VERO BEACH, Fla. - The first thing you notice is the change in color. The fire-engine red they wore for so many years with the Phillies has been replaced by Dodger Blue.

The second thing you notice is the smiling.

Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf can't help themselves. Playing for the team of your boyhood dreams is exciting, after all.

"It's pretty cool," said Lieberthal, glancing down at the famous Dodgers script on the front of his blue uniform top. "This was my favorite team growing up. My dad had season tickets. I had a Dodgers pennant in my room."

"Sweet," Wolf said of the circumstances that brought him home.

They spent 21 combined seasons with the Phillies. This winter they became free agents. Lieberthal had the potential to get more playing time with the Cardinals or Rangers and Wolf had better offers, including one from the Phillies. But the lure of playing at home in their native Southern California was too much for both to overcome.

"It's hard to pass up the idea of playing in the stadium you grew up going to as a kid," Wolf said. "This was an opportunity to play for my hometown team and live in my hometown and be a Dodger.

"If I grew up in Norristown, being a Phillie would have been my childhood dream. But I grew up in L.A."

The Phillies tried hard to keep Wolf. They believed the 30-year-old lefty was ready to shine in 2007, his second season after having elbow-reconstruction surgery. The Dodgers gave Wolf a one-year deal worth $8 million, with an option for a second year. The Phils offered a similar deal, with more guaranteed money.

But Wolf wanted to pitch as a Dodger at Dodger Stadium, the ballpark in which he attended games with his father, Jim, who died of a heart attack in 1994. He wanted to be near his mother and have her be able to come to games.

That's not difficult to understand.

"The Phillies made it a very difficult decision," Wolf said. "They were very aggressive, very sincere, and I appreciate everything they did. It's just one of those things. You don't get many opportunities in life where you have a choice."

All things being equal, Wolf wanted to be a Dodger.

All things being equal, Lieberthal probably would rather have stayed in Philadelphia, where he was the longest-tenured athlete among the four major professional teams. But injuries and the Phillies' desire to get younger at the catcher position meant there would be no 14th season in Philadelphia for Lieberthal, the team's first-round draft pick in 1990.

Lieberthal, 35, understood the team's position. He knows he's not an everyday catcher anymore. With the Dodgers, he'll back up highly regarded Russell Martin.

"I think I'm ready" to be a backup, Lieberthal said. "It would be tough if my body felt like it did five years ago. But it doesn't."

Lieberthal suffered a devastating right-knee injury that required reconstructive surgery in 2001. He tore his right groin in his final game with the Phillies and had surgery in October.

Lieberthal is spending spring training getting to know a new pitching staff. During his free time, he pesters former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda for stories about the players he grew up watching.

"Tommy's got some stories," Lieberthal said, wide-eyed. "It's fun to hear about the guys you grew up idolizing."

Steve Sax, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Steve Yeager were among Lieberthal's favorites. He wears No. 14, which once belonged to catcher Mike Scioscia, another favorite.

"I was a big Steve Sax fan," Lieberthal said. "He had those big forearms. When I was a kid, I went to a camp where he was an instructor and he said I had the best swing in camp. I went home and told my dad, 'Guess what Steve Sax said!' "

Memories. Both players have a few.

Wolf said his best memories were of the teammates he had in Philadelphia.

Lieberthal agreed.

"I have a picture of me, Doug Glanville and Bobby Abreu sitting in the dugout at the Vet," he said. "It's in my office at home. I love that picture."

Proud moments?

"I'd like to think I was a guy who did his job as hard as he could and respected the fans and the game, someone who did everything he was asked and didn't shortchange anyone," Wolf said.

Lieberthal was proud of catching the most games in franchise history - 1,139, including 10 opening days.


"My biggest disappointment is getting hurt," said Wolf, who missed part of the 2005 and 2006 seasons with his elbow injury. "That was hard. In hindsight, I wish I had surgery in '04, but, looking back, there's nothing you can do."

Lieberthal's biggest regret with the Phillies?

"Not getting to the postseason, not winning," he said.

He paused.

"Watch, they'll probably win this year."

Phillies fans could live with that.

"I'll root for those guys for 156 games, every game except the ones they play us," Wolf said.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or