Dodgers parade into New Year's Day

The Dodgers got the new year and their 50th anniversary celebration off to a rousing start as players past and present joined employees on the organization's first-ever float down Colorado Boulevard in the 119th annual Tournament of Roses Parade.

  With the 350-member Los Angeles Unified All-District High School Marching Band all wearing Dodgers hats as they led the way for the float titled "Celebrating America's Favorite Pastime," more than 500,000 people lined the 5 1/2-mile parade route. They cheered the float with its 35-foot Dodgers player swinging for the fences.

"This is a first for sure and I think I'll enjoy every minute of it," Dodger broadcasting legend Vin Scully, set for his 59th season with the team, said before the parade kicked off. "I do remember riding in victory parades in Brooklyn and here in Los Angeles. Opening Day in a parade was a memorable moment when we first came out here and I broadcast the Rose Parade one year with [actress] Elizabeth Montgomery, God rest her soul. And this will be a first, riding the floral display of the Dodgers and I'm really looking forward to it."

"This is the daddy of them all," said Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who proudly rode on the float with many of his former players, including Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Garvey and Eric Karros. "Out of every parade in this country, the No. 1 is what we are going to be doing today. And for the Dodgers to have a float in it for the first time, that's just fantastic. We are getting ready to celebrate 50 years in Los Angeles. There's going to be celebrating all throughout the season. It's gonna be exciting; the fans are gonna just love it."

"This is back to our youth," said Garvey, the former Dodgers first baseman and 1974 National League Most Valuable Player. "To be on a float in the greatest parade in the world and representing the Dodgers -- it's just going to be a great morning and a great day.

"You have great former players and, of course, the great voice of Vin Scully, great managers and the young players -- it really is a generational float that will touch everybody's heart. I was a bat boy at the age of 6 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and today I'll be standing next to Carl Erskine, so it's going to be very sentimental. And to look at Tommy Lasorda and to look at Vin and to look at the future in players like James Loney, it's going to be fun, fun for the crowd too."

Lasorda and Scully sat in the grandstand section of the float in front of Dodgers organist Nancy Bea Hefley, who serenaded parade-goers with a constant flow of baseball-related songs.

Behind her was a large Dodgers sign that periodically exploded with fireworks as grownups and kids alike cheered for their favorite Dodgers past and present. Five current players sat in dugouts on each side of the float. Third baseman Nomar Garciaparra and first baseman Loney joined pitchers Takashi Saito, Hong-Chih Kuo and last-minute addition Brad Penny, and they all waived to the throng of fans yelling out their names.

"When the Dodgers asked if I'd do this I said yeah," said Garciaparra, who grew up in nearby Whittier and whose mother, Sylvia, and sister, Yvette, came out last week to help decorate the float. "I have never been to the Rose Parade, even growing up out here. I always watched it on TV and had never gone to one and to attend your first one and to be on the float and be in it? That's pretty special. And my family decorating it? That's the first time they'd ever done that and they had a good time. It's a bit early -- no one told me we had to be up this early -- but hey, we make our sacrifices."

"This is just fun," said Loney, who brought out some of his family and friends from Texas. "This is a good mix for the Dodgers float, for the Rose Bowl parade. A lot of people should be watching.

"I never thought about doing something like this. You think about baseball and this is something extra, which is good for the fans and good for everybody."

Beside the parade itself, the organization's year-long 50th anniversary celebration of its move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was on the minds of all the participants, especially one who has a very rare distinction.

"I didn't do a lot in L.A. because it was toward the end of my career," said Erskine, one of the Boys of Summer who made his name as a Brooklyn Dodger. "But I was selected by my manager, Walter Alston, to pitch the opener in the Coliseum in 1958, which was a big historic day. ... I don't have a lot of records left in baseball, what I did have, have all been broken -- nobody can win the first game in L.A. anymore, so that's a piece of pride for me to have made the trip from New York to L.A. and say I played in both cities."

"When I think of my baseball career, it's as a Los Angeles Dodger," said Karros, who along with Garvey, Loney, Garciaparra and Wes Parker made a contingent of five current or former Dodgers first basemen riding in the parade. "This organization has meant a lot to my family -- my father grew up a huge Brooklyn Dodger fan -- and to ride on the float with Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine, Tommy and Vinny is a real honor and I wouldn't pass this up for anything."

"Fifty years is a big chunk out of anybody's life," said Scully. "You realize that time does fly and where did it all go? On the heels of that is the gratitude you have that you've been allowed to be around that long to share all the precious moments, all the exciting moments and some of the down moments too -- it all enriches the loaf of the 50 years out here. So, all-in-all, it's been a major portion of my life and a very happy one as well."

The parade was just the first of a myriad of ceremonies the Dodgers will take part in throughout 2008 to celebrate a major anniversary in their storied career.