Monday, June 26, 2006

Thirty four years ago today...

Thirty-four years ago today, I fell in love for the first time.

I was only nine years old, but I knew it was a love that would last a lifetime. It took a lot of coaxing and cajoling, but on June 26th, 1972, my Dad took me to my first Dodger game.

I’m not quite sure how I came to be a Dodger fan. My Dad and older brother were both die-hard Angel fans. Somehow, I discovered my love for the Dodgers on my own. Vin Scully had a lot to do with that. I would spend countless hours in my parents bedroom (where they had the only radio in the house) listening to Scully call games.

My infatuation with the game of baseball began with the 1971 Fall Classic. I remember Roberto Clemente winning the Series MVP for the Pittsburgh Pirates and getting a hit in all seven games of that Series. For the better part of that winter, I begged my Dad to take me to Dodger Stadium the following year.

My Dad is a good man. He worked hard for our family of six in East Los Angeles. Resources were limited, and spending money to attend sporting events was not something that we had ever done. My skills of persuasion must have been evident even at that early age though. On my 9th birthday, May 7th 1972, Mom and Dad gave me the one thing that I wanted in the world…tickets to a Dodger game.

At long last, I was headed to the show! Due to limited resources, Mom and Dad could only afford two tickets, so Dad and I went to the game by ourselves. We had tickets on the 3rd base side (where the Dodger dugout is) on the Loge level. I’ll never forget it.

It was an unusually cool June Monday evening. The Big Red Machine was in town. Claude Osteen started for the Dodgers. The very first Major League player that I ever saw bat live? Pete Rose. He singled of course (went 2-5 that night). In an instant I learned to boo and hate Pete Rose and his cereal bowl haircut. Fortunately, Joe Morgan grounded into 3-6 double play right after that (thanks Retrosheet.org).

It was all downhill from there.

The Reds went on to score a run in the second, another in the third and then erupted for three in the fourth. By that point, my Dad had seen about all he needed to see. But I refused to leave. These were now MY Dodgers. Willie Davis patrolled Center Field that night with Manny Mota in Left and Willie Crawford in Right. Steve Garvey played the hot corner with Bill Russell at Short. Bobby Valentine manned Second and Bill Buckner gave Wes Parker a breather at First.

The Big Red Machine? They were on their way to their second National League pennant in three years. In addition to Rose and Morgan, I saw Johnny Bench don the tools of ignorance and Tony Perez cover First. George Foster played in Right Field and Davey Concepcion took the collar (0-5) at Short.

All Dad cared about was that he had spent all this money on tickets to see the Dodgers and they didn’t even have the decency to win. On that cool June evening, the words to “Take me out to the ballgame” became reality for me (“I don’t care if I NEVER get back”). I was in love. Our Lady of Chavez Ravine had her grip on my heart and I willingly surrendered.

Over the years my love was refined. Originally I was all about offense. When the Dodgers played on TV (which wasn’t very often in those days) I would watch the Dodgers bat and then go outside and play for 10 minutes. I would then come back inside to watch the boys in blue take their hacks again.

In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela changed all that.

Fernandomania took Los Angeles by storm and captured my hearts imagination as well. Until that point, I had never had any sense of appreciation for pitching. When Fernando lit the National League on fire in 1981, my senses were awakened to a whole other side of the game. It was as if my love had multiplied. I felt like Timothy Busfield in “Field of Dreams” when he finally saw the players on the field…“hey when did pitching start to be a part of the game?”

My love for the game grew further when I was introduced to Rotisserie (fantasy) Baseball in 1988. While my heart will always primarily belong to the Dodgers, I now was a National League snob and grew to appreciate other teams and players as well.

This past Father’s Day, my own kids surprised me with tickets to a Dodger game (damn I love them kids). Our Executive Editor Nick Athan was in town that week and so he went with us to that game. At the game, my oldest daughter Rebekah turned to Nick and said “hey Nick…SMILE, you’re at the happiest place on earth!” Nick quickly replied, “I thought that was Disneyland?” to which Rebekah answered “nah, that’s so second grade (Rebekah just graduated from High School a week earlier), THIS is the happiest place on Earth.”

As those words rolled off her tongue my eyes welled up. I got a lump in my throat just now as I recalled the moment. The circle of life was complete. My Dad had enabled my love for the game of baseball to grow thirty-four years ago today. Now, my own kids had developed their own flame for the game.

Over the years, I have developed an affinity for everything from the NFL to March Madness. Just last year I fell in love with NASCAR upon going to my first race in Phoenix. Boy did I ever fall HARD for NASCAR, it is has now supplanted my love for all other sports.

But baseball is my first love. My love of a lifetime.

Thirty-four years ago today, I fell in love for the first time.

Thanks Dad.

6 Comments:

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Josh said...

The interesting part is many many years back I was an Angel fan. Huge Angel fan. Each and every year that passed in which we never made the playoffs was heart breaking. Everytime we had to face Randy Johnson and Mariners was a day I knew a loss was coming our way. This was a time I had no understanding of the game, I just knew that I wanted the Angels to win. These days, despite my hatred for the sport at the beginning of the season, I have found myself watching the Angels play, not just looking at the recap. I truly care how they perform (poorly as of late for those who don't know), but now that I have developed a greater understanding for it, I enjoy it even more than when I was a child.

I plan on making my way to a Angels game this season, sometime. I think it is my time to return to the game I once loved but didn't quite understand. It is a game that I am slowly building an obsession over (despite the complaints from the woman I share a bed with), and will be something I eagerly anticipate the return of once the season ends. This happened last year with the NFL where I really started getting into it in week 5 or 6. Baseball is fine, but my first love remains football.

 
At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an angel fan! but more importantly, I'm a baseball fan. great story and Happy Birthday!

 
At 9:34 AM, Blogger jrgtrain said...

That was a very interesting blog.

As you know, I am not a big fan of baseball. You did spark some familiar memories of the Dodgers. You see, before I could wipe my own ass or put a sentence together, I was a Dodger fan.

I was a Dodger fan because my family was. My grandfather, my father, my uncles, granma, etc. I was born into it. As a kid I loved to play baseball and watch the Dodgers. You mentioned somethng about Fernando...??? Yeah, he kicked ass. I liked others like Steve Garvey, Steve Sax, Eddie Murray and of course.....Kirk Gibson.

I don't know if I have a point or if am just babbling. What I do know is I felt the same knot in my throat and the same waterworks when you mentioned your moment with the kids. THAT is what is spellbinding to me.

I cherish those moments with my own kids. My love is basketball. I can only hope that one day I too can share a moment like that with my kids, whether it is at my first Clippers playoff game or watching The Clippers win the Championship for the first time, who knows.

The point I guess is that there is no point. Sports and kids rule. God bless America.

 
At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Arnold said...

I remember playing any form of baseball that I could play trying to emulate all the great players of my time as I played the game myself. I had dreams of going to the Little League World Series and beyond. Your story reminded me that we are all just big kids at heart. Thank you!!!

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Bridget said...

When I first met Ron, I hated baseball. It made no sense to me why someone would spend 3 hours watching some guy trying to hit a ball while everyone else stands around on the field blowing bubbles or eating sunflower seeds. Woohoo!!

That all changed as I started attending Dodger games. Dodger dogs, garlic fries oh yeah and that hottie Paul Lo Duca! The more I went the more excited I got about the Dodgers. And when I wasn't at the game, Vince Scully had the gift to make me feel like I was right beside him watching it.

It was in March 2004 when things changed forever. I found heaven at Dodgertown in Vero Beach FL. The beautiful weather, hanging out watching the players stretch, practice and just have fun. Autographs and pictures with anyone you wanted. Spring training RULEZ!! The experience made these athletes and coaches REAL to me. It made me fall in love not only with the Dodgers but with the sport. That trip was magical for me!

So I may not know every stat for every player on every team for every year like RON does (FREAK!) but I learn more every season.

Thanks Ron for introducing me to the joy of baseball!

 
At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

My first recollections of baseball was watching the Cincinnati Red play the Oakland Athletics during the 70’s. I loved Pete Rose and Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan with the way he would flip his arm up and down when he was at bat. The Reds were all clean cut and shaven and the A’s all had long hair and beards. Boy what exciting series they gave us.

I then fell in love with the Angels when we moved to the OC and I watched Nolan Ryan pitch a 2 hitter and still lose the game. ( the Team’s offence struggled a little back then.)

Well today I am an Angel fan all the way. And this blog has inspired me to take my girls to their first game. They have both been to see the Quakes play but never to see the Angles. They are already in love with the game. They sit and watch games with me on the couch and play softball year round.

It is my first love also Ron. Great blog!

 

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