in

Dodgers: On Saying Goodbye and New Beginnings

“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future” – Robert H. Schuller

Dodger Stadium general view, Opening Weekend 2019 (Photo credit: Gail Johnson)

It’s already been one heck of a journey as a Dodgers fan, one that has taken me to wonderfully unexpected places…and now back it’s brought me back to where I belong. Since serendipitously being given the opportunity to contribute my own unique views and experiences as a fan for Dodgers Nation back in the spring of 2017, life – like a baseball season – has unfolded in unexpected, memorable ways.

After the magical ride of the 2017 season, its humbling end, and the challenging way in which 2018 started, life once again mirrored baseball. In the midst of starting a new career after being downsized out of a 10-year job the previous fall, a dear old friend who I had first connected with in my 20’s re-entered my life and was diagnosed with cancer within 6 months, while I found myself experiencing long dormant symptoms of depression. I continued to cling to Dodgers baseball as the great distraction and lifesaver that it has become, but when it came to trying to write about my experiences as a fan for Dodgers Nation, the content just wouldn’t come.

I’d never considered myself a writer – merely a baseball fan who enjoys talking about her team – but there I was, experiencing writer’s block. Having lost any self-confidence I had built up after finding my niche in the Dodgers Nation world, I started doubting anything I wrote, afraid that it wouldn’t measure up or that my personal stories and opinions were irrelevant and would be ridiculed. Not able to find the mental energy it took to contribute as regularly as I wanted, the noise from personal distractions became too loud, and I chose to step away to focus on quieting it all down.

But like that dinner guest who lingers at the door for far too long and then comes in for another drink because the conversation just got interesting, I never quite left Dodgers Nation; in fact, it was the thought of missing the special connections and relationships I’d formed with so many other Dodger fans that helped me realize with certainty that I didn’t want it all to end just because the baseball season was over, and that I was now ready to return.

As this clarity came to me soon after the end of the NLDS, I also remembered the words of that old friend who would lose his cancer battle this past summer, whose passing has since changed the way I view life’s challenges and my ability to navigate them. Once upon a time he had helped me, an unsure 25-year old, develop crucial survival techniques that I had since forgotten over the years, like self-confidence and pride in my own unique talents. He’d also taught me to believe that concern over what others think is meaningless as long as I stay true to myself and my passions. To help in my grief, I had drawn on his encouraging words and on the strength he left me with as I finally finished a love letter to the Dodgers organization which had originally been put on the back burner during the last weeks and months of his life, and as the season ended I could again hear his voice reminding me to drown out the self-doubting noise and keep those writing passions burning.

So here I am, back to contributing to this site with this great group of people again, and I look forward to being a part of the conversation about the direction of the franchise, and talking about our shared experiences as fans. Now that I’ve conquered any previously existing personal hurdles, I’m ready to take advantage of the privilege not many have – of continuing to stay connected to this great game and the fans year round.

Into the Void

When this Dodgers on-field season ended much earlier than most expected, great sadness ensued; the last game of the year always brings its own brand of melancholy, and as fans we miss the routine of a 162 + game season, and immediately become nostalgic for careless summer nights spent watching our players go to battle. For many of us, Dodgers baseball has become so much more than just the play on the field, and if we choose to, we can stay involved and keep the spirit of the baseball season alive year-round…so that it never has to end.

And so on this first weekend of the off-season, I reflect on a time when I believed that baseball as I knew it really was over for good.

Saying Goodbye

In my early 30’s, after having lost my once fanatical connection to baseball and to the Montreal Expos but as a sentimental nod to my youth and in attempt to get closure, I took a solo excursion to see my team play not just its final game of the season…but ever.

Sure, they would go on to play two unusually structured seasons where a quarter of their “home” games would be played in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but at the time, in Montreal on a late fall Sunday afternoon in September 2002, it was believed to be the last home game the Expos would ever play, and the sadness at Olympic Stadium was palpable. Souvenir shops were mostly emptied out, like a bargain shop having a final going out of business sale. Desperate to purchase anything I could to commemorate my final visit to Olympic Stadium, I grabbed old player 4×6 headshots that only a truly devoted fan in the late 80’s would cherish, of guys like Tim Burke, Rex Hudler, Vance Law, and Andy McGaffigan. This wasn’t an end of season sale where there’d be new fresh merchandise to choose from the following April…this was it.

For all intents and purposes, this was the end.

Due to the perennial nature of sports, watching your team play its last game ever is an emotion very few fans can relate to. With baseball, regardless of the results of a season, there is always some glimmer of hope to cling to and roster news and speculation in the off-season to keep our minds busy, along with a variety of off-field happenings like winter meetings, the annual Christmas message from the organization, and Instagram posts from players’ weddings. Whether or not your team is rebuilding, there are drafts to follow and up-and-coming minor leaguers to watch in various winter leagues. Yes, we long for the play on the field to return, but the promise of a new season and all of its potential is a comforting beacon.

Let The Past Guide Your Future

After the Expos (with finality this time) took the field for the last time in September 2004 and the Washington Nationals made their debut in the spring of 2005, I was anything but interested, and throughout the years since that debut, have never thought of them as the Expos. In fact, I actively resisted the idea. I was ambivalent when Ryan Zimmerman broke Tim Wallach’s franchise record for hits. I stubbornly maintained that it was indeed Number 29, my childhood hero, who has the most hits in Expos history, period. I had nothing against the Nationals, but they were separate franchises to me and I had no emotional connection to them.

Then, as I was cleaning and purging recently (on vacation during what should have been a World Series trip to LA), I connected those emotional dots with a realization that had been right in front of me all along. I came across an Expos cap my father had given me on Christmas Day 1992, the day before I found out that Tim Wallach had been traded to the Dodgers two days earlier, sent home to California on Christmas Eve after 12 seasons in Montreal. I reflected on how, unbeknownst to me at the time, that trade and my never waning interest in Wallach’s career would eventually lead me to my rightful place as a member of the Dodgers fan community, and I smiled. Later that night when Zimmerman went deep in his first World Series at-bat, my mind went to Tim and how this was the kind of outcome I’d been wishing for him all of those years, as a long-time quiet leader of a team who never made it to the Fall Classic.

I acknowledge and appreciate that my youthful devotion to the Expos and my eventual fate as a committed Dodgers fan are intertwined…and remembered that I’d once had to painfully say goodbye to one to eventually make room in my heart for the other.

Once upon a time back in 2002, experiencing the demise of my beloved Expos, I believed that my connection to and love affair with the game of baseball was over for good.

Little did I know at the time that it was just the beginning…

Thank you to those of you in the Dodgers community who continue to read, comment and take this ride with us, and to the gang at Dodgers Nation for welcoming me back with open arms.

Written by Gail Johnson

Biggest Dodgers fan north of the border, living about 3,500 miles from my beloved Boys In Blue, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. I think Dodger Stadium is the happiest place on Earth. I'll catch up on my sleep in the off-season.

5 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. Man, title of the article had me thinking they finally got their heads out of their a$$ and fired Dave Roberts. Still plenty of time before season starts FO!

  2. Your friend would be proud that their words inspired you to jump back into the game. My condolences. Loved the article. While I wasn’t an Expos fan, they always had interesting and exciting players and was robbed in the strike season in the 90s.

  3. These Dodgers teams of late got to the playoffs in spite of Robert’s, not because of him. People that give him credit for “Bringing ” our team to the World Series have it backwards. They carried him along. The Dodgers were so good, that even while being mis managed, the players found a way into the post season.

    Some players are just not good in the post season. We can all name a few. But why do we skip over managers? Maybe Roberts just isn’t a good post season guy?

    I think other managers could have guided us better.

  4. I was expecting a crap article when I saw the platitudinous Schuller quote, but I was wrong. Thanks for the narrative!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Dodgers Decline Jedd Gyorko’s Option

Dodgers: Hyun-Jin Ryu Identified as Eighth-Best Free Agent by MLB.com