Frank McCourt: Sale wasn't first choice

COMPTON, Calif. -- Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt apologized to the teams' fans on Monday and said he is determined to "hand off this franchise in better shape than I found it."

"I know the last couple years were very, very difficult and I'm very, very sorry about that," McCourt said Monday at the dedication of a Dodgers Dream Field in Compton, his first public comments since announcing two weeks ago that he would sell the team in a bankruptcy auction.

"But we're going to move forward and handle the situation in the most professional way possible and make sure that the baton is passed in a classy way."

McCourt's comments were brief but poignant. He said he was happy to be moving on with his life personally and professionally but was noticeably wistful during the ceremony to dedicate the field to children in one of Los Angeles' poorest neighborhoods.

"This is your field now," he said. "I hope you have fun, I hope you make friends. I hope you take care of it, because it's yours."

In better times McCourt had vowed to refurbish 50 baseball fields around Los Angeles. Monday's field was the 16th project he was able to complete. By the end of the year he said the Dodgers will have finished 20 fields.

There is no timetable to complete the sale of the team, although baseball has said it hoped a new owner could be in place by Opening Day.

Asked why he'd finally agreed to sell the team after a bitter, two-year fight in court with his ex-wife Jamie McCourt and baseball commissioner Bud Selig, McCourt said simply, "It got to a point where it became very, very clear to me that it was the right decision.

"The decision wasn't my first choice, but I'm comfortable with it and I'm very very focused on making sure that I pass the baton in a way here that's professional and that I hand off this franchise in better shape than I found it."

McCourt had been expected to announce that the team had agreed to terms with All Star center fielder Matt Kemp on a record contract extension, but Kemp said the deal "is close, but nothing is official yet" and McCourt declined comment on the matter.

It would've been a rousing parting gift to Dodger fans, and a dignified final image for McCourt to end his tenure with. Instead, it will have to wait for another day.

"Everybody thinks Frank is this bad person," Kemp said. "For me, I know Frank personally and he's been nothing but great to me. He's a great guy and he cares a lot about these kids and the community.

"I know he didn't want anything but for the Dodgers to succeed on the field."

Before he left the field, McCourt found Kemp standing in the infield, answering questions from reporters and signing autographs for the fans.

"Thanks for being here," he told Kemp. "Thanks for being here."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.