It started 13 years before I showed up. A nine-year-old boy — born in Pasadena and growing up in the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County — saw Major League Baseball move to Southern California in the spring of 1958 and fell in love. A year later, the Dodgers — quite magically, as is their wont — won a World Series. Two more followed in a six-year span, and that boy grew into a teenager and then young adult idolizing and dreaming of the names: Maury and Tommy, and Don and Sandy — and on and on. In 1969, he married. In 1971, he had a son: me.
What makes you fall in love with a baseball team? Real, active, always-present-tense love? The first time I remember (vaguely) attending a game is in 1976 against the Padres. I definitely remember having my Hitachi radio next to my bed every night, falling asleep to Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett, or Ross Porter. And I fully remember those crushing losses of 1977 — Reggie Jackson’s three-homer game — and 1978 — Reggie sticking his ass end into a throw to flip the series on its head.
Baseball, with its day-in-day-out routine, has a rhythm unlike any other sport. And it’s that rhythm that ties my family together in those years, from April through September — and, in the best years, October. My dad brings us to the Dodgers. My mom helps nurture the love affair. And my sister and I fall right into it.
Love is listening to my dad’s vinyl record of highlights of that 1959 Dodger championship team (“Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!” exclaims Vin.) Love is laughing along with Danny Kaye’s “D-O-D-G-E-R-S” song from the 60s.
Love expands when my dad starts buying tickets for me for my birthday each year. He and I go to a game in the week or two after my mid-May birthday. Dodger Stadium is a cathedral. Love is hearing those familiar sounds from my radio — the organist Helen Dell, the fans roaring — IN PERSON. Love is a Dusty Baker three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to beat the Cardinals in 1980. Love is a win over the defending champion Phillies in 1981, in which both Pete Rose and Larry Bowa are ejected after a close play at third base. And on and on.
If we go to a second or third game in a season, it’s a real treat. The Dodgers televise 50 road games each season on KTTV, Channel 11. Then something called ON TV comes around — a still-odd, one-channel precursor to basic cable — and the Dodgers add 20 home games there.
That’s still less than half the games televised — love is that Hitachi radio getting a regular workout, both bedside and in the backyard as I play along with games on Dodger road trips to the east coast. Love is those 4 p.m. Pacific starts! I am Garvey, Lopes, Russell, AND Cey — depending on what’s happening. I am Reggie Smith, Dusty, Steve Yeager. I am Don Sutton and Burt Hooton.
Love is building a makeshift Dodger Stadium scoreboard out of a large cardboard box, anchoring it to a wall in the backyard, and posting the line score on it every morning with chalk. Oh yes, that’s love.
Time rolls on, the memory bank fills up. Love is the big weekend sweep against the Astros in 1980 (only to be foiled in the NL West playoff game on Monday afternoon). Love is the first championship in 1981, the unforgettable year of “Fernandomania.” It’s staying home from school on a Monday to watch Rick Monday hit a home run in frozen Montreal to put the Dodgers into the Series. Love is jumping off the couch when they win said Series against the hated Yankees and inadvertently clocking my dad’s friend Harold in the chin. Love is getting the Dodgers’ holiday card in the mail — the one with the championship trophy on it.
Love is Opening Day 1982: raising the flag and Dusty walking off the Giants. Then it’s wandering the stadium until — right before they tell us to leave — we see Danny Kaye (“Well, I say D … I say D-O …”) talking to a friend and spot pitcher Bob Welch walking along the field level concourse. I think my sister and I scare him off with how excited we are.
What’s love? That Opening Day begins a long personal string — broken less than 5 times by work travel, a move east, and now the pandemic — of attending Opening Day, a springtime Christmas of sorts.
Love grows during twin pennant races with the Braves in ’82 and ’83 — listening on the stereo in the living room in the dark to one come-from-behind win after another as a new generation of Dodgers comes along. Near the end of the 1983 race, the Dodgers add a couple home games to the Channel 11 schedule (as happens almost every September). Love is a 4-run ninth-inning rally capped by squeeze bunt by a rookie named RJ Reynolds on a warm Sunday afternoon.
In 1985, my dad and I get tickets to our first playoff game — the first game of the NLCS against the Cardinals. Love is Fernando spinning a gem. Love, too, is being crushed a week later, watching helplessly on TV as Jack Clark sends a pitch screaming through the sunny October haze and into the left field pavilion.
The dream season comes around in 1988. Love is Kirk Gibson appearing as if from the ether — but really, just Detroit — and demanding the team follow his lead. They do, and then near the regular season’s end, love becomes Orel Hershiser going on just about the best two-month streak you’ll ever see from any pitcher.
In August of that year, my dad and I go to the stadium on back-to-back Saturdays — two of the most memorable nights of my life. On the first, we sit in the left field pavilion as a rookie call-up named Ramon Martinez baffles the second-place Giants for seven innings and then — after three Dodgers are ejected for arguing various calls in the 11th inning — pitcher Tim Leary must pinch hit because the Dodgers are out of position players. Love is Leary’s walkoff single, of course!
The following Saturday, we sit in the right field pavilion as the Dodgers fall behind Montreal, 3-0 after six. One in the seventh, one in the eighth, and one in the ninth ties the game, with Gibson standing on second base with two outs in that ninth inning. Love is one wild pitch and one mad dash by Gibby giving the Dodgers a 4-3 win, with more than 45,000 going screaming and celebrating together. Love is connection.
Yes, the year is improbable, and Gibson delivers the impossible in Game 1 of the World Series — still the greatest single moment I’ve ever seen as a Dodger fan. But it’s all of a piece, so that when Hershiser strikes out Tony Phillips to end the World Series in Oakland, the feeling isn’t so much shock as it is wonder. Love is still wondering how they did it. How did it all work out just so?
Until earlier this week, there are times I think we used up all of our fan karma that year.
The 32-year separation from Hershiser then to Julio Urias Tuesday does not dim love. No, it anchors it deeper. Once I am out of the house, into college, living in LA, and into my adulthood, I take every chance I can get to go to that stadium. Love is soaking it all in five, eight, 10, 12 times a year — good teams or bad — during those early lean years.
Even the worst Dodger season in my lifetime — 1992 — brings back strong memories. Love is sitting with maybe 6,000 people at the start of an early July, midweek doubleheader vs. the Expos, made necessary by the cancellation of games during the riots. Love is lucking into a couple of free tickets late in the season — and seeing Kevin Gross toss a no-no vs. the Giants.
The next generation begins to take hold in 1993, as a very average Dodgers team led by Eric Karros and future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza memorably derails a 103-win Giants team on the season’s final day. Love is my dad and I sitting in the loge level and relishing the moment. And though a couple of playoff berths result, the Fox era of Dodger ownership is, mostly, a stain — proven no more clearly than by the joke of a trade that sends Piazza to Florida on my birthday in 1998. Love is still being mad about that.
But that’s nothing compared to the McCourt era. It starts promisingly enough, with the Dodgers’ first playoff game win since 1988 when Jose Lima shuts out the Cardinals in the 2004 NLDS. Another playoff appearance in 2006 is, again, brief — following the famous back-to-back-to-back-to-back home run miracle against the Padres on my dad’s birthday that September. Love is remembering both that marvelous night — and also two Dodgers, laughably, being thrown out at the plate on the same play in an NLDS game in Shea Stadium weeks later.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have fond memories of certain players from the early 90s through the aughts. The aforementioned Karros, Piazza, and Lima. And there’s Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, Paul LoDuca, Eric Gagne (GAME OVER!), and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.
Before McCourt’s bleeding of the Dodgers’ finances for his personal gain, though, the team begins to usher in a new crew, many of whom would be part of the Dodgers’ current run. Names like Russell Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, AJ Ellis, and — of course — Clayton Kershaw are the youth on a pair of division title teams that win playoff series in 2008 and 2009 — the MANNYWOOD era. And when my dad both retires AND turns 60 in 2008, there’s no question where we celebrate those milestones: Dodger Stadium. Love, indeed.
By 2012, though, when Guggenheim Partners — which brilliantly lets LA icon Magic Johnson serve as its initial face — purchases the Dodgers, many fans are in outright revolt. The McCourts had sullied what we love, they’d used all of us, and they weren’t subtle about it.
That changes almost instantaneously, as new ownership makes bold moves to create a contender in 2013. Then, in early June, a sort of magic happens — Yasiel Puig. The buzz he creates with his immediate success is incredible, and the Dodgers follow, blowing through a 42-7 run in the middle of the summer to bring back excitement and joy to a stadium that had grown quiet in recent years.
That summer happens to coincide with the purchase of a 30-game ticket pack, made possible by the agreement of my now wife. Never in my life did I think I’d be so lucky to go to the stadium so many times in one season — but Caitlin is up for it, and I think that’s the summer we bring her into the fold for good. Love adds one more Dodger fan to the family.
Love is Puig running madly from first to third or gunning down another runner. Love is another walk-off hit by Ethier or Adrian Gonzalez. And love definitely is Juan Uribe’s game-winning home run in the NLDS vs. Atlanta. Though the season ends with a tough NLCS defeat to the Cardinals (Love definitely is NOT the St. Louis Cardinals), it’s so much fun that talking Caitlin into full season tickets isn’t really a “talking into” at all.
We could never know that 2013 is the first of eight consecutive divisional title seasons. What a time to fulfill that lifelong dream of owning season tickets. While we never really top going to more than 30 regular season games, going to that many games in a given summer — and then into the playoffs every year — takes love to a different place. The routine weeknights in the early season, with the smaller crowds, OR the big weekend series in late August — it doesn’t matter. Each experience is its own, and just how tied I — we — feel to the team only grows.
Love is teaching your soon-to-be wife how to keep score. It’s watching her learn each player’s quirks and come to love (or hate) in the same ways you do. Love is the “rhythm and the ritual of the stadium and the game and the season,” Caitlin says.
Love is her loving Joc Pederson and my dad disliking him — while I just enjoy the homers. Love is her being … uninspired … by the persona of Max Muncy and my dad having a massive man-crush on him — while I just enjoy the homers.
Love is sharing a bevy of jokes about Uribe’s or Zack Greinke’s scoreboard photos. It’s also jokes about Jamey Carroll taking Dee Gordon out for ice cream after the game. It’s grabbing two Dodger Dogs and a beer before you sit down each night. Love is going from hating Chase Utley to loving him. Love is getting there early on Kershaw Day to watch him go through his full warmup routine. Love is both of us singing along to “I Love L.A.” and “Touch The Sky” after big wins.
Love is remembering the drunk couple sitting behind us who eventually starts a fight — between themselves — and laughing about it. It’s being on a first-name basis with fellow-U2-lover Josh, the bartender in the Stadium Club who’s originally from New England and always puts my tab under “Tommy Brady” once he finds out Caitlin is, too. Love is being able to take your dad to as many games as he wants, including a World Series game.
Love is watching “The Lego Movie” from the Stadium Club on the scoreboard after a Saturday afternoon game and laughing like madmen with the lone usher/security guard whose job was to stick around. Love is hitting the Short Stop before 6 p.m. Saturday games and downing a couple of boilermakers — and then, on one of those Saturdays, almost missing the message that you won Dugout Club seats because of said boilermakers … and a couple more beers after you got inside the stadium.
Love is getting lucky enough to have a pregame margarita with Mickey Hatcher in the Stadium Club. Love is taunting the D-backs bullpen from the right field bar as they fritter away a 4-run ninth-inning lead. Love is watching Pedro Baez give up a 450-foot home run one night and coming back with hope for something better the next.
Love is Kershaw dominating the Giants to clinch the division in 2014. Love is Charlie Culberson walking off the division title on Vin Scully’s final call at the stadium. Love is listening to your own vinyl LP of 1981 championship season highlights the morning of Vin Scully’s final-final game behind the mic, just a week later.
Love is Chris Taylor homering on the first pitch of the World Series. It’s Rich Hill holding a handmade cardboard sign in the dugout exhorting the crowd to get louder. Love is watching Puig and Hanley Ramirez feed Uribe a banana after a home run — and it is Kiké Hernandez dressing in a banana costume on the bench late in games.
Love is Ethier hitting an opposite field home run to tie the game in the ninth and Gonzalez walk it off with a double in the 12th. It’s watching Puig double home two for a walkoff win against the White Sox. Love is rising in unison when Kenley jogs in to “California Love.” Love is hating the “social media highlights” and “in-game hosts” between innings on the scoreboard.
Love is all the familiar faces behind the food and beverage counters and getting to know and re-know them every season. It’s the lucky Dodger Dog lady — every time I got in her line for my pregame dogs one season, the Dodgers seemed to win! Love is getting on the field for batting practice and having Puig and Dave Roberts (among others) take pictures with you and the Dodgers onesie jersey you bought for the son you’re expecting a few months later.
Love is keeping your season tickets even though you move 3,000 miles away in 2018, just so that you can go to a few games when you’re in town — and you can otherwise share the experience with friends and family who are up to go to all those other games. Love is flying back those 3,000 miles, three-and-a-half weeks after the birth of your son, to introduce him to his grandpa and great aunt — and to take him to his first two World Series games.
And love, from 2013-2019, is also about the pain of coming so close every single time. Love is the silence of the home crowd at the end of Game 5 of the NLDS in 2015 … and Game 7 of the World Series in 2017 … and Game 5 of the World Series in 2018. It’s flipping your TV off at the end of Game 6 of the NLCS in 2013 … and Game 4 of the NLDS in 2014 … and Game 6 of the NLCS in 2016 … and Game 5 of the NLDS in 2019. Love is, within a couple weeks, being oh-so-ready to do it all over again the next spring.
Only, this spring, there’s nothing to do. The pandemic puts the season at risk — a season that looks so promising after the Dodgers steal Mookie Betts from the Red Sox. For months, we wonder if there will be baseball. And then, even when it starts, the empty stadiums and positive tests around the league are strange and cause concern about how they can possibly finish the season.
But love is watching on Opening Night (even that sounds weird) on ESPN, and then tuning in regularly with MLB.TV as the Dodgers march powerfully through the 60-game schedule. Love is finding solace in the regularity of a baseball game — a Dodger baseball game — in the craziness that is 2020.
When the extended playoffs start in late September, Dodger fans are ready but wary. Love is worrying about a best-of-three series vs. Milwaukee. And love is relief when they ease through it in two. Love is seeing the Padres show up for their every-other-decade bout of relevancy, and then dispatching their upstart crew in three straight. Love is definitely being so fed up as the Dodgers fall behind Atlanta three-games-to-one that you turn off Game 4 in the seventh inning just for your own sanity.
But love — as noted earlier — is coming back the next day, putting on your “In This Together” t-shirt that you bought earlier in the summer to support the Dodgers Foundation, and hoping against hope for something different.
Something different happens. Love is Mookie’s shoe-top catch turning the tide in Game 5, and then Will Smith homering off Will Smith to force Game 6. It’s Corey Seager and Walker Buehler pushing it to Game 7. Love is Justin Turner’s incredible rundown double play, Mookie stealing one homer, and Kiké and Cody Bellinger hitting a pair of big-time bombs to win the pennant.
Love is starting to believe this is finally the year, and then having Mookie boost that belief in Game 1 of the World Series with a virtuoso performance. It’s shrugging off a Game 2 loss and watching Buehler throw like a modern-day cross of Drysdale and Koufax in Game 3.
And, yes, love is thinking all hope is lost for a few hours after the mindboggling, reality-bending, soul-crushing finish of Game 4. We’ve seen that movie before. And when that movie runs in previous postseasons, it usually means curtains for the Dodgers. The feeling of dread runs well into the early afternoon hours on Sunday.
Our beloved, flawed hero — Kershaw — is to take the mound in Game 5 under immense pressure to right the ship. So many times during the past seven seasons, the Dodgers put it all on Kersh — and then try to put even more on him. Worse, Kersh has a tendency to put it all on himself, and his striving for perfection — plus the Dodgers’ constant desire to see him get just one more out, no matter the situation — too often leads to disaster.
Love is putting on my Kershaw jersey that evening and deciding to believe, one more time. On Sunday night, he does the job — not with his Cy Young stuff, but not trying to be perfect. Grinding through 5 2/3 innings, catching the tying run at the plate trying to steal home, and retiring the last seven batters he faces, Kershaw gets the biggest win of his career.
This time, the Dodgers stand strong in the face of the most baffling adversity at the worst time. They remain steadfast in that 4-2 win in Game 5. It’s different. Love is the strange calmness that comes — something I’ve rarely felt in all my years as a Dodger fan.
Love is understanding how that sense of calm remains, even as Rays pitcher Blake Snell tosses 5 incredible innings to start Game 6. But Tampa loves its analytics, and five Dodger pitchers keep the deficit at just one run. Love is believing that this championship is just one break away. When Snell goes out after an Austin Barnes single in the sixth, love and Mookie and Julio win.
32 years gone. When last the Dodgers call themselves champs, I’m a senior in high school, my sister a sophomore, my dad nine years younger than I am right now, and my mom not even 40. So much changes. We grow apart and come back together — some of us more than once. We move on, and create different lives, and add wonderful people to our circles, and find ourselves in different parts of the country.
But, when Urias fires that 97 MPH fastball down the middle to Willy Adames on Tuesday night — and I sit with Caitlin to my left, our son Theo on my lap, and my dad on FaceTime on my iPhone — we’re all together. Not just Caitlin, my dad, and Theo, but also my mom, my sister, my aunt, and my friends with whom we spend so many days and nights at the stadium.
There we are: standing in the left-field pavilion on Opening Day in 1982; dancing around the living room on a Sunday afternoon in 1983; screaming in the right field pavilion in 1988; jawjacking Giants fans in 1993; sitting in the ballpark on a chilly April night in 1995 just because we loved it there; watching Raul Mondesi’s two miracle home runs on Opening Day in 1999; celebrating Lima Time in 2004; cheering a Matt Kemp walk-off homer against the Nats in 2012; roaring after JT’s walk-off homer in Game 2 against the Cubs in 2017; feeling the stadium shake after Puig’s 3-run bomb in Game 4 against the Red Sox in 2018.
The Dodgers are a part of the fabric of my life, of our lives. I love them when they fail at the end, and I most certainly love them when they finally win it all. But most importantly, I love them because I mark time with them. I love them because I see who was then and who I am now. I love them because they are a thread that runs through everything I’ve done and everything I’d like to do (insert James Earl Jones’ “Field of Dreams” speech here).
They are that thread because my dad hands it to me in the 1970s and lets me run with it. Love is getting to see my dad watch the Dodgers win the World Series again. Love is my dream-maker Caitlin being with me in that moment. And, finally, it’s that Theo is there to lean into the phone screen a few moments after the last out to tell my dad: “The Dodgers won!”
Yes, buddy. Yes, they did.
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