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Lasorda shows off ballpark restaurant

Dodger Stadium eatery combines legend's love of game, Italian food

LOS ANGELES -- Tommy Lasorda is well-known for a lot of reasons. He is a World Series-winning manager. He is a Dodgers legend. He is a Hall of Famer.

He's Italian.

Oh, and one more thing -- he loves Italian food.

If you get Lasorda on just the right day, at just the right time, you can combine all of the above into one delicious and satisfying encounter. The next time you're at Dodger Stadium, stop by his new restaurant, Tommy Lasorda's Italian Trattoria, and chances are, you'll run into the man himself.

Just make sure you order the meatballs.

"My mother made the greatest meatballs that you could ever have," Lasorda said while lounging at the Trattoria, located behind right field, Friday morning before Game 1 of the National League Division Series. "They followed a lot of my mom's meatball recipe. I eat them, so you know they've got to be good. And the people are really enjoying it."

Or, to use the catchy (but unofficial) slogan: They're not just sorta good; they're Lasorda good!

"I tasted everything before they opened this place," Lasorda said. "I'm not going to put my name on something that wasn't good."

Meatballs aren't the only menu item. The Trattoria serves jumbo slices of pizza, dripping with cheese and giant pieces of pepperoni. Other favorites: chicken parmesan, sausage sandwiches, penne pasta with red sauce, and to top it off, cannoli.

Given how famous Lasorda is for both his love of Italian food and talking Dodgers baseball, having a restaurant that serves his favorite dishes at the ballpark makes perfect sense. It's somewhat surprising this idea wasn't hatched sooner, but regardless, when approached by Dodgers executives about it last year, Lasorda was immediately on board.

Noting that very few Italian restaurants serve good meatballs, Lasorda is glad his favorite recipe is now a part of Dodger Stadium's culinary blueprint. With a plate of meatballs in front of him and a Dodger Blue napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt, Lasorda gestured to the wall behind him, adorned by photos of him posing with some of the most famous people in history, and reflected fondly on his past.

It has been, after all, a pretty charmed life.

There he is with Billy Crystal. With President Ronald Reagan. With Ted Williams -- "one of the greatest hitters that God put on Earth" -- and with Frank Sinatra.

Willie Mays. Don Drysdale. And on and on.

"That," he said, pointing to a photo with him and a pretty blonde, "is my favorite."

The woman in the picture is of his wife, Jo. Next April, they'll celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.

Lasorda first spotted Jo in the stands at a game he was playing in Greenville, S.C., and he immediately wanted to meet her. Lasorda knew Margaret, the friend Jo was there with, and sent along these instructions: "Ask her if she'll go out with me. Ask her for her phone number."

The answer was, in a nutshell, no. Lasorda kept pressing. "I said, 'Margaret, whatever you do, detain her after the game is over. Just give me time to go in, shower, and get out.'"

Margaret deliberately left her sweater on the chair when the game was over, so she and Jo had to go back to retrieve it.

That's when Lasorda made his move. Well, he sort of made a move. He met her, exchanged hellos, and then proceeded to call her 11 times ... and was told 'no thank you' each time.

"She said she heard bad things about ballplayers," Lasorda said.

The 12th time, however, was a charm.

"I said, 'Look. I'm no movie star, but I ain't that bad, either,'" Lasorda recalled. "'Just go out with me one time.'" Jo relented, scheduled a lunch with him and laughed when Lasorda said over burgers, "I'm going to marry you."

A year later, that's just what he did.

At 87, Lasorda can reflect back on a life as rich and fulfilling as a plate of home-cooked spaghetti. But with each day he spends at the ballpark, he hopes he's that much closer to watching the Dodgers win another World Series. It has been, after all, 26 years since their last one, and in the skipper's mind, it's time.

"This could be the one," he said of the Dodgers' chances in 2014.

While he waits, he'll munch on some meatballs, greet his appreciative fans and continue to be a staple of the Dodger Stadium experience -- one that now includes marinara sauce and his mom's special recipes.

"It's just like inviting them all to your house for dinner," Lasorda said.

But with a slightly more scenic backdrop, of course.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.
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