn't been the same (33-34 since), including time spent with the Padres after being traded for Phil Nevin.
He pitched only one game in the Major Leagues last year, allowing seven runs in four innings for the Mets. The Mets eventually released Park, who hooked on with Houston's Triple-A club. Despite the awful season, Park pitched well enough for his national team that the Dodgers decided to take a shot, hoping a return to familiar surroundings might help him recapture the magic.
Park hasn't lost the desire or the sense of responsibility as a national sports hero.
"I know I can be better than I've been," said Park, who battled back problems in 2004 and required surgery in 2006 for an intestinal disorder. "I feel better and stronger and confident. I have fans in L.A. and Korea who believe I can come back. They are wishing and hoping to see me again, and I want to make those dreams come true."
Park said he still dreams of winning a World Series.
"If I have success, the people in Korea are happy," he said. "That used to be a lot of pressure on me. I know how to control that now. Me coming back, it's like Nomo coming back with Kansas City. It would be a big thing in Japan if Nomo comes back and a big thing in Korea if I do."
Finally Miller Time? The Dodgers received a compensation draft pick from Texas for signing Park and with the selection, landed left-handed pitcher Greg Miller, who is still trying to get his career back on track after once being considered one of the best prospects in the game. After struggling for three years with shoulder problems, he was healthy in 2007, only to lose sight of the strike zone.
Last season, Miller walked 46 in 28 2/3 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas, was demoted to Double-A Jacksonville and walked 43 more in 48 innings. That's 89 walks in 76 2/3 innings (10.5 walks per nine innings). Prior to the surgery, Miller walked three per nine innings. Returning to Jacksonville at age 23 was discouraging for Miller, who was promoted to Jacksonville in 2003 at age 18.
Miller concedes that what started out to be mechanical eventually worked its way into his head.
"I would say it got to that," he said of the effects on his psyche. "Frustration set in. Over the winter, I took a step away from the game and decompressed. I didn't touch a ball for a month. I never thought about quitting, but I admit to being frustrated. It got to be hard to sleep at night. What was wrong?
"I realize now that I was trying to muscle my way through it. I was in denial about everything. There were days I just didn't want to go to the park. The goal now is to simplify everything. I'm excited about getting back."
An hour before the team works out at Dodgertown, Miller can be found with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt doing shadow deliveries off the mound.
"I have a visual of Greg at 18, with an efficient delivery, and we need to see if we can get him back to those basics," said Honeycutt.
Kuroda's repertoire: In his second bullpen session, Hiroki Kuroda unveiled a cutter he rarely used in Japan.
"I heard in the States a fastball with movement away is better to have over here," said Kuroda. "I don't think I've perfected the location, but I was satisfied with the movement."
In Japan, Kuroda relied on a sinker thrown down and in to right-handed hitters, but many pitchers feel that Major League umpires are more likely to call strikes on pitches away than inside, one of the reasons for the recent popularity in the cut fastball.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.