By Marshall Garvey
Please be aware this is a very personal story that talks about suicide. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you need help: 1-800-273-8255
Where does this story truly begin?
Perhaps the most fitting answer is November 21, 1989. Born in Orange County one year removed from their last championship, loving the Dodgers was a rite of passage as soon as I entered this world. My father has been a devout fan since the 70’s, when Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey ruled the infield and Tommy Lasorda immediately succeeded Walter Alston in the lineage of Hall of Fame Dodger managers. My father even saw Garvey in his rookie year, 1970, well before “The Infield” anchored three pennant winners that decade. I would warmly recount my own childhood of summers spent at Dodger Stadium, had we not moved up north to Truckee in 1992 when I was two years old.
Even then, my first game at Dodger Stadium was at the ripe old age of one in 1990, swaddled in a blanket and a pacifier in my mouth as the Dodgers took on Andre Dawson and the Cubs. Hell, my very surname would seemingly indicate I’m directly connected to franchise royalty by blood. But while the coincidence is downright uncanny, my family is not related to Steve Garvey!
Even though we don’t have a blood connection to Steve, the Garvey household’s blood is nonetheless colored a deep shade of Dodger Blue. It is especially a source of bonding between my father and I. We have spent countless hours passionately discussing the team, going out to get a snack or In-N-Out Burger late at night and chatting about everything from 2009 Andre Ethier walk-offs to whether or not Friedman and Zaidi’s latest trade was the right move. Countless fathers and sons have bonded over baseball….but there is something extra resonant about bonding over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Our faith in the Bums is unending, one tested over the years by the grind of mediocrity and heartbreak that has been the corpulent bulk of Dodger history for the past three decades. Year after year, we endured the disappointments. I still remember in 2006 when my father picked me up from school to tell me about Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew being thrown out at home seconds apart against the Mets in the NLDS. We suffered the beatdowns at the hands of the Phillies, with Jimmy Rollins’ 2009 walk-off uniting us in agony even though we witnessed it miles apart. As my dad watched in disbelief while visiting his parents in SoCal, I stood in stunned silence in our pitch black living room in Sacramento, the only light emanating from the television that broadcast the horrifying sight of Carlos Ruiz scoring the winning run.
Most excruciating of all was the sudden fusillade of Giants championships, made far worse by living in the heart of Giants country, Sacramento. Especially 2014, an October of agony which started with L.A.’s crushing NLDS loss to the Cardinals. Game one was the stuff of nightmares, the radio call of Matt Carpenter’s bases-clearing double off Clayton Kershaw shattering the serenity of our weekend drive through Redwood National Forest. A few weeks later, the divine torture of modern Dodger fandom reached its apogee when the Giants won yet another World Series on the arm of Madison Bumgarner. To say the least, we had to brace ourselves for many obnoxious jabs and “even year magic” paeans from Giant fan friends and colleagues. But we didn’t give up…if anything, it only strengthened our resolve to stay true to our team in the hopes they’d win it all soon.
While those details are critical to understanding the depth of my Dodger fanhood over the years, they’re not the story per se, but rather the context for it. This particular story is about one year and one team, the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers, and how they saved me from the worst year of my life. A year that, among other challenges, constantly brought me face to face with death itself. A year that seemed to spiral out of control more and more with each passing month. A year where, when I hit the most despondent rock bottom imaginable, the magic of the Boys in Blue rescued me in the nick of time. And it’s a story that doesn’t quite end with that rescue, as it was followed by their first trip to the World Series in nearly three decades…and the first in my lifetime.
But in order to get to those Dodger Blue-tinted peaks, I had to traipse through a seemingly unending series of valleys. And as soon as the calendar flipped to 2017 A.D., I wasted no time arriving at the first of those many valleys
A Colossal Wreck
My personal story in the year 2017 started with a bang….literally. It was January 19, returning from a boxing lesson in Davis, on a slightly cold and rainy night. I was driving down the I-80, as I had done dozens of times before over the past seven years. Like any other night drive from Davis to Sacramento, I thought.
In an instant, it wasn’t. I suddenly slammed into a car in front of me, hard enough to deploy my airbag. My 2007 Chevy Impala was totaled, a smoldering wreck on the side of the road. Miraculously, I sustained no injuries, and quickly stepped out of the car into the cold January night. I ran over to the car I had hit, whose driver, also fortunately uninjured, was sobbing while calling for help.
I thought to myself, “It can’t get any worse than this.” Standing on the roadside in my Big Star shirt, shivering from the slight drizzle, running back and forth in a state of panic. I didn’t know what to do, taking minutes to even call my parents and follow proper accident protocol. Things were eventually taken care of, and my parents came to get me and bring me home. I was lucky to be alive, and despite some warranted acrimony over the inevitable hike in insurance cost, there was a mutual assurance of love between us. Still, I couldn’t envision things getting any worse than that night.
But the year was about to get worse. Much, much worse. Realistically, it shouldn’t have. I already had my brush with death for the year, if that were a necessity. Given the slew of celebrity deaths throughout 2017, perhaps it was only fitting in retrospect.
As it turned out, it would only be the first brush with death, and one that was at least quickly behind me. The next came next month in February, on a Saturday night that, again, seemed so much like any other. I returned home from an evening of house hunting with my friend Michael Ros, only to be called to the dinner table by my parents to hear some serious news. This had happened many times before, sometimes to preface announcements that weren’t too crushing. This one, however, was the most serious of all.
My mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
I sat there in shock, as my littlest sister wept. For years, the idea of cancer affecting a loved one always seemed like a remote possibility, something that only happened to a certain number of people you didn’t know. It could never happen to us. But now it was in the Garvey household, and engrafted into the body of the person who had brought me into this world. This was a likelihood of death that couldn’t be taken care of with an insurance hike and a replacement car. It was one that was here to say for months at best, and years at worst. More than ever, I needed something to get me through my rapidly deteriorating life situation.
Descent into Depression…and Codymania
At first, the Dodgers didn’t look like they’d be that escape I needed. Sure, they had gotten the band back together by wisely retaining Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner. But April was a mostly forgettable slog as far as Dodger baseball was concerned. The most notable highlight of their placid 9-10 start was watching the Chicago Cubs get their World Series rings, right before reprising the stinging defeat of the 2016 NLCS. While still early in the season, the feeling that it was more or less the Same Old Dodgers was hard to avoid, especially given my already despondent state of mind about everything else.
Meanwhile, the reality of my mother’s cancer truly set in. Despite her insistence that we maintain a positive outlook, that the Garvey home shouldn’t become a dreary cancer household, it was impossible for me not to sink into despair. I delayed plans to move out to be there for her, and tried my best to maintain a positive demeanor. But inside I was a wreck, staring down the prospect of losing my mother. The day of her surgery didn’t help matters, when a doctor informed me, my two sisters and brother, and my father that she likely had a 25% chance of living up to another five years.
Exacerbating this increasingly dire scenario was the depression wrought by my job. In September of 2016, after a year of jockeying a cash register for Dimple Records, I attained a coveted position with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Back then, I viewed it as a culmination of hard work, an escape from minimum wage oblivion. To boot, my office was located directly across the street from the beautiful Capitol building in the heart of downtown Sacramento.
By early 2017, however, the honeymoon was over. What I hoped would be a fulfilling job of upward mobility had deteriorated into a stultifying cubicle grind. Like a wind-up doll, I went through the exact same motions each and every day: Roll out of bed at 6 AM, pump my system with junk food and caffeine to briefly pick up my spirits, plop into my cubicle, fire up my computer, and carry out the same banal tasks as yesterday. Lunch hour provided the only semblance of respite, during which I would do one thing: jog aimlessly. I would run for almost the whole lunch hour, desperately daydreaming I was doing anything else than clipping folders and data entry.
As my depression worsened, every aspect of my life stagnated. I rarely saw friends, flaking out on hangouts and isolating myself from my family after each workday. I stopped going to my boxing lessons, which had been a vital source of personal growth and health for two years. I lost the motivation to work on my writing projects, chiefly my book about baseball history in Sacramento. The only thing I bothered to get myself out the door for was recording “Let’s Play” videos for my video game website, Last Token Gaming, with my friends Kazuo Koyama, Michael Ros and Shane Canton. It was a miracle I even managed to do that….honestly, any other time not spent at work was spent in depression sleep.
Even as my personal life ground to a halt, the Dodgers found the spark of life they desperately needed. It came in the form of one Cody James Bellinger, who earned a promotion to fill in for the injury-prone Adrian Gonzalez at first base. In no time, Bellibombs were flying into the stands at Dodger Stadium and other ballparks, and the Dodgers had a level of tenacity they hadn’t exhibited since Yasiel Puig’s emergence cued the 42-8 run of 2013.
After the 9-10 opening, April ended indelibly against Philadelphia. Puig, Bellinger and Turner tied the game on back-to-back-to-back homers in the 9th as Joe Davis bellowed “Absolute madness!” at the top of his lungs. Gonzalez walked it off a few batters later, and the 2017 Dodgers we came to know and love, the relentless juggernaut that created lifetime memories on a nightly basis, was born that night.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long to witness the magic in person. My father, always assiduous in getting the family down south for a game at least once a year, scored our best seats yet, in the Loge section behind home plate. It was an easy game to enjoy, as it was merely a midseason game against the Marlins. The Dodgers lost 10-6, and Julio Urias saw his season come to an end right after due to injury, but there was nothing to be sour about. I got to see the young guns Seager and Bellinger hit back-to-back homers, and my father had the honor of meeting the legendary “Peanut Man” Roger Owens. To top it off, the game was a lead-up to an incredible U2 concert at the Rose Bowl the following day.
But even back-to-back homers by Seager and Bellinger, and a charmed encounter with the man who’s backhanded peanuts to Dodger fans since 1958, weren’t enough to spark an emotional turnaround. The weekend, while fantastic, was but a brief respite from the miserable grind. Once we returned home, it was business…and depression…as usual. The magic of the 2017 Dodgers would eventually turn my spiraling life around, but not just yet. As it turned out, I still had more pain to endure before that could happen.
The Fiery Days of July
Few things are as uncompromising as summer in Sacramento. With the city’s location square in the heart of California’s Central Valley, there’s nothing to mollify the heat. No Bay Area breeze, no trapped snow like in Tahoe, no thick forests to provide shade. Each summer feels hotter than the last…mostly because, well, they have been for a fact. And the summer of 2017 certainly felt more brutal than usual, with the nihilistic meltdown of the world at large seemingly cranking up the thermometer even further. The Dodgers continued their torrid winning pace, and while it provided a consistent source of joy as the summer progressed, it wasn’t quite enough to get me out of the muck.
Yet again, the pall of death cast a shadow over my life. During a bathroom break at work, I opened my phone to see an old UC Davis friend of mine, Beazie Medina-Hernandez, had taken her life. The shock was immediate. While I wasn’t as close to her as I would have liked, it was a loss that devastated me and all of my Davis friends. Beazie was a force of nature, a larger than life personality unlike any other. Fitting to this story, she was a SoCal native, born in Los Angeles to undocumented parents. Not surprisingly, she was a rabid Dodgers fan, attending many games and harboring a massive crush on Clayton Kershaw. Just like that, she was no longer with us.
Worse yet, I was suddenly laid off from my job at CDFA. While I had grown to dislike being there, it was still a secure full-time job that paid more than anything I ever worked before. The day I was let go of, I stood out on N Street in a state of disbelief and raging self-hatred. Fittingly, I decided to head to Davis to spend my newly freed up day jogging around town aimlessly. I began to regret and question my entire life, wondering how I had let it reach one low after another all the way down to this one. So many things in my life had figuratively and literally died the past few months, and now a full-time source of income, however miserable, was just the latest.
Jobless and directionless, my life had truly bottomed out. I now faced emotional rock bottom and potentially worse…but my escape, unbeknownst to me, was just around the corner. To get to that escape, though, I had one more truculent week to endure.
The Lost Week
Weekends usually provided a brief respite from the misery of work at CDFA. But the weekend of July 22-23 was one of utter desolation. Between being laid off suddenly and Beazie’s death, it was the beginning of the worst week of my lifetime. The only thing I had to look forward to (if I can even put it that way) was seeing my UC Davis friends at Beazie’s memorial at her apartment in downtown Sacramento that Saturday. Between casual catching up and memories of our departed friend, her closest friends held back tears during their tributes, none of us able to comprehend her death.
At home, I hadn’t broken the news about work, and pretended like it was business as usual. When Monday arrived, I did what I had done during so many lunch breaks, and in Davis the previous Friday: Run aimlessly. Each day of the week, I parked my car at the Wells Fargo Parking Garage downtown as if I were still going to work. After pulling into a spot and cutting the ignition, I crawled into the backseat and slept away as many hours as I possibly could. When that was done, I walked out into downtown and simply wandered around. I can’t help but think of a line from Dion’s 1961 hit “The Wanderer”: “With my two fists of iron/But I’m going nowhere”.
At first, I’d just walk around a few blocks, but my aimless drifting quickly took me to Old Sacramento for most of the week. I spun a random rotation of songs on my iPod, desperate to have something fill my mind other than my own depressing thoughts. I’d get ice cream, candy and soda at various shops in Old Sac to have at least a modicum of enjoyment during each day. But they were only a temporary distraction from the feeling that more than ever, I was at a dead end.
I even thought of suicide.
It was hardly surprising. When you feel stuck in life, like you have nowhere to go and are out of options, suicide can feel like an enticing solution (even though it absolutely shouldn’t). Quite morbidly, I developed a fascination with Aokigahara, better known as Japan’s “Suicide Forest”. Above all was Beazie’s suicide, a shock that only furthered the idea. If someone as vivacious as Beazie could end it all, I thought, why couldn’t I?
One day, during one of my aimless sojourns to Old Sacramento, I stood at the entrance of the Tower Bridge. The same bridge that recently provided a moment of youthful joy in the award-winning movie Lady Bird was, for a fleeting moment, a vision of ending it all. I thought long and hard about it, taking the final plunge into the Sacramento River. Fortunately, even while the thought of suicide grew stronger, I never came close to carrying it out. If nothing else, I knew I couldn’t throw my life away while my mother was fighting for hers, and I didn’t want to leave my friends and family with a lifetime of trauma.
In the midst of this hellish week, I had one answer. One solution. One thing to turn to rescue me: The Dodgers. It should have been screamingly obvious some time ago, but now that I felt like I had nowhere else to go, I knew more than ever it was time to trek down south to Chavez Ravine once more. (Not to mention, the prospect of seeing the Dodgers finally win the World Series was one of many motivations that kept me away from suicide.)
With that decided, I purchased a ticket for a game against the Giants at Dodger Stadium, Sunday, July 30. For the first time ever, my seat was in the famed left field pavilion, a place I had wanted to sit for years. Additionally, the game would be broadcast on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Even as I slogged through the rest of the week, stuffing my face with ice cream and roasting in the summer heat, I knew I had that one avenue of escape. It was only one…but it was better than nothing. In the most desperate way, I needed it more than ever.
Escape to L.A.
One week exactly after my job ended, I packed my bag, got in my new 2016 Ford Fiesta, and headed down south. First, I stopped at my former workplace Dimple Records to pick up a box set of one of my very favorite bands, Fairport Convention. A trip this special requires a top-notch soundtrack, after all, and hard times call for the healing power of the music you love. I tore off down the I-80 as their seminal 1967 hit “Time Will Show the Wiser” blared at top volume on my car speakers. Over the rhythm of Ashley Hutchings and Martin Lamble, Judy Dyble, Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol and Iain Matthews intoned an apropos chorus:
“And I don’t know which to go by
My mind or my heart
And this is so confusing
It’s tearing me apart”
Having those lyrics in particular commence my road trip was all too fitting. Indeed, I didn’t know whether to follow my mind or heart. I just knew I had to get away. Away from Sacramento, away from home, away from cancer, away from aimlessly staggering around downtown and Old Sac. In retrospect, I was going by my heart, and that heart resided at Chavez Ravine.
Yet, I didn’t go straight to Los Angeles. My first stop was in Santa Cruz to see my friend Dave De Leon. It was indeed the perfect place to start my escape, as Santa Cruz has been the destination for many revitalizing summer vacations and getaways over the years. But I was still in desperation mode emotionally, unsure of what to do with my life. After meandering at the Boardwalk, I headed to Dave’s apartment to catch up. We eventually sauntered over to his favorite brewery, where we knocked back a few beers, enjoyed live music, and chatted about everything from prog rock drummers to Jeff Sessions late into the night.
Sure enough, the first game of the Dodgers/Giants series was playing on the bar’s television. Within moments of sitting down with our beers in hand, Corey Seager blasted his second home run of the game, putting the Dodgers ahead for good and eliciting groans from some of the patrons at East Cliff Brewing Company. While it was pleasing to enjoy such a victory amidst a sea of disgruntled Giants fans, it still felt secondary to everything else on my mind.
As I drove from Santa Cruz to L.A. the next day, the feeling of uneasiness about life still persisted. Only the audial ecstasy of Fairport Convention’s music and an occasional stop for a burger disrupted that feeling. A week after being let go of, the residue of disappointment was still fresh, and I knew that I only had a few days down south before returning home and having to let my parents know what had happened. By late afternoon, I arrived in Los Angeles without a hitch. I checked into the Best Western Plus Dragon Gate Inn in Chinatown, conveniently located mere minutes away from Dodger Stadium.
Countless souls come to L.A. to find themselves, often with the purpose of making it big in music, movies or television. I had come with the hopes of finding salvation in the left field bleachers at Dodger Stadium. But there was also a strange salvation to be found in a Best Western room in Chinatown. The day and night before the big game, it became a sanctuary of sorts, a fortress of solitude comfortably removed from the rest of the world and the troubles of life. I felt a sense of relaxation I hadn’t in months, quickly accruing a healthy arsenal of junk food and trying to find a pirated feed of the Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones UFC fight just a half hour away in Anaheim. I wandered to the Grand Central Market to grab dinner, relishing the freedom of walking around the City of Angels rather than another lost day in Old Sacramento.
True to my spirit, I even jogged around Chinatown with my iPod cranked up, albeit without the usual sensation of desperation. Rather, it was one of relative happiness. After months of monolithic stagnation and despair, things were starting to feel a little better simply by being in L.A. The stage was set for a magical game to complete the turnaround the next night.
A Walk-Off Win…For Life
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the day of the game began with even more death. Yet this was of a different variety, one of my choosing. In need of something to do to kill time before heading to Dodger Stadium, I opted to check out the famed Museum of Death in Hollywood. (My other option was to hike to Murphy Ranch, an abandoned hideout in Rustic Canyon built by Nazi sympathizers in the 30’s. Truly a plethora of cheerful stops, no?)
In normal times, my joyous spirit would never entertain the notion of spending so much as a minute in a place like this. But 2017 wasn’t like most times, and facing death so much in just over half a year made checking it out a lot more palatable. After laying down $15, I walked through rooms of serial killer memorabilia, archaic torture devices, crime scene photos, autopsy footage, a recreation of a Heaven’s Gate suicide cult member, and much more. Morbid as it was, it was a perfect first stop given the year I had been through.
Yet as I walked around Hollywood immediately afterwards, the museum’s grisly sights fresh in my mind, I knew I needed something life-affirming for a change. You can only wallow in the macabre for so long, and what better way to escape all that than a summer night at Dodger Stadium? With that, I headed straight to Elysian Park, rolled through the Disneyland-esque entrance on Vin Scully Avenue, and quickly found a parking spot. Once inside, I walked around the concourse once or twice before arriving at section 307 of the left field pavilion, row Y, seat 8.
Dodgers/Giants always has a certain urgency, an air of white-knuckle intensity, especially in recent years. This time, that was hardly the case. San Francisco’s season had imploded in May, while the Dodgers were a nightly highlight reel drawing comparisons to the 1998 Yankees. Even though the Giants sent out Madison Bumgarner against Hyun-Jin Ryu, ensuring a pitcher’s duel, there wasn’t a hint of real drama to be gleaned from this game, especially since Los Angeles had already won the series.
At least, there was no drama for most. But for me, it was a must-win game. Having drove all the way down, and after all I had endured in 2017, I felt the Dodgers had to win. Everything always felt better when they won during the best times of my life. Now, in the worst times, seeing them win in person had far deeper implications.
As expected, the bulk of the game was a pitcher’s duel as Bumgarner and Ryu traded zeroes (and exact mirror image stats) for seven innings. This provided ample time to relax in the left field pavilion, grab some nachos, waltz on over to Tommy Lasorda’s trattoria for a slice of pizza and a beer, and do my ritual walk around Dodger Stadium to soak in every bit of its rustic beauty. I savored every little moment, laughing every time Ed Sheeran’s clunky but catchy “Shape of You” signaled a Turner at-bat and challenging myself to see how quickly I could answer the scoreboard trivia. My dad even texted me to let me know he saw me on TV, thanks to my unmistakable fishing hat.
In the 8th inning, things kicked into high gear. Conor Gillaspie, San Francisco’s fluke hero of the minute in the 2016 playoffs, returned to irritate me once more with a solo home run off Josh Fields. But Gillaspie was quickly outfoxed by the Silver Fox, Chase Utley, in the bottom of the 9th. Utley hit a slow grounder to Gillaspie at third, who was unable to get a grip on it, allowing Utley to reach first. To everyone’s shock, the graying second baseman stole second. Yasiel Puig, in the midst of a renaissance season of improved plate discipline, deftly laced a single to center to score Utley and tie the game at one.
During this latter stretch of the game, my demeanor changed significantly. Having had my fill of tasty food and Dodger Stadium pleasantry, I was now living and dying with each moment. Even knowing they were heading to the playoffs, and a leading World Series contender beyond doubt, I was convinced they had to win this game.
Like many Dodger/Giant battles, the game stretched out to the last moment, this one in the 11th inning. The Giants took the lead once more in the top half, and I dreaded the prospect of my healing sojourn being ruined by our arch rivals. But these were the 2017 Dodgers, masters of the comeback and walk-off to such an extent one could think it was scripted in advance like pro wrestling. Sure enough, they fought back once more. After a Chris Taylor groundout, Seager hit a line drive double to right, followed by an intentional walk to Turner.
Up stepped pinch hitter Kyle Farmer, in his first major league at-bat. Unsurprisingly, he fell behind in the count against Albert Suarez, but quickly rebounded to push it to a full count.
And then it happened.
Farmer laced a 3-2 pitch down the right field line into the corner. The nimble Hunter Pence chased it down desperately, but to no avail. Seager scored the tying run easily, and Pence’s throw came off line as Turner slid across home plate with the game-winner. The fans still in attendance roared as loudly as a sellout crowd during a playoff game, while the Dodger dugout quickly moved from home plate to the infield to swarm Farmer and tear his jersey off in celebration. The familiar yet always galvanic strains of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” bounced around the stadium speakers, sounding fresher than ever.
This entire sequence, right then and there, was it. The moment of revival, of happiness, that I had needed the entire year. A feeling of ecstasy that seemed more and more elusive with each trauma that piled on in 2017. It came right in the form of a walk-off hit by a backup catcher in his first ever MLB at-bat. The moment I realized Pence had no chance of throwing out Turner at home, tears started to flow as I jumped up and down repeatedly. I sang along breathlessly to Randy Newman before I left the ballpark, high-fiving complete strangers as chants of “Let’s go Dodgers!” echoed throughout the parking lot. I have seen many games at Dodger Stadium, including other heart-stopping walk-off victories. But I had never, ever felt an energy amongst the fans there like I did that night.
That energy didn’t die upon leaving the parking lot. Rather, it reignited my lust for life. The thrill of seeing such an incredible comeback win not only deepened my attachment to the team, but also imbued me with a profound happiness I knew I couldn’t get from anything else in life. When I returned to the hotel, I turned to see the stadium up the hill, still ablaze with light. It was downright cinematic, reflectively staring at the place that served as a veritable rebirth for me. My baseball soul satisfied, I headed home on Monday a rejuvenated man much unlike the desperate one that arrived in Chinatown on Saturday.
Even as I returned home the next day, the Dodgers weren’t done treating me just yet. I pulled off at the In-N-Out Burger in Kettleman City to stretch my legs, and flipped my phone open just in time to see the news: The Dodgers had traded for Yu Darvish with mere minutes to spare at the deadline. They were now a complete team, not only scoring the most prized item on the trade market, but also ensuring that Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t have to pitch on short rest in the postseason. Right there, it felt like a division crown, an NL pennant, and maybe…just maybe…a World Series title were in the bag.
Fortunately, the moment of truth with my parents upon coming home from L.A. was one of relief rather than reprimand. The day I drove to Santa Cruz, they had received my official notice of termination, but had long sensed that I was miserable with the job almost from the outset. When it came time to confess (in the middle of a jog around the neighborhood, of course), they accepted that it wasn’t meant to be, and that it was time to for me to live happily on my own terms.
Just like that, my life resumed in earnest. After months on the back burner, I returned to writing my Sacramento baseball book. (The boxing lessons also restarted, albeit later in December.) I emerged from isolation to regularly see friends, and evenings were now spent with family rather than napping for three hours. Everything that had been pushed aside and neglected stirred once again, and with greater vivacity than ever before. To top it off, the debut walk-off by Kyle Farmer that keyed this turnaround became the biggest story in baseball to start the month, earning the admiration of fans and journalists across the nation. That the most magical moment of Farmer’s life was also the one that effectively saved mine was, and still is, a source of ineffable jubilation.
Best of all, my mother finished chemotherapy as of August 11. A subsequent trip to the famed Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles confirmed her cancer was a one-and-done affair. Only months after the grim forecast during her surgery, my mother was given a new lease on life. Inspired by her courage and determination to survive, the rest of the Garvey family vowed to live the rest of our lives with equally outsized gratitude and passion. (As of January of this year, she is now 100% cancer free.)
With my dreams reignited and my mother free of cancer, on paper, the Kyle Farmer game arguably made the season complete given its profound personal impact. Furthermore, it was easily the best highlight of the regular season, a mind-boggling accolade given the regularity with which the Dodgers notched miraculous wins almost every night. But it only exacerbated my already intense desire to see Los Angeles go all the way. More pressingly, 2017 still had more tribulation in store, and I would need the Dodgers to go deep into October to make it through.
As the calendar flipped to September, the worst was officially behind me. After all, nothing could truly be worse than the likelihood of losing your mother to cancer, and I picked up a decent new job at Scholastic Book Fairs to boot.
As it turned out, 2017 wasn’t done meting out despair and defeat just yet. Substantive doses of both came unexpectedly from the Dodgers themselves, who, like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, suddenly looked more like the 2003 Tigers than the 1998 Yankees. They inexplicably nosedived into a losing streak that threatened to shatter the dream season, to the point where the word “collapse” started to percolate across the internet. Comparisons to the worst collapses in baseball history crept into my mind, along with the fear I would vicariously be on the receiving end of the worst of them all.
As if the Dodgers’ malaise wasn’t depressing enough, like clockwork, death struck again. This time, it claimed my idol, my muse, my inspiration in this beautiful saga of life, actor Harry Dean Stanton. Granted, it was far from the most painful death (or brush with it) I had in 2017, as he lived to age 91 and went peacefully at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, roughly 30 miles from his home on Mulholland Drive. (Poignantly, the same hospital where my mother was assured her ovarian cancer was a one-and-done affair.) Yet given how much I revere Stanton, as well as a personal exchange we had via an autograph request, it cut…and still cuts…deep. The first week of October cut down another hero, Tom Petty, the same day a deranged gunman cut down 58 innocent lives in Las Vegas.
Despite the nightmare losing streak and the pain of losing two heroes, the Dodgers managed to break their freefall and end the season strong. For the fifth year in a row, to no one’s surprise, they clinched the NL West en route to 104 total wins. The team and fans barely even celebrated it, given the greater celebrations that were expected this season. This particular feat, while impressive being done a fifth consecutive time, was something we had nonetheless seen the past four years. Bigger things lay ahead.
I wouldn’t even bother to mention it, were it not for the fun way it tied into my life that same night. As Rich Hill was busy pitching the team to another division crown, I was at Country Club Lanes in Sacramento for my friend Alex Aguilar’s birthday party with a few other friends. I decided to use Hill’s name as my joke name for bowling, and even did his bizarre leg kick after each bowl. At one point, an emcee who noticed I wasn’t on top of my game condescendingly announced for the whole alley to hear, “Mr….Hill. Rich Hill. There are these things called bumpers, you know.” (Although if memory serves me right, I immediately bowled a strike as she said it.)
(Almost) Kings of October
The challenge of advancing to the World Series, especially when you’ve fallen short of it in the playoffs time and time again, should never be understated or trivialized. But in one instant, I knew this team was different from the previous ones that had disappointed. It came right in the bottom of the first inning of game one of the NLDS, against the insurgent division rival Diamondbacks, the team that had their number during the September plunge. Arizona was supposed to be their kryptonite once again, especially coming off an electric NL Wild Card Game victory. With one swing, Justin Turner put all that to rest, depositing a gargantuan three-run shot into the same left field pavilion that was my salvation in July. The fans rocked in unison in a way Dodger Stadium never had in any October for the past 29 years. Magic.
From thereon, the Dodgers steamrolled through the NL playoffs. The moments still run through my head vividly: Cody Bellinger’s nick of time power surge in his home state of Arizona to bury the Dbacks, before Jansen struck out Dodger killer Paul Goldschmidt to seal the sweep; Kenta Maeda sprinting out of the bullpen and mowing down Cubs hitters with ease; Brandon Morrow, also reinvented as a reliever, doing much of the same; Yasiel Puig’s joyful tongue-wagging; Chris Taylor sprinting around the bases after his key homer in game one against Chicago; Enrique Hernandez crushing three round-trippers into the Wrigley Field stands to emphatically put the NLCS out of reach; Andre Ethier with a vintage clutch home run in game three; Taylor and Turner, once cast-off journeymen, hoisting their shared NLCS MVP trophy. And the coup de grace, Turner’s no-doubter to walk-off game two of the NLCS, landing safely in Keith Hupp’s outstretched glove and shredding my vocal chords as I screamed in joy and celebrated with my father.
When your team makes it to the World Series, it’s always a prestigious occasion. When your team makes it to the World Series for literally the first time in your entire existence as a sentient human being, it’s downright transcendent. To say the least, it was a night of great pride and joy in the Garvey household.
After years of chewing on the gruel of subpar Dodger baseball, they had finally returned to the Fall Classic. The moment the final out landed in Charlie Culberson’s glove, it lifted the asphyxiating chokehold of disappointment that had clouded the better part of a quarter century.
The Pedro Martinez trade, Brian Johnson’s home run, the Mike Piazza trade, rosters that boasted the likes of Mike Trombley and Jeff Reboulet, Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew thrown out at home seconds apart, a morbidly bloated Andruw Jones, Shane Goddamn Victorino, Matt Stairs’ moonshot in 2008, Jimmy Rollins’ mirror image walk-off the following year, the Frank McCourt saga, Hanley’s cracked ribs, Matt Carpenter ruining my trip to the redwoods, Justin Turner failing to cover third against the Mets, Daniel Goddamn Murphy, the humbling NLCS dismissal at Wrigley Field just a year prior….all rendered impotent. For years, these miseries accumulated to the point where even cursory reflections of the Dodgers’ long history of winning felt a bit sad, as if their greatest glories were growing ever distant with each heartbreak.
Now, however, they were an elite team again at long last. This celebration was long, and well-earned. We ordered pizza, while my littlest sister Kira recorded me doing a silly Dodgers-themed take on Ric Flair’s “To Be the Man, You’ve Gotta Beat the Man” speech. I exchanged Facebook congratulations with fellow fans, including sportswriter Donnell Alexander and former Dodgers GM Fred Claire. A few days later, I went to Davis to celebrate with another UCD friend, Ricardo Gutierrez. We knocked back beers and reflected on our lives as Dodger fans, before glancing at the bar TV to see a shot of the players stepping off the plane, clad in stylish suits. We fawned over just how cool they were, on top of finally being in the World Series in the first time in either of our lives.
Up next was the Fall Classic matchup I had craved all summer: Los Angeles vs. the equally superlative Houston Astros, also a 100-plus win team with a lengthy title drought (and a city-wide healing mission) of their own. Kershaw vs. Keuchel. Seager vs. Correa. Hill vs. Verlander. Like a heavyweight title bout between Ali and Frazier in the 70’s, it represented the sport at the highest level imaginable, and something every fan wanted to see.
By now, every baseball fan knows this series by heart. It was immediately one of the greatest ever played, reaching unthinkable levels of dramatic grandiosity almost every game. This seven-game slugfest featured many more moments that will stay with me my entire life: Chris Taylor golfing the first pitch he saw in game one for a home run; Justin Turner also launching one off Dallas Keuchel, followed by the sight of the Astros ace staring at a sea of rabid Dodger fans losing their minds in left field; the sudden offensive explosion in game four that stunned the Houston crowd; Rich Hill stepping off the mound to let all of Dodger Stadium eviscerate Yuli Gurriel with boos for his racist gesture; the gutsy rally in the sixth off Verlander later that night; Kenley Jansen’s gritty six-out save to force game seven; and Joc Pederson’s boyish, over-the-top home run celebrations.
By far my favorite was Corey Seager’s home run off of Justin Verlander in game two. The way he let out a triumphant yell as he brought his bat back, before immediately tucking his head to run. It was an electrifying instance of a player relishing a rare opportunity, and capitalizing on it. As I seek to make 2018 a redemptive and successful year personally, Seager’s yell and homer has become an inspirational image, one that represents my newfound passion for embracing the moment.
While these moments will live on in Dodger history, they are of course nestled alongside some of the most painful ones as well. I don’t need to recount them, as I’ve aired out enough agonizing memories from 2017 Game five might have shattered my emotional investment in baseball had I not been at my friends Hallie and Tyson’s wedding reception, thus rendering me unable to watch it. Game seven was over quickly, at least giving my family and I time to much on In-N-Out before its end. We couldn’t even bring ourselves to watch the last out, quickly shutting off the television as Seager was thrown out at first.
I’ll be honest with you….the feeling I had after that final out was as bad as any I had experienced earlier that year (save for my mother’s cancer, of course). As I sat in bed that night, just before I fell asleep, I felt a shooting sensation through my body. Not a painful one, but a heavy one. Even though it was far more admirable than a first-round dismissal by the Cardinals or Mets, losing in the World Series, after coming so close, was still a special kind of painful. The storybook ending I wanted, the Dodgers winning it all in the year where they saved me from borderline suicidal despair, got away at the last minute.
Honestly…I’m still not over it.
End of the Party
During my lost week after getting laid off, one song I spun on my iPod over and over in my depressed, sun-baked daze in downtown and Old Sacramento was an electronica tune called “After the Party” by Sunrise. The song opens with an old movie dialogue between two men (taken from a film or show I can’t recognize):
“The best part of the party, is when the party’s over.”
The song then dissolves into a blissful mishmash of R&B hooks, atmospheric keyboard licks and smooth vocal intonations. As the Dodgers marched through each round of the postseason, it once again found heavy rotation on my iPod, albeit this time to augment feelings of euphoria rather than stifle the hopelessness of mid-summer. The atmosphere of the song just fit the mood of utter happiness I felt in October as Los Angeles marched from one win to the next. It’s fitting that a song that doesn’t even have lyrics was the song that captured that feeling, as there truly weren’t words that could do it justice.
Of course, the party for the 2017 Dodgers and fans is over. But it wasn’t the end of the party we wanted. It ended with another team partying on our field, hoisting the flagged trophy that has eluded us for too long. It’s not like it was unfair, or a fluke. Houston was an equally great team, anchored by the AL MVP and the best big game pitcher not named Madison Bumgarner. You could even say this heartbreaking loss fit the macabre deluge that was 2017 for me, and while I would much prefer a WS victory, the synchronicity is indeed evident.
As the 2018 season slowly draws nearer, there is obviously unfinished business. For Kershaw, who is still in his prime and certainly more ready than ever to silence his playoff critics once and for all. For Seager and Bellinger, who despite some highlights had a brutal World Series, and are determined to shed their postseason greenhorn status immediately. For Dave Roberts, seeking to become the first African American manager since Cito Gaston to win a World Series. For the entire world of Dodger fans, who have stuck with the team through thick and thin and are now ready for the ultimate payoff for their loyalty.
And you know what? I fully expect they’ll win the whole thing this year, 2015 Royals style. As sure as I’ve been of anything, they will claim the Commissioner’s Trophy. It certainly helps that, with their endless money, depth and bountiful farm system, they’ll be gunning for titles for years to come, which even World Series MVP George Springer acknowledged in his acceptance speech.
Yet even when that championship day comes, and hopefully many others like it afterward, we should never forget the 2017 team. Moreover…I should never forget them. I can’t forget them. And I won’t.
For one day, I will die. Ideally, it’ll happen when I’m in my 90’s, after a fruitful career of working for the Dodgers. Perhaps in an all-too-perfect finale, I will pass gently at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, the same place that confirmed my mother’s extension of life and witnessed the end of Harry Dean Stanton’s.
When I’m on that deathbed, looking back on my life in all of its opulent splendor, I will thank the 2017 Dodgers all over again. I’ll remember the way they gave me excitement night after night, deepening my religious love of baseball in the process. The way they brought prestige back to a franchise long mired in mediocrity. The way they brought me life in a year where I was constantly surrounded by the specter of death. And of course, the way they halted my seemingly endless downward spiral in July, as Kyle Farmer’s walk-off sent me into the Los Angeles night in a state of euphoria, a lifetime of possibilities and happiness soon to be reopened.
And with crystal clarity, I will remember their names. Every last one. I will repeat them one more time. If they’re the last people I ever think of before I leave this mortal coil, it would only be fitting.
Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Kenta Maeda, Yasmani Grandal, Austin Barnes, Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Kenley Jansen, Brandon Morrow, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kyle Farmer, Yasiel Puig, Chase Utley, Julio Urias, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Fields, Ross Stripling, Chris Taylor, Alex Wood, Enrique Hernandez, Pedro Baez, Logan Forsythe, Charlie Culberson, Brandon McCarthy, and all the rest.
The 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Life affirmers. Life savers.
In this life.
The next one.
And every one after that.
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