My Dad, the Dodgers and Me
Do I live in LA? No. Do I live in California? No. Have I ever lived in LA? No. California? No. The closest I’ve come to a homestead near Dodger Stadium was my birth in Salt Lake City or perhaps my collegiate apartment in the Pacific Northwest. Either way, I’m now a full, die hard Texan by choice. We, Texans, have a general disdain for everything California and vice versa. From guns to God to housing prices and property taxes to Red State/Blue State, there’s very little love lost between two of the largest states. But I love the LA Dodgers. I do not love them in a “Join the Bandwagon Way” (I see you, all the unearthed Cubs fans of last year and Red Sox fans of a decade ago). No, I love the Dodgers because they are mine. They were given to me by my father at the time of my birth. They are my heritage and they have my heart in a way no other professional sports franchise can.
My dad was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. His Dad was born and raised there as well. Both graduated from Venice High School (oh you know Venice, they filmed John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John fall in love in Grease there). At Venice High my grandparents met. Multiple Uncles and Aunts walked by the Myrna Loy statue through their high school years. And in that household, the Dodgers were family.
Family legend says my grandmother was put on bedrest while pregnant with my dad in 1955. She spent her summer and fall on the couch watching baseball. In that year, the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella won the World Series. My grandma always insisted that was where the baseball obsession began for my dad.
As a child my dad struggled to learn to read in school. Nothing his teachers would give him inspired him to master the skill until my grandmother handed him the Sports Section of the LA Times. My dad learned to read by reading the Dodgers box scores.
My Great Aunt used to tell a story of her road tripping to Alaska with my dad and his family. Each of the 4 kids in my Dad’s family got a rotation in their Uncle and Aunts car, my Aunt Madeline said the hours with my dad in the car were hours of him reciting baseball statistics.
The 1960s Dodgers were everything to my dad. He lived and died on their wins and losses. He can still recite to you every fact you would hope to know about the players through those years. But none more so than his favorite player, Sandy Koufax.
Sandy Koufax is a name I’ve never not known, like my grandparents, my siblings and Rush Limbaugh. Koufax is a man who has graced our home and every home my dad has ever lived in. My Dad’s most prized piece of art is a framed collection of all of Koufax’s Topps baseball cards signed by the man himself. In the corner is a picture of my Dad shaking hands with his hero when the collection was signed. I was there when that picture was taken. I remember the look on his face and how nervous he was as we inched closer at the autograph show. My Dad will tell anyone who asks about the conversation he had with his childhood hero. Koufax paused when he was handed my Dad’s collection to sign.
“This must be worth quite a bit,” he said, obviously impressed.
“I have no idea,” my Dad responded. “I’ll never sell it.”
It’s his children’s inheritance and all of his children want it because it is part of my Dad. And it is part of us.
In 1988, the last time the Dodgers were in the World Series, my Mom was pregnant with me. Together, she and my Dad watched as Kirk Gibson hit his memorable home run. And the same story moved to the next generation.
My Dad regularly worked nights as a kid, but when he did not he gave us bedtime stories. There were only 2 stories my Dad would tell, the reading of Casey at the Bat and Sandy Koufax stories.
We would hear all about the sweep of the Yankees in the World Series in 1963. He would tell us of the complete game shut-out of the Twins in Game 5 of the 1965 World Series. He praised Koufax for not pitching during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur during the same series and of Koufax throwing another shut out in Game 7 on 2 days rest to win the ‘65 World Series. These are the stories I was raised on. Those were the heroes of my childhood, Koufax and Drysdale. Every night their heroics brought cheers of victory at bed time. The first song I knew by heart was “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with Dodgers always filling the “Home Team” line. I was given a Dodgers shirt as a kid, the worst day of my short life was the day I outgrew it. My mother came to the rescue by turning it into my Dodgers dress, and I continued to wear it and sing about the Dodgers and hear Sandy Koufax stories.
I am an adult now. I have married and had 3 children. My loyalty has transferred to my home team, the Texas Rangers. I take my kids multiple times a season to Globe Life Park and as a family we watch the Rangeres nightly on television. Just as I did as a child we sing “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” as loud as we can. I holler Rangers and sometimes they copy me. But often they giggle and yell Dodgers back at me. Because that’s what Grandpa taught them. And that’s what their Grandpa taught me.
Now it’s 2017. The Dodgers are in the World Series for the first time in my lifetime. They are playing against the Houston Astros. I want to cheer for Houston. They are Texan. But I cannot. Because the Dodgers are my team.
My Dad and I sat and watched a game together. He brought baseball cards for my boys. Their Koufax, Drysdale and Robinson are now Kershaw, Pederson and Jansen. During the game my Dad spouted out statistic after statistic of Dodgers past. He lamented the change of the game. I sat next to him falling more in love with the game as I watched the greatest World Series of my lifetime. He talked Koufax. I talked Kershaw. We cheered on the Dodgers.
That is sports at its purest. It is one child’s love transferred from generation to generation. It’s family history and family tradition. It’s love and loss. It’s hearts racing and hearts breaking. It’s one person’s legacy becoming another’s. It’s memories with my dad and children I’ll never forget. It’s living my own stories to tell my children’s children. It’s two lifetimes of love for a team being fulfilled or crushed in the course of 7 evenings. It’s three generations together. It’s my Dad, the Dodgers and me. It’s a love story.