Dylan Cotti of Westridge celebrated his eighth birthday with his folks, older brother JC, younger sib Gabe, nearly a dozen friends and more than 1,000 Santa Clarita Valley neighbors at Dodger Stadium Saturday night.
Dylan was one of the kids who got to take the field with the pro position players during the pre-game festivities on SCV Dodger Day, a night game this year, before ace Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw got to work shutting out the visiting World Champion St. Louis Cardinals 6-0.
Dylan Cotti of Westridge celebrates his eighth birthday as a "Kid on the Field" at Dodger Stadium Saturday night.
"My mom signed me up," said Dylan, who's been to games at Dodger Stadium before, but never on the field, just before he ran out to left with the Dodgers' Bobby Abreu. In position, Abreu autographed a baseball for Dylan, who then raced back to the area behind home plate, clutching the ball tightly.
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"It was awesome," the youngster said later, still agog at the spectacle. It was a birthday party he'll never forget.
Actually, Dylan's mother Lety Cotti credits a longtime friend of the boy's grandmother, Colleen Cotti, for arranging Dylan's "Kid on the Field" experience.
In the 1960s, a young Colleen attended junior high and high school in Glendale and was friends with a boy named Danny Telford. They even won a dance contest together. Colleen, now a Saugus resident with seven grandkids, has remained friends with Telford, who's worked for the Dodgers since 2000, and wrangles the audio and microphone set-ups for pre-game ceremonies and National Anthem-singers on the field behind home plate for every home game.
"It was all Danny," Lety Cotti said. "He wanted to do something special for Dylan's birthday, for one of his friend's grandsons, so he arranged it. (Dylan) was so excited about all of it."
Said Colleen, whose son John is Dylan's dad: "Danny truly has always been a 'king' among men giving of himself so freely to help others."
"They're such a super family," Telford said.
Dylan Cotti gets his baseball autographed by Bobby Abreu.
Before Cotti sprinted onto the field, as fellow "Kids on the Field" Cody Delia and Nicholas Bryce (representing Relay for Life), Brecken Marome (Hart Baseball) and Trent Cusack (Helmers Elementary) ran to their designated positions, the Dodgers announcer had introduced the SCV Dodger Day committee members.
As they stood by home plate, images of Pat Downing and Holly Michaels of the city of Santa Clarita, Maggie Blaha and Ron Marone of Hart Baseball & Softball, Scott Cusack of Helmers, and Randy Morton and Vince Johnson of The Signal were flashed on the two huge DodgerVision screens in center field.
Members of community groups participating in SCV Dodger Day were invited onto the center field warning track and also introduced over the P.A. They included the Boys & Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley, city of Santa Clarita Youth Sports, the Dynasty baseball team, Hart Baseball & Softball, and Helmers Elementary.
"Everyone was very excited, wearing all their Dodger gear," said Marilynn Band, a Woodland Hills Dodger fan who was also celebrating a birthday with a friend from Santa Clarita who'd invited her to join in the procession as a present.
"People were taking pictures with the stadium in the background — it's such a cool shot," she said. "I didn't realize how big that field really was until I was out there looking up at the stands. You see just how far (batters) have to hit that ball to get it over the fence for a home run — that's a reeeally long distance. You really get a sense of the power they have to have. It was really an amazing, thrilling birthday experience."
More than 1,000 Santa Clarita Valley residents bought tickets in advance through the city, and a portion of the proceeds benefit local schools and nonprofit groups.
One family was randomly selected from the SCV contingent to throw out the game's ceremonial first pitch. Sheri Griffin was the pitcher with Zachary and Melissa Griffin as co-umpires, aided and abetted by Scott Cusack playing catcher and Holly Michaels serving as manager.
The Dodgers and the city of Santa Clarita established SCV Dodger Day in 1978, and while Santa Clarita Valley locals usually audition to be chosen to sing the National Anthem to open the game on SCV Dodger Day, but on Saturday night, the singer was Jermaine Paul, second season winner of popular NBC-TV series "The Voice."
Oh, Yeah — The Game: A Few Highlights
But the Dodgers gave SCV fans and the rest of the 39,383 fans in the house plenty of reason to celebrate for the next two hours and 35 minutes, as starting pitcher and reigning National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw delivered a six-hit shutout. It was the fourth shutout and seventh complete game of his five seasons in the majors, and first this season.
Kershaw struck out four, walked none (for the third time this season), and allowed no Cardinal to get past second base. The 24-year-old southpaw is now 4-1 for 2012 with a 1.90 ERA, and the Dodgers are on top of the NL West heap with a 27-13 record as of Saturday night, the best in the majors.
Kerhsaw, in fact, helped his own cause in the sixth inning by smacking the first extra-base hit of his career, a double to right, and that meant curtains for Cardinals starting pitcher Jake Westbrook. Kershaw went on to score.
Another significant first in Saturday's game was for Dodgers shortstop Justin Sellers, filling in for struggling and benched starter Dee Gordon. Sellers belted his first home run of the season and second of his career, sparking a four-run Dodger seventh inning. Both Kershaw (above) and Sellers (right) earned big rounds of high-fives and back-slapping from their teammates back in the dugout.
In his office after the game, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly (below) was typically low-key, but happy. When asked about Kershaw's pitching and hitting, he quipped, "Pretty good tonight. The swing's getting a little long."
"Oh, yeah, the double, that was awesome — can't believe it was my first one," Kershaw said a few minutes later in the locker room, a large bag of ice taped around his left shoulder and bicep. "But not a good turn at first (base). I might have gone three if I wasn't in right field."
Kershaw gave up most of the Cardinals' six hits early in the game. "The first couple of innings they were just hitting the ball hard, so I had to make some adjustments," he said. "I threw some more breaking balls. You just try to establish your fastball and they were showing that they were going to swing at it — a lot. So...it's a game of adjustments."
Asked about throwing all nine innings, Kershaw had high praise for his manager not pressuring him to let the bullpen take over. "Donny came and asked me how I felt...but I think being on the bases, keeping the blood flowing, sweating a little bit, definitely helped," he said.
"I felt good tonight and Donny kept checking on me. He never said he was going to take me out, so that was good," Kershaw said. "Donny's awesome. He never forgets how hard it is to play a game. He cares about us and understands what we can do, and has that kind of confidence in us. So as a team, we have to step up."
Photos: Stephen K. Peeples, except center field group photo by Marilynn Band.