It's a good thing they didn't much care, too, because what they witnessed was a sloppily played game in which there were six errors, the highlights being a Wittig home run and a throw by Tiger replacement shortstop Kevin Pearson that landed just a few rows from the top of the stands behind first base. Long after he had exhausted every superlative in the dictionary in praise of his team's victory, Lasorda reflected on what has become the strangest spring training in baseball history.
"To see the locker room empty makes me sad," he said. "I want them to come back. I miss Mondesi. Last spring I threw him 175 to 200 curveballs every day. I miss going out to dinner with Piazza and Karros. I call them Hall of Fame eaters."
Lasorda continued his lament, going through almost half his '94 roster, a team that was in first place in the National League West when the strike began last Aug. 12. "It seems long ago," Lasorda said.
Less than two hours' drive south of Dodgertown, in Delray Beach, Piazza, the star of that team, has been training at the Bucky Dent Baseball School, which is close to his South Florida home. One day last week Piazza walked past the baseball fields, the austere dorms and the two outdoor batting cages, and said, "Kinda like Dodgertown, huh?"
Several other major leaguers who live in the area work out at the school with Piazza a few times a week. "There's Ken Hill," Piazza said, pointing out the Montreal Expo pitcher, who won 16 games last year. "The last time I caught him was in the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh." It seems so long ago.
The group set up for its makeshift batting practice: Boston Red Sox second baseman Luis Alicea stepped to the plate; free-agent catcher Todd Pratt, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies, took the first turn on the mound; Hill was in leftfield; Piazza was in center, shagging flies with his catcher's mitt; and a reporter with the arm strength of...well, of a reporter, was in right.
"If anything comes from this strike, maybe the players and owners alike will learn not to take the game for granted," Piazza said later. "I miss spring training and all the fans that stop you on your way to the games. I miss the locker room jokes on the rookies, kangaroo court and Tommy, the ringmaster, in his golf cart. I think I heard his voice when the team bus passed by on its way to Fort Lauderdale. I could hear him saying, 'You and Karros eat so much, you should have your knife and fork bronzed.' " Piazza laughed at the thought.
A staunch supporter of the union, Piazza believes that he might not be back in his Dodger uniform until June or July—and with talks between owners and players having broken off again on Sunday, he could be right. "If the strike isn't resolved by Opening Day, Karros and I joke that we'll go to Dodger Stadium, but we won't buy tickets," he said. "We'll have Tommy leave them for us. We'll sit in the stands, take our shirts off and have our stomachs hanging out and a beer in our hands. I'll yell, 'You bums! Who's that guy behind the plate? We want Piazza!' "
So will a lot of other folks seated around him.