GLENDALE, AZ – Justin Turner still isn’t quite sure why the New York Mets cut ties with him last winter, but now that he’s landed with his hometown Dodgers the disappointment has dissipated.
“I’m in a pretty good place now,” said Turner, a utility infielder who went to Mayfair High in Lakewood and played collegiality at Cal State Fullerton.
For a variety of reasons.
The Dodgers seem poised for a significant run, and the prospect of competing for championships is inspiration to anyone.
But he’s also back home for the first time in his career and with the Dodgers losing key bench players like Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. from last year’s club – not to mention starting second baseman Mark Ellis – a slew of roles need filling.
“It’s just a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it,” Turner said.
The shock of being non-tendered by the Mets still lingers a bit – he played well in Queens for three seasons and still counts many of his ex-teammates as life-long friends – but the rush he felt upon stepping foot in the Dodgers clubhouse for the first time confirmed how a positive can sometimes derive from a negative.
“Coming in here and seeing Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw…It’s not really starstruck, but when you walk in you get a little different feeling,” Turner said.
And the opportunity to make an impact is legit.
The Dodgers leaned heavily on a versatile bench last season, and while manager Don Mattingly hopes a reduction of injuries results in less reliance on his bench, he also understands the importance of keeping his starters fresh and maintaining a well-oiled reserve unit.
Turner seems to fit right into that equation, his ability to man all the infield positions while carrying a decent bat making him an ideal candidate to help fill the void left behind by Punto and Schumaker.
If not push for the starting job at second base.
On top of all that, he gets a chance to play in front of his family and friends.
“It’s exciting for my friends, being so close they can come whenever they want,” Turner said. “I don’t know what’s going on with the TV thing, but some of them have Time Warner so they can watch every day. So it’s exciting.”
He’s also coming aboard at the opportune time. The Dodgers have undergone a complete transformation since the Guggenheim Partners took over for former owner Frank McCourt – a revolution Turner detected as an opposing player – and they are among the National League favorites to reach the World Series.
“As soon as they made that big trade (with the Boston Red Sox) you sat back and were like, ‘OK these guys are trying to make a push,’ ” Turner said. “And then they keep adding on pieces and adding on pieces and the ownership group, obviously, is fantastic and the fans are loving it.”
For the inner Dodgers fan in Turner, it’s a welcome change from when he visited Dodger Stadium as a Met and sensed the disconnect between the fans and McCourt.
“Coming in here as an opposing player, being from here, the fans weren’t showing up and that was really disappointing,” Turner said. “But now it’s an exciting time. From the front office to Donnie Baseball running the ship and then you walk in here and see all this talent, it’s just an extremely exciting time.”