Claire: Loretta adjusting to new role

Claire: Loretta adjusting to new role

Mark Loretta is 38 years old, in very good shape, and could possibly be earning a Major League salary this season.

He has averaged nearly $2 million a season for 15 years, and carries a .295 career batting average and a reputation as a great teammate and productive player.

Loretta is also a man with his own agenda and prefers to leave the game as an active player on his own terms.

That's why Loretta now is a special assistant to San Diego Padres general manager Jed Hoyer and will spend this spring learning the ropes of a baseball executive as opposed to trying to stay in the game as an active player.

"I had a couple of opportunities to come into a spring camp and compete for a job as a 24th or 25th player, but that's not what I wanted to do," said Loretta.

"I've always thought of myself as an everyday player and when it comes down to a different role, I don't believe that brings the same satisfaction.

"This game is designed to be played every day if you have the talent and that's always the way I wanted to play the game," he added.

"My decision to join the Padres in the front office came down to the right job opportunity at the right time, and I'm excited about learning a new role and staying in the game."

Loretta collected 1,718 hits in his Major League career, including postseason play, and no hit was more important or more meaningful than the last one that went into the books.

It came in Game 2 of last October's National League Division Series between Los Angeles and St. Louis, when Loretta delivered a single with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a victory and set the stage for his team to advance to the NL Championship Series.

It was an electric moment at Dodger Stadium that had at least one writer thinking of it in terms of Kirk Gibson's dramatic game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series.

And you couldn't have blamed Loretta if that very thought hadn't crossed his mind as he raised his arms in celebration while the crowd went wild.

After all, Loretta had grown up within 20 miles of Dodger Stadium.

"I can remember exactly where I was and the feeling I had when Gibson hit that home run because I was a great Dodger fan," recalled Loretta. "I was a senior in high school and had been out on a date with a girl at a Chinese restaurant and wanted to get back to the car to listen to the game. I can still hear the call of that home run."

Loretta makes no attempt to compare his game-winning hit to that of Gibson, but said, "It was the highlight of my career and it's a nice memory to have that as my last hit in the big leagues."

Loretta played for five Major League teams during his career and his final stop in Los Angeles was a homecoming. He was selected in the seventh round of the Draft by Milwaukee in 1993 out of Northwestern University and two years later was playing for the Brewers after a September call-up.

"It seems like just yesterday I had my first at-bat in the big leagues," said Loretta. "I struck out against Eddie Guardado of the Twins."

Loretta was traded by the Brewers to Houston in 2002 and also served time with San Diego and Boston before joining the Dodgers prior to last season.

It was in Boston in 2006 that Loretta met Hoyer, a Red Sox executive at the time. "I was with Mark in Boston and it was clear to me that he could have a great impact on an organization in a front-office role once he finished his playing career," said Hoyer upon the hiring of Loretta in January.

"Jed has told me my role will evolve as we move along," said Loretta. "I simply want to learn as much as I can from the baseball and business side. I know I can bring a little bit of the player's perspective to the organization.

"My ultimate goal is simply to contribute to the Padres. Jed has said this year will just be part of a learning process and that's fine with me. That's what I want to do; to learn as much as I can.

"I hope to be exposed to all areas of the baseball operations and I look forward to making a trip to the Dominican Republic in that I haven't had that opportunity."

When Loretta joined the Red Sox, he recalls that he got off to a terrible start in April, but on the annual Patriots Day game at Fenway Park, he hit a two-out, two-run homer to give the Sox a 7-6 victory over Seattle and help him win the favor of the Boston fans.

Loretta said it was the highlight of his career, that is, up until that final at-bat at Dodger Stadium last October.

I asked Loretta if he remembered who was pitching for Seattle when he hit his home run, knowing full well it wasn't going to be something he would forget.

"Oh, I remember," replied Loretta. "It was Guardado, who struck me out in my first big league at-bat."

In baseball, they call that payback; and memories.

Mark Loretta has the memories of a well-played career. Now it's time for a new path and Loretta carries the same goal he always has had -- being a good teammate in the front office.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice-president and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.