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BOYS ARE ANYTHING BUT BLUE.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

Nostalgia flew around Dodger Stadium on Wednesday like Kirk Gibson on a wild pitch: Mike Lieberthal remembered going to games there as a kid, Luis Gonzalez remembered his first visit there as a rookie, and Jason Schmidt remembered hearing his dad root for the Dodgers.

The three newest Dodgers looked very, very happy to try on their new jerseys, each predicting the club would be a winner in 2007 and for the foreseeable future.

``It's the Dodgers we all grew up knowing,'' Schmidt said in the over- the-top comment of the afternoon.

Here's what I'm nostalgic for, and maybe I speak for columnists all over L.A.: Oh for the days before stability and optimism returned to Chavez Ravine.

The past few years, you'd walk into Dodger Stadium in the offseason and expect to find the infield paved in asphalt, the bleachers painted polka- dot and bail-bond ads strapped to the foul poles.

You'd walk into the front offices and expect to see a crew of handymen prying obsolete nameplates off the doors and screwing on new ones -- careful not to turn the screws too tight.

You'd ask the intern to show you to the general manager, and it turned out he was the general manager.

The scene was mayhem, the mood was cynical, the news was perpetually negative.

Gosh, it was a columnist's paradise. This stuff wrote itself.

I walked into Dodger Stadium after lunch Wednesday. The park appeared to be undergoing no major changes.

The outfield wall was in pieces and a light-brown rectangle framed center field, both the after-effects of the Rolling Stones concert, and the bleacher seats were being replaced. But basically they could have played ball right then, and the sky was so blue and the air so warm, this sounded like a nice idea.

I walked into the Dugout Club and the Dodgers' latest introductory news conference was being led by all of the same people as last month's -- in fact, same as last year's. Same owner, same general manager, same publicity staff.

The tone was confident, the mood upbeat, the news (if this isn't a contradiction in terms) positive. GM Ned Colletti keeps building on the improvements that put the Dodgers in the playoffs this season, and everybody's life is easier except -- well, don't fret how this throws off my rhythm.

Something definitely has changed since the early days of Frank McCourt's ownership. It was in the voices of Lieberthal (Westlake High), the catcher signed from Philadelphia on

Dec. 6 to back up Russell Martin; Gonzalez, the left fielder signed from Arizona on Friday, and Schmidt, the right-hander signed from San Francisco on Friday for three years and $47 million.

Lieberthal, 34, grew up a Dodgers fan, going to games when father had season tickets in the early 1980s (favorite player: Steve Sax). He knows what the franchise was and what it had recently become.

``A lot of my (L.A.) friends are Dodgers fans. I'd keep hearing them bitching about the Dodgers,'' Lieberthal said. ``Players are always asking other players, `What's the chemistry like, what's the clubhouse like (on your team)?' It seemed a lot more negative the last four, five years.''

Schmidt, 33, saw the Dodgers up close as a Hated Giant (``I apologize for all that,'' he said Wednesday before pulling on a white-and-blue No. 29). Knowing Colletti from when he was the Giants' assistant GM, Schmidt has followed his success with a certain pride.

``To see him come over here and have pretty much no constraint, and see him remake the team and make them competitive again, is really impressive,'' Schmidt said.

``The potential is the scary part. (As an opponent this summer) you came in here, saw a bunch of young guys, and thought, `This is going to be easy. Who are these guys?' Then they were hitting it all over the park. ... Not only are they going to win now, they're going to win for a long time.''

Colletti reported no developments in what some hope will be a trade for a hitter who'll give the Dodgers more than the 20 home runs with which Nomar Garciaparra led the team.

But I'm not sure how desperate that power search needs to be: Before spring training in 2006, the Dodgers' 40-man roster showed a total of 158 homers from the previous year; their current 40-man isn't far behind, with 154 homers last year. Remember that the '06 team scored more runs than any Dodgers in more than 40 years.

Would you listen to me? This optimism is infectious, darn it.

heymodesti(AT_SIGN)aol.com

(818) 713-3616

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photo

Photo:

Luis Gonzalez, left, and catcher Mike Lieberthal smile during their introductory news conference.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 14, 2006
Words:793
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