Archive | October, 2017

GO BLUE! The Dodgers and me

21 Oct


I remember distinctly: it all began for me in the summer of 1959, when I was 10. We were visiting my family’s friends, the Richards, in Buena Park, CA. They had a big TV set (black and white, of course), and Mr. Richards was watching the Dodgers play a day game in the Coliseum. I was intrigued by the action, and began asking him questions about the rules of baseball. I must have enthused about the experience all the way home to Torrance; somehow my mother became a fan then, too. By the fall, when the Dodgers ended up winning the World Series, I was completely hooked. At the age when other girls became obsessed with horses or fashion, I glommed on to baseball as if it were religion.

I liked all the lists, the history of the game, all the statistics, all the intricacies of plays. I loved that men of all sizes could play the game well, from lightning-fast short short stops to hulking bruiser-sluggers. I memorized all the Rookies of the Year, Cy Young winners, the players who had the record for most stolen bases and the lowest E.R.A. I didn’t share this passion with any friends that I can recall, but I do remember that I liked to impress boys with my baseball knowledge. While I was always a good student, I had trouble fitting in socially at school; perhaps knowing something about a sport was my way of trying to be popular, and I did become “one of the boys” throughout junior high and a lot of high school. I listened to games mostly on the radio, when Vin Scully, OUR announcer, called all of the games (relieved by Jerry Doggett). I thrilled when I could actually watch our team play on TV, which wasn’t very often in those days. But the absolute center of my adoration for LA’s team in my pre-pubescent and adolescent years was for the pitchers–understandably, since this was the era of the great feats of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. I have often said that Sandy Koufax saw me through puberty–I don’t know what I would have had if I hadn’t have had baseball to listen to.  I listened to Koufax throw a perfect game, and for years I kept the newspaper reports of all his no-hitters. He became an even bigger hero for us when he refused to play on Yom Kippur; I learned only then that some of my friends were Jewish.  I tried all kinds of superstitious tricks if Ds weren’t winning: if they were behind in the 7th inning, I would turn off the radio for half an hour, because, of course, it was my fault that they were losing, so if I didn’t pay attention, they wouldn’t feel so pressured and might chock up a victory.  I think I even prayed at times!

It was baseball that became the strongest bond between my mother and me. She would listen on a little transistor while she was sewing in the den, and I would sit with her to hear Vinny call the game, and sometimes help her pin a pattern to the fabric.  My father was never interested in any sports, except the Indy 500, and going deep-sea fishing; I don’t know why baseball held no fascination for him, but I don’t remember him involved in a single baseball event.  My younger sisters never got into baseball, either. This was the one thing that my mother and I shared.


Opening Day, Dodger Stadium, 1962. Look at how dressed up people still got, even in California!

When Dodger Stadium opened in Chavez Ravine on April 10, 1962, my mother got tickets to THE opening day as my birthday present; I turned 13 on April 1. It was such a huge event for Los Angeles. The stadium was beautiful, grand and modern, and even then had one of the best views in baseball, to the San Gabriel Mountains.  Like so many others with a historical bent, I firmly believe that it was the arrival of the Dodgers in LA in 1958 and their subsequent successes that finally caused this sprawling conglomeration of suburbs to gain an identity as a city outside its being the location of Hollywood. Just read Poldair’s book about “Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles” for an in-depth study of this development. Many years later, when we lived in Australia, we saw the same thing happen on a smaller scale to Canberra, when it finally got a winning Rugby League team, The Raiders, with heroes that such a sports-mad country could be proud of.


For we squeaky-clean suburban white kids, it was also our first introduction to black


Maury Wills and Tommy Davis at an Old-Timers Day, 2013.

people as superb athletes who we could admire–my favorite offensive player was (and remains) that base-stealing phenom Maury Wills. Torrance, where I lived, had covenants against blacks into the mid-60s, so we had none in our high school or neighborhoods, even though Watts and Compton were only a few miles to the east of us.

And then there was the arrival of Latino players throughout the league, most prominently the towering figure of Roberto Clemente of the Pirates. The first time I ever saw grown men speechless in grief was when Clemente was killed in a plane crash in Nicaragua. On the other side of that racial dimension, I remember clearly the amount of conversation surrounding the “incident” when Juan Marechal hit OUR Johnny Roseboro with a bat, and Sandy Koufax came off the mound to break it up. I was watching the game while babysitting, and was so shocked and stunned, I had to call my mother. I remember Vinny saying that he hoped no children would watch and think this was what baseball was about. Later on, all kinds of comments surfaced about “hot-blooded” Latin players. It was the first time that I realized that events in the game of baseball had larger cultural implications. (I still agree with Jacques Barzun:  “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game”) When Koufax and Drysdale held out for greater autonomy and salary against the owners, thus beginning free agency, my mother was so shocked by their “disloyalty” and the beginning of the era of frequent trades that she lost interest in the game.  It wasn’t until many years later that I heard, or had any interest in hearing, the tragic and intense story of Chavez Ravine, and the displacement and destruction of an entire village in order to build the Stadium. Those harsh realities were just not part of what I needed from baseball as a teenager.

When I went away to college, I got too busy and too involved in other interests to pay such close attention to my team, but I never stopped being a Dodger fan. When we moved to Australia, one of the only things I missed was Major League Baseball. When we returned to Los Angeles in 2003, after being away from America for 15 years, and I from California for nearly 40, I was overwhelmed with emotion to hear that Vinny was still broadcasting for the Dodgers–I just couldn’t believe it!  The first time we took in a game at Dodger Stadium, we got into the park, took our seats, the organ began to play, and I burst into tears. My mother was gone by then, and I thought that everything I had known as a child had to have disappeared–but there it all was, the scoreboard, the organ, and Vinny in the press box! In continuing the traditions that are so important to baseball, now I could bring my son–already a baseball fan–to the same park where I loved to watch the game.


And then there was the crowd–now so diverse, a real microcosm of LA, largely Latino, for whom the Dodgers are such a source of community pride. When the 2017 team FINALLY got into the World Series a few days ago, I thought it was so fitting that the TV stations went to East LA, to Mariachi Plaza and the 76 station where busses take East LA fans to the Stadium, to report on the celebrations. And while I have now become a lot like the inestimable 96-year-old Roger Angell’s wife–he wrote recently that she can’t stand to watch the games anymore unless her team is ahead by 8 or 10 runs–I will watch this World Series with all these talented young men, remembering all the joy and sorrow this game has brought me for nearly 60 years.  GO BLUE!