in

Feels Like Home: A Thank You Letter to the Los Angeles Dodgers

One can’t get to Dodger Stadium on foot without climbing a hill… and the journey there worth every step of that climb.

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

To my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers organization,

Consider this a belated thank you note, one I’ve sat down to compose on many occasions since the first week of April, until I realized just how massive of an undertaking it is to properly express my gratitude for everything Dodgers baseball has brought into my life. As I sit here on the first weekend of August after what proved to be a historic two-thirds of a season for the franchise, as well as an extremely exciting few months to be a Dodgers fan, I realize it’s time to finally send you this note of thanks.

It’s time to say thank you for changing my life. Five years ago this past spring, I was heading back to work here in Atlantic Canada – about 3,500 miles from you, give or take – after a two-month sick leave from work during which I fell back in love with the game of baseball I had adored so much growing up. It was then that I started becoming invested in the fate of the Dodgers, thanks to my childhood hero and then coach Tim Wallach, as I sought and found a much-needed focus and direction in my life. There are some who believe that we can’t control our own fate, but I like to think I somehow did back in early April 2014, and my life is better for it thanks to your organization.

It’s time to say thank you for being a world class organization and making Opening Week the most memorable of my life. As a Dodgers fan I’ve been incredibly lucky to witness some amazing moments in person – from Vin Scully Weekend and witnessing the division-clinching Culberson walk-off in September 2016, to an improbable whirlwind trip out to LA for Games 1 and 2 of the 2017 World Series – but I can’t imagine anything ever being more special to me as a long-distance fan than Opening Week 2019, when I spent six unforgettable days in and around my Happy Place, Dodger Stadium.

The trip itself, at many points along the way, didn’t look like one I may ever make. After starting and settling into a new career in early 2018, I had faced some unexpected health issues which caused me to have to prioritize getting and feeling better above all else, including continuing to contribute to Dodgers Nation on a semi-regular basis and writing about being a fan of my beloved team.

In a piece I contributed after last season’s end, I talked about how perspective and gratitude can have a positive effect on one’s health issues, and I went into the off-season feeling hopeful for an exciting 2019. I also started squirrelling overtime earnings away for an Opening Day trip to Dodger Stadium, one I couldn’t have imagined taking in 2018 when I had been feeling so terrible and for the most part disconnected socially from most of the world.

Anyone who’s read my stuff in the past knows two things that define me: I literally live and breathe Dodgers baseball, and I am open in talking about my struggles with depression throughout my adult life. As this past winter slowly turned to spring, thankful that I had made it back from my most recent setback and already feeling that 2019 was going to be a special year for this team, I couldn’t wait to get back out to LA. This time the trip felt like a reunion with old friends, and a lot like coming home.

Speaking of friends, thank you for leading me to a wonderful group of Dodgers fans who I never would have met if it wasn’t for you, a special assortment of people I first became acquainted with on Twitter.

Five years ago, if someone had suggested to me – a natural introvert who’s managed to put up a very solid guard over the years – that I would form relationships on the internet with people I’d never met in person, there is no way I’d have believed such a ridiculous scenario. As I make plans to meet up with some of these friends at the stadium over the course of the weekend, I realize what a difference half a decade can make in a life. In particular, I am thankful for my first Twitter friend Andy who I had met up with on my first trip to Dodger Stadium back in 2016, for her support and for leading me to a world of other crazy fans that she knew. She couldn’t make it this trip, and we had attended separate ends of the 2017 World Series, but I’m confident we will meet again at a parade very soon.

Each of the following fellow Dodgers fans has been special on his or her own way, and I hesitate to name names for fear of leaving anyone out, but those of you I got to see Opening Weekend – Angie, David, Rebekah, Amber, Todd, and Ron: thank you doesn’t seem like enough. From the post-Opening Day party at Ye Olde Tavern, to getting into Dodger Stadium early each day with one or more of you, to great fun in Reserve 2 (and watching Russell Martin pitch) Saturday night, to the specially arranged introduction to Ned Colletti on Sunday, to a Monday night seat in the LFP vs the Giants, each of you contributed to making the trip so unique and special.

You all made me feel more than welcome all weekend, and quite frankly, like more of a celebrity that I deserve to be. (I’m just a regular person who loses her house keys, patience and sanity from time to time like everyone else).

Thank you, Dodgers, for employing thoughtful people like Ellen Harrigan, Director of Baseball Operations. Though I admittedly still don’t really know how this all transpired, Ellen helped to create the most surprising experience of an already amazing weekend.

Gail Johnson with Ellen Harrigan – Director, Baseball Administration Los Angeles Dodgers

Quick backstory: About a month before Opening Day, I had posted in jest while watching a spring training game on Twitter that if I had another drink I was going to go online and buy a really expensive ticket for Opening Weekend, and no one was going to stop me (or something equally as clever). The next day, I saw a comment from someone whose handle I didn’t recognize, asking me to follow him/her on Twitter (presumably so DM’s could be opened) because he/she had an idea for a ticket. (Side note on Twitter – though the aforementioned bonds and connections I’ve mentioned are real and very important to me, I have also accumulated many more followers who don’t know me, and because there are some crazies out there, I ignored the message, having no idea who this person was or what kind of suggestion awaited).

Fast forward to the night before Opening Day when, settling into my hotel room near Dodger Stadium, I receive another Twitter notification asking me to go to the Dodgers office on Opening Day, ask for Ellen, because “we have something for you”. Hmmm. I had just walked past Clayton Kershaw driving out of Dodger Stadium as I was on my way to the team store to finally buy a Clayton Kershaw jersey, and because of that sighting was already feeling the magic, so I figure this was too intriguing of an offer to pass up…even if it was a joke someone was trying to play on me.

To my good friends Angie and David (who I attended Opening Day with): Bless you both for helping me find said Dodgers offices and giving me the encouragement to go inside, and for waiting for me as I (for still unexplained reasons) got to go inside to the Dodgers offices to visit with Ellen, a fellow Canadian who knew what a big fan I was who wanted to make sure I felt welcome at Dodger Stadium. The visit unfolded in slow motion as Ellen filled two huge bags with Dodgers giveaway goodies for me while we chatted about the Opening Day lineup and baseball like we were old friends. Since then, Ellen has even arranged for a couple more boxes of Dodgers goodies to be sent directly to my house, so along with the memories I didn’t have before this amazing trip, I also have a fine collection of bobbleheads and some awesome Dodgers clothing that I never knew I
needed in my life.

Also, a very special shout-out to David for helping me carry one of the large bags of swag Ellen gave me all over Dodger Stadium that day, a bag so plentiful that I had to check an extra piece of luggage to be able to take it all home with me. As David, Angie and I sing Take Me Out To The Ball Game at the 7th inning stretch and enjoy the Dodgers slugfest that Opening Day turned into, I feel an equal combination of both feeling like I was in a dream and feeling that I was exactly where I belonged.

Thank you, Dodgers world, for leading me to the fine people at Dodgers Nation who make me feel like family. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to contribute a handful of pieces over the last 3 seasons for them, and as a result discover that I have a fan voice inside of me that I didn’t know was in there. When I stepped away last summer and learned that some readers actually cared that I had, I was humbled and grateful.

After venturing out to Pasadena to visit the new Dodgers Nation offices on the Friday of Opening Weekend and spending some time talking baseball and telling stories with Gary and FRG, and experiencing Dollar Dodger Dog Night with FRG and Brook, I don’t remember ever feeling more comfortable around anyone I had just met in person for the first time.

There are others who have come and gone from Dodgers Nation who have made a difference in my Dodger fan/writing experience – specifically Jody, Alex, Brandon, and Trevor, and guys who are still there who have become supportive friends online with whom I look forward to having a beer or two with one day – Clint E, Brian R and AJ.

Thank you, Dodgers, for gifting us with the supreme talent of people like Stadium organist Dieter Ruehle, as well as hands down the best on-air team in the business, Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser. In a sequence of events that couldn’t have worked out better if it had been planned during that weekend, I was introduced to Joe by Dieter outside of the Vin Scully Press Box before Friday’s game.

After having first met the incredibly down-to-earth Dieter near the end of his first year with the team in September 2016, I had gone to say hi to him again for the third season in a row when Joe happened to be on his way into work, and the unplanned introduction took place. Not remembering exactly what I said but assuming it was something along the lines of “hfurch xowi piJEIJRXiqeoiH wrho uwhr ,MetvevvEHjqziexux x q”, I’m grateful to both of these wonderfully kind people for not laughing at me while I squealed like a school girl, and for the great photo we got together.

Meeting Joe in person was a thrill for many reasons, and he’s certainly as nice and as genuine as he seems on-air, but the most meaningful aspect of it for me was that it felt like meeting up with an old friend who, along with Orel, I had spent so many otherwise lonely evenings with over the last 3 seasons, like so many other members of the community who keep me engaged in games without even knowing just how important that connection is to a far away fan like me.

After the unexpected Joe meet up, I float down to Dugout Club and treat myself to an experience I’d been saving up for over 2 years. As I sit behind home plate waiting to the camera and drinking whiskey and 7’s with some very friendly Diamondback fans from Texas, I’m in a dream that I don’t want to awake from. What has already proven to be one of the most enjoyable days of my life stretches well past 1am LA time in the longest game in regular season history, and it all somehow fits. I’ve spent countless nights at home up way past 2am watching Dodgers games, so I feel like this night was made just for me.

I’m grateful to be of an age when I can be appreciative of what I have, and I recognize that it is truly a special time to be a fan of this great organization, and I cherish every moment. Five years ago it was but a pipe dream to imagine ever getting to visit this beautiful place known as Blue Heaven on Earth, and now after three most memorable excursions out, I can proclaim with certainty that I wouldn’t change a single moment about any of them (except for the outcome of Game 2 of the 2017 World Series).

Through any personal challenges I’ve faced over the last six years, Dodgers, you’ve always been my soft place to land, and I have never stopped loving the experience for a minute. I’ve willingly sacrificed sleep over this team, sat through rain delays and losing streaks, questioned puzzling acquisitions, enjoyed historic runs (2017, always in my heart), enjoyed the light-hearted fun of tight pants and clubhouse twerking, experienced the pure joy of thrilling walk-offs, pondered the “what might have been” of Andrew Toles’ career, and mourned the fate all of those poor runners left in scoring position.

I’ve watched Cody Bellinger grow up in front of my eyes, experienced the glory days of Clayton Kershaw’s Hall of Fame career, seen Max Muncy inspire nicknames and t-shirts, and marvelled at every moment of a Dick Mountain on-field appearance (pitching, batting or running the bases). Back home, now 4 months after Opening Day, Dodgers baseball – and the fans I have connected with because of it – continues to be there for me time after time. After losing someone very close to my heart last month, the support I received from this community was absolutely overwhelming and helped me more than I could ever adequately express. I am already nostalgic for every minute of my Opening Weekend experience and can’t wait to get back to see what else Dodger Stadium has up its sleeve for us as fans. (On a side note, I have a week’s vacation booked for the end of October… just in case there’s a reason to travel again).

One can’t get to Dodger Stadium on foot without climbing a hill, and like life sometimes, the trek can seem long and tiring, but when you finally get to the very top, the view – with the field below and the mountains in the distance – can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. As I reach that point of the stadium near the Dodgers Team Store the day before Opening Day 2019, after having been on my trip for about 15 hours already on little to no sleep, I recognize that the journey to get back here has been worth every step of that climb.

So thank you, Los Angeles Dodgers organization and your outstanding community, for all the amazing individuals you’ve brought into my life – both on and off the field – and most especially for making me feel that for six glorious days in the spring of 2019, I was right where I belonged.

On top of the world.

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. A very nice and moving article. As a Dodgers fan living in the east coast, it can be difficult watching this amazing team as west coast start time is at 10:10 pm. But, I have the MLB-TV subscription and watch Dodgers highlights when I wake up the following morning.

    Again, the Dodgers have helped me cope to a certain degree as well. I had knee replacement surgery last December. And, I have am still having pain and limited mobility issues. Thank God for this magical season! I was fortunate to see the Dodgers play the Tampa Rays for 2 games in May 2019.

    So, I really believe that my painful difficulty and permanent knee issues would have been even more difficult for me if not for watching 2019 Dodger baseball.

  2. Well done Gail. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts. I’m only 950 miles away from Dodger Stadium, but I share those same game nights with you and a few of your Dodgers twitter following/family.

    I too made it to the happiest place on earth for the 4 game series vs the Cubs this year. I hadn’t been there since ‘95. What a thrill!

    Here’s wishing you continued good health. Sure hope to see that parade you speak of. I look forward to your future posts.

    Go Dodgers!

  3. I teared up reading this! Thank you, Gail, for sharing your story! Watching the Dodgers also helped me get through a difficult time in grad school and has led to so many great memories. All the best to you and the Dodgers!

  4. May Good bless you, Gail!!!!! A very thoughtful and moving piece. I think for many of us, the Dodger organization has been a source of comfort when the seas get rough!!! Just keep up the good work, and consider the posters on this board part of your support network!!! Go Blue!!!

  5. Gail, this was a very moving and well-written piece. I am glad the Dodgers have given you what you needed during trying times. Your perspective as a fan who lives far away is especially poignant. (It also reminds me of what bothers me most about the t.v. deal they signed–it robs people of an important joy, especially if they are lonely or housebound or otherwise cannot attend games).
    I am fortunate–I grew up here and have been following them since I was very small, as our family has had season tickets since the stadium opened. Dodger baseball has been a constant in my life, in sad times and in good ones, something you describe. It is a tradition I have shared with family and friends for over 40 years.
    I would definitely lift a beer with you if given the opportunity. Blessings to you!

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: Max Muncy Questions Rivalry with Atlanta Braves

Dodgers: Corey Seager Back in Form at the Right Time