Though at age 45, I still don’t have it all figured out, I am starting to recognize and be grateful for certain events in my life as the learning experiences they were, and am finally starting to make a bit of sense of the past. In doing so, one night recently when the Dodgers mounted one of their thrilling late inning comebacks and I found myself dancing around my living room in excitement, I started thinking about what my life would be like if I hadn’t first loved baseball as a youngster.
I realize it all started with my father, who also happens to call himself a Dodgers fan. So, on this Father’s Day, I think about the effect my relationship with Dad has had on my own life as a baseball fan, and I give thanks.
It’s quite conceivable that I simply wouldn’t be the baseball fan I am today if I had any brothers. I am in the middle child of three girls – my older sister was born 21 months before me, with my younger sister coming along less than a year after I was born. Because of the closeness in our ages, we were all teenagers at the same time, living under the same roof (which, in hindsight, helps me appreciate my father even more – it was indeed just as bad or worse than you can imagine).
If there had been a son, a brother, in the mix, Dad may have had someone else to watch baseball with, and teach how to call fly balls in the backyard, as he patiently did with me.
Funny how life works out sometimes.
“Why the Dodgers?” is a question many long-distance – especially Canadian – fans get with quite regularity, and it’s a fair question. As a young boy growing up in Ottawa, Dad would listen to Dodgers games on his radio after having become interested in them through their connection with the Montreal Royals, and the loyalty remained over the next 5 decades, throughout the highs and lows of championships as well as disappointing seasons.
Dad is by no means the type of watch-every-game-and-live-and-die-on-each-pitch type of baseball fan that I am, having had his heart broken too many times down the stretch over the years, and in fact will rarely sit through a game now, too afraid to repeat that heartbreak that most longtime fans of the same team know all too well. However, I likely wouldn’t have ever gotten into baseball or even sports if not for his influence.
Dad was a championship curler in his younger years and also followed a lot of sports, and many of the moments that brought a smile to Dad’s face while I was growing up revolved around some sort of sporting event. I saw the attention he paid to the TV during the baseball postseason especially, and I wanted to be that important. Though I was only 8 years old at the time and recall very few details from that age, likely in an attempt to connect with Dad in my own way, I showed some interest in baseball in the summer of 1980. In fact, my earliest specific baseball memory is being woken up by Dad back in October of that year so that I could watch the final outs of that year’s World Series between the Phillies and the Royals.
The following season I became enamored with the Montreal Expos and as a result, endured my first baseball heartbreak on Blue Monday when the Dodgers beat them in the NLCS on Rick Monday’s 9th inning home run. The story goes that I bawled my eyes out at game’s end, while Dad celebrated his team clinching the pennant, not realizing extent of my new emotional attachment to the sport. Though the Dodgers went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series, still his guilt lingered.
That year’s heartbreak aside, baseball became a source of joy in my life, and I joined little league baseball and played softball in junior high, and worshipped Tim Wallach and my beloved Expos throughout my teenage years. Every year during the postseason, Dad would mention Blue Monday and how bad he felt about his sensitive 9-year-old daughter in tears over his own team’s win. As an Expos fan, I was being accustomed to yearly heartbreak, so I’m fairly sure he felt much worse about it than I did.
Baseball has grown to mean many things to me over the years, and I recognize it now as a way to have stayed connected with Dad through life’s ups and downs. Recognizing that not everyone is lucky enough to still have a father in their lives, I am indeed grateful that he is still in mine and able to reminisce in great detail about – among many other things – Sandy Koufax’s greatness, Tommy Lasorda’s antics, and the many exploits of the Dodgers from the 1980’s era.
We don’t always recognize the significance of moments – days, months, years even – until they are firmly in the past. On reflection though, I will forever cherish a gift I received from Dad on my 25th birthday on December 1996 – a copy of “Season Ticket”, a collection of baseball essays by Roger Angell that I still have, with a simple hand-written inscription on the inside flap:
“To Gail – a fellow fan and beloved daughter”.
At the time, two years after the soul-crushing baseball strike, the Expos franchise was on the decline and I was preoccupied with other things like most 20-somethings are, but baseball was still a bond we shared, and would continue to.
20 years later, it is a very happy coincidence that Dad and I both call ourselves Dodgers fans. I happen to have found my way to the Dodgers via the Expos and Tim Wallach, for my own reasons, while Dad had discovered them as a teen and stuck with them, but I can say that I love baseball because of the influence he had on me as a young, impressionable 8-year old.
For that, I sure am grateful.
And so, on Sunday, September 25, 2016, after making my first trip to Dodger Stadium that weekend, I stood with the emotional crowd at game’s end, listening to Vin Scully’s rendition of Wind Beneath My Wings. After the screaming, jumping, and near-fainting was done and most of the players had retreated to the clubhouse, I watched Justin Turner pose for a picture with his father near the Dodgers dugout, and I made a quick phone call to mine, 3500 miles away. This time, the Dodgers hadn’t made me cry, but had instead helped me fulfill a lifelong dream of watching my team clinch a pennant in person, and I wanted to share the moment with Dad.
Though he had turned the game off when Kenley Jansen had given up the go-ahead home run in the top of the 9th (see earlier note on barely being able to sit through a game), he had turned it back on in time to see the now legendary Charlie Culberson pennant clincher.
Finally, the Dodgers were forgiven for making his daughter cry on Blue Monday.
So, thank you, Dad, and Happy Father’s Day. I’ll be over for supper…just as soon as the Dodgers game is over.