COMPTON, Calif. – Frank McCourt was on his way to a parking lot here Monday when it was remarked to him that the afternoon had been an interesting one, all things considered.
He'd just skirted a chain-link dugout, picnic benches, the lady who waved from her wheelchair, the guy beside the tree who shouted, "Thanks, Mr. McCourt!," the center fielder who'd agreed to a contract for something like $160 million, all strewn along the main path at a park in a neighborhood that maybe could use a little love.
McCourt seemed a little sad. He smiled joylessly. And it was with that heaviness that he shook his head and responded, "Anymore, every day is interesting."
McCourt had hosted the opening of a refurbished sandlot field. He'd sat beside Matt Kemp(notes) while a little girl from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School put her hand over her heart and not only led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, but riffed two or three charming verses about King himself.
After a county supervisor described Monday as, "A good day in the Watts-Compton-Willowbrook community," McCourt handed the tiny and precious ballpark to a few dozen boys and girls, all of them wearing No. 42 Dodgers jerseys, with the words, "I hope what you do is you have fun. I hope you make friends. I hope you play baseball. And I hope you take care of it, because it's yours."
Days like this, maybe there won't be many more like them for McCourt.
He's selling, you know.
For the good of everyone, he says, he's selling. He wishes he weren't.
Asked Monday what he will look for in a buyer, McCourt said, "It's somebody who is a huge baseball fan, who loves this community and is willing to commit to this community and put everything they have into it and bring a world championship to L.A."
Presumably the billion or more dollars is a priority, too.
Three years ago, on a day just like it, on a ball field not terribly far from it, in a neighborhood not that different, his then-wife had asked what L.A. really wanted – 50 new sandlot fields or an expensive middle-of-the-order slugger who came with a guaranteed contract but not guaranteed results.
On Monday, her husband answered that for her.
Also, give them dignity. Give them confidence. Give them a reason to believe in the baseball and a reason to ignore the rest.
So, all right, just give them Matt Kemp.
From the infield of that scrubbed baseball diamond, Kemp watched McCourt leave. Kemp wore large, thick sunglasses. He grinned into a sky of gray and white clouds, into a breeze that in Southern California passed for crisp.
"Eight more years in L.A.," Kemp said. "That's not bad for me. I love it."
Kemp has agreed to a contract worth about $160 million over eight years. It's unlikely any of that money will come from McCourt. The next owner – the guy with the love for baseball and community – will cover it.
And while you may conclude this is an empty play by a man once again spending other people's money, this was McCourt's gift to L.A. Be nice enough to him, maybe you'll get six years for Clayton Kershaw(notes), too.
Maybe the next guy isn't so sure about Kemp's breakout year. Maybe he stalls just long enough for Kemp to call off negotiations, then sign with Boston or New York and become the bad guy.
Some of the details are being worked through. But, by all accounts, the contract will be done soon. There'll be a press conference at Dodger Stadium soon. McCourt will be there, probably, wishing maybe it hadn't all gone so badly, regretting the past couple years. You can buy that or not, but I think this is painful for McCourt, these final days or weeks or months of Dodger ownership.
Frankly, I'm not surprised he'd risk some of his profits to help make this right.
Neither is Kemp.
"There's a lot of judgmental people in this world," he said. "It's part of life. Frank is a great person that loves to help others and wants to see people do better.
"I don't know necessarily what all happened. I just know he did his best."
He might get some argument there. And, well, $20 million a year will buy a man plenty of loyalty.
But here's the thing: Frank McCourt didn't have to sign Matt Kemp. Just like he didn't have to open even one more of these sandlot fields. But he stood on the first-base line in a little neighborhood park and recalled he'd once promised to create 50 fields just like it. He's up to 16. He'll be gone long before he could possibly get to even 25, but he lifted his chin Monday and vowed, "We're well on our way to fulfilling that promise."
It's weird in a way. And exasperating. And sad. And sort of impressive.
McCourt is out. While he leaves a mess, he also leaves Kemp. Perhaps this is his apology, his conscience talking. Sure, take it as that.
"I'll make the right decisions for the franchise," McCourt said, "for as long as I own it."
Yeah, these days, they're all interesting now.
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