October 19: A tale of two pennant clinchers
It’s October 19, 1981, and a shy 5th grader has taken the 5 minute walk home after school, in a hurry to watch the Montreal Expos win one more game against Dad’s team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and head to Canada’s first World Series. Afternoon playoff baseball is currently the norm so the game is already in the 5th inning when she gets there. It had snowed the day before in Montreal, in the then open roof Olympic Stadium, so the game was pushed back and would be played on a cold Monday afternoon across the country.
Dad had woken her up to see the last inning of the 1980 Phillies/Royals World Series, but this is her first year of playoffs as a young fan, and she is naively hopeful. Then, she watches Rick Monday’s 9th inning homerun sail over Andre Dawson’s head and into the abyss behind the CF fence, and sits through the Expos putting a few men on base in the bottom of the inning, before losing. She sees nice guy Jim Fanning’s sad face and starts to cry herself.
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Lifelong Dodgers fan Dad is gleeful, and not wanting to rain on his parade, she runs down the hallway and bawls her little eyes out. Baseball heartbreak – the first of many, but like a first love, perhaps the most impactful.
“Blue Monday”, as it would be eventually coined, would become permanently entrenched not only in the baseball memories of the 9-year old, but in franchise history. She would watch hundreds of Expos games over the next 20 years, but would never see them get anywhere close to as far as they did on that cold October day.
Cut to 36 years later. That same shy girl is still a natural introvert, but enough years have passed that she is now comfortable enough in her own skin to have found her own way in the big world. And she still, without reserve, loves the sport of baseball, but now her team forever is the Dodgers. Tim Wallach, a part-time player in that ‘81 season, ended up being her baseball idol for the rest of his playing career, and as a coach, led her to her current permanent status of the “biggest Dodgers fan north of the border”.
There is no snow this year – in fact, she had spent the 22 degree Celsius day in flip flops. Rick Monday is no longer on the field, but even so, no member of the Cubs will ruin this night. This time there are no tears of heartbreak, but only tears of pure joy, elation, relief, bewilderment, and several other unfamiliar happy emotions she has yet to process. It’s past midnight in the morning in her corner of the world, but at Wrigley Field, where her Dodgers have just clinched their first World Series berth in 29 years, it’s still October 19, and to her in her baseball loving life, the parallels could not be sweeter, 36 years later to the day.
This time, her beloved Dodgers, her safe place to land, her home, have won the NLCS. Her beloved baseball team is finally going to the World Series, and the Dodgers are now officially forgiven for making her cry all those years ago.
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