On Baseball, Beach Balls and the Beauty of Dodger Stadium
The 2018 World Series brings together two of baseball’s most storied franchises: The Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It will also bring the inevitable mocking of the Dodger fan. “Oh, they come late, leave early. Oh, they spend the whole time knocking beach balls around the stadium. They don’t really care about baseball!”
I call foul ball.
I lived nearly 25 years in Los Angeles. Saw the Dodger Blue worn from the barrio immigrants to Brentwood elites, Silver Lake hipsters to South Central gangbangers. And in the mirror.
Fondness Not Fanaticism
Sure, you don’t see in Dodger fans the same level of fanaticism you see with other sports teams in other cities. The Red Sox being a prime example. I grew up near Washington D.C. when the Redskins ruled more than any president or congress. Redskin-mania was wide-eyed obsession, a matter of life-and-death. I live in Dallas, where the Cowboy’s blue star is as ever-present as boots and they name highways after coaches.
Even in Los Angeles, the Dodgers don’t generate the frenzy of the Lakers “Showtime” or the dangerous obsession of the old L.A. Raiders. It’s more a beloved friendship. A pleasant garden that blooms from April to October, leaving a lovely scent throughout the L.A. basin. As legendary manager Tommy Lasorda would say, “Even the sky is Dodger Blue.”
Sunsets and Star Gazing
Baseball is called America’s Pastime. And the Dodgers’ home ballpark in Chavez Ravine is, in fact, in the middle of a park. Going to a game does feel more like a summer pastime than sporting event. And I’m not just talking about the ever-present beach balls or the beautiful women in their summer cut-offs and shades. Try sitting at Dodger Stadium downing a grilled Dodger Dog, the sunset turning the hills of Elysian Park from green to oranges and reds to purple, as before you a youthful game is played on a perfect carpet of grass. Regardless of the score your evening is a victory.
I especially enjoyed this one particular season. My friend Jan is a huge Dodger fan. Her bridesmaids wore Dodger Blue. Her dad’s friends knew Jan’s devotion to the team and so when they’d go on vacation they’d hand her their season tickets. Husband George worked nights, and so I’d end up going to see chunks of an entire home stand.
Given how unsettled my life was at the time, there was something very soothing about the regular rhythm of the sport. The warm-ups, players tossing balls to kids in the crowd, little league teams gathering in the infield, groundskeepers wetting down the base paths, the night’s honoree throwing out the first pitch. Nancy Bea Hefley playing one of the only stadium organs still in existence in the Majors. (Let Hefley provide the soundtrack for the rest of this story … )
But L.A. is L.A. You will see and hear what you don’t see and hear in other stadiums. One night a friend, her son and I found ourselves in front of two guys getting into the graphic details of the porn movie they were producing. We reminded them there was a child present. “Oh, sorry, ma’am,” they said, then spent a few more innings discussing the financial, logistical and casting issues with the film. Hollywood.
One day Jan and I were at a game with the stupendous voice talent Mary Kay Bergman and her husband Dino. (See “Blame Canada.”) This was two nights after Roseanne Barr’s infamous, horrific rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I begged Mary Kay to sing as Roseanne. Her impersonation was spot on. Oh, how many heads turned.
Real celebrities were so common-place, heads wouldn’t need to turn. Every year assorted famous and fabulous play in the annual Hollywood Stars Nigh game. Gosnell star Dean Cain and Stephen Baldwin are real ballers. Others stars are stadium regulars. Take actress Alyssa Milano. Before she became known as the creature of the dark staring down Brett Kavanaugh, she was actually noted for her Dodger devotion and baseball knowledge.
Dodger games are a community event, and not just in happy times. I was at one of the first games after 9/11. The huge flag unfurled across the field like a rain tarp catching our grief. I was at the stadium the night after Michael Jackson died. The musical tribute helping ease the shock, fans of assorted races and riches together singing and dancing to the King of Pop’s songs.
Coming Late, Leaving Early
Yes, Dodger fans tend to arrive at games late and tend to leave early. To a co-worker just arrived from St. Louis this was blasphemy. “Cardinal fans would never leave a game early!” Oh, she brewed up some righteous anger. I half expected her to chase people down escalators and drag them back to their seats. I’m guessing that after a few more months of L.A. traffic she was more forgiving.
However, I have a better answer. Until very recently, the Dodgers were blessed with radio announcer Vin Scully. Vin was with the team since their days in Brooklyn and has had more to do with building the Dodger community and sensibility than any player or manager. His voice was as ever present and welcome as a sea breeze and sunshine. Wherever you were L.A that golden voice was in the air.
Vin Scully’s vivid imagery and story telling put you in the front row. You were there with Vinnie as Fernando Valenzuela took the mound or Mike Piazza took a mighty swing. Or Lasorda charged an umpire. Scully would conjure up the ghosts of Dodgers past, spin tales of Dodger family lore like a wise and kind uncle at a barbecue. You were as much at the game sitting in your car as you were sitting in your seat. So why not leave the game a bit early and have Vin drive you home? (Not that we ever did, best I can remember.)
The World Series
Fast forward to 2018. Once again, the Dodgers are in the World Series, aiming for their seventh title. It’d be their first in 30 long years, going back to the magical ’88 World Series and Kurt Gibson’s heroics. My Dodger jacket has long since been given away. Still, I’ll be rooting for the Dodgers, my mouth watering for a Dodger Dog. And my heart longing for the serenity and community and beauty of Dodger Stadium.