IF YOU WONDERED whether there were any hard feelings lingering over Davey Lopes' departure from Philly, your answer came about 3 hours before game time, as Ruben Amaro Jr. walked up to his former first-base coach and wrapped him in a hug.
For much of the previous hour, Lopes had lingered behind the batting cage at Citizens Bank Park, laughing heartily with his former coaching staff and chatting with various Phillies personnel. Later, while talking to reporters outside the visitors' clubhouse, he paused a couple of times to gather his composure.
"It got a little emotional out there," said Lopes, who spent 4 years as the Phillies' first-base coach before departing for Los Angeles for the same position this offseason. "They're a great bunch of guys. These guys made my life easier for the last 4 years."
Judging by the state of affairs in his current organization, Lopes might have said the same things if he were asked about returning to Alcatraz. Still, the veteran coach said his wistful feelings are more the product of the situation he left than the one he assumed.
"I started feeling it last night when we flew in," Lopes said. "You see people walking around in downtown Philly saying, 'Hey, Davey, how you doing, sorry to see you're not back with us.' Like I said, it's a little emotional. The 4 years I had here were as great as you could possibly have it. To see how this club and this organization grew to be, if not the best, then they have to be in the top three in the game of baseball, organizational-wise, from top to bottom. Everything they do, from top to bottom, first class all the way. I kind of miss that."
The Phillies wanted to re-sign Lopes during the offseason, but the sides could not come to an agreement on a new contract. Shortly after talks broke off, Lopes fingered money as the reason for the separation, telling CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies "had a different opinion on what I felt my worth was." But yesterday he said he also felt a strong pull to return to Southern California, where he is now able to spend more time with his daughter.
"That was a big part of my leaving," Lopes said. "Like I've always said, it was a very difficult decision. Believe me. I have nothing but great memories of this ballpark, and the fans, I consider the best in baseball. The intensity level coming into the ballpark every day, I miss that tremendously. As you'll see when you go to LA with the empty seats. They're something you're not used to seeing in LA. Neither am I. But, you know, this organization, the Phillies, from David Montgomery on down, is first class. They treated me great. It was a very difficult decision, believe me.
"It wasn't just [money]. Was it a part of it? Yes, it was a part of it. But I have the utmost respect for Ruben, as a general manager and as a friend. He did what he felt he had to do. I did what I had to do. That's it. There's no animosity whatsoever."
Lopes, who played for the Dodgers from 1972-81, is clearly disappointed with the situation in LA, where an appointee from Major League Baseball has taken over the club's day-to-day operations and attendance is lagging.
"It's different," Lopes said. "It's been good, yeah. But it's different. It's not like what I remember. Put it that way."
During his talk with reporters, Lopes raved about Cole Hamels' evolution into a true No. 1 pitcher.
At one point, somebody asked him where he would rank Hamels among the Phillies' four aces.
Lopes paused for a few moments, clearly pondering the pluses and minuses of offering an honest opinion. Finally, he declined to answer. But, he said, "Put it this way: He ain't fourth."