Introducing the second installment of a sort of mini-series here at Dodgers Nation: Dodger Fandom Outside of Sunny Los Angeles. You can read A.J. Gonzalez’s epic post here.

I’ve lived in Ohio my entire life, all 36 years. If I want to drive to a baseball game, I have two realistic options. There’s two hours up Interstate-71 to Cleveland, or a little shorter south down that same I-71 to Cincinnati. Due to the fact I favor the National league, I have made a ton of trips to Cincinnati. They were a fun team to follow locally for a time.

However, since I was a kid and picked up a glove; the blue allure of Dodger Stadium has captured my imagination and innocence.

Before you read onward – I think you might want to read this for some backstory. I owe my Dodgers fandom to my father, the man who taught me the game with his musty old lobster-claw of a first baseman’s glove when I was a curly haired four-year old. For whatever reason – my dad was a big Steve Garvey fan. He said he liked Garvey because he looked like ‘the perfect ballplayer’. To me on his baseball cards, Garvey looked like a crusty version of the guys I followed with a painted on pair of baseball pants. Still, Garvey was the guy who I may have to thank for writing these very words an following the Dodgers today.

First Dodgers Memories

Ever since I was young – I have loved the home run. Therefore, it was an easy choice that Darryl Strawberry was my first favorite player when I started watching the game. Locally, we didn’t get Dodgers broadcasts. And my family didn’t have cable television. So when the Dodgers played in a nationally televised game on ESPN – I would beg my grandparents to stay at their house across town. Even then, I would stay up into the wee hours of the night to get a glimpse of my blue heroes. Still, the memory that I have of what enchanted me at my beginnings is the design of Dodger Stadium. Something about it really captured me.

I made my parents take me to Cincinnati in 1991 to see the Dodgers take on the Cincinnati Reds. Surely, I cried my eyes out when Strawberry wasn’t in the lineup. However, I quickly settled when I saw that Eddie Murray was hitting clean-up. What’s more than that – I met my first baseball player that day.

While I didn’t get the coveted Strawberry signature I came for, a guy named Brett Butler stopped and talked to me because I had a Dodgers trucker hat (they were popular when I was a kid) on my 8-year old head.

Butler – who happened to be in the middle of his best season – signed a ball for me and had a conversation with me that I wish I could remember. Still, not getting to see ‘Straw’ in the lineup that day really upset me. However, I would make it back to see him lace a couple doubles the following year.

One memory that I have is when the Dodgers would play on one of the four channels that we had at my house, I made my parents record the game on VCR. For weeks following, I would re-watch the game. Yes, I have always been a half-click off about baseball. One game I remember is the Atlanta Braves and Steve Avery shutting down the Dodgers time and again when I would replay the tape some two dozen times.

Growing Up With Blue

Through the Mike Piazza years, I would stay up late and listen to an AM radio station that would flash the Dodgers score at the end of the night. Back then, that’s all you got. The score of the Dodgers game, and if a player hit a home run.

Before existed, we would get cable and I had my fair share of opportunities to watch the Dodgers nationally on ESPN. Another memory I have is checking the box scores each morning – and half the time the paper delivered to me said the game was ‘too late’ to include it. As a kid I got into the habit of cutting out the box scores where one of my guys had a pretty line score – don’t ask.

To me, Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium always seemed like this far off place I would never arrive to. Along with the dreams of seeing the palms up close and personal was the team playing for a championship. However – in 2017 – both of those lifetime dreams would become a reality.

The Dream Season

One of my best friends is very close with Ned Colletti and Logan Forsythe. During the 2017 season, it was finally time for me to make the trip to Los Angeles and see the splendid beauty Chavez Ravine with my own eyes. For as long as I live, I will never forget the first Dodgers’ victory I saw.

The first win I saw at Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw was still in his element and at his best.

It was June 7th, 2017; and Clayton Kershaw would square off with Stephen Strasburg. On that day, both guys were at the absolute top of their game. With the Dodgers trailing 1-0 and Strasburg having untouchable stuff, Corey Seager hit a home run to put the Dodgers ahead 2-1. Kershaw was still in his vintage stage on that afternoon, and Kenley Jansen closed the game out after California Love hit the loudspeakers.

I got to hear ‘I Love L.A.’ live, which was only something I had experienced many times on YouTube like a loser. Before that game played out and ended in picture-perfect fashion, I had a strange vision. When I looked down the right field line at the ‘1988’ pennant on the facade, I had a feeling come over me; a premonition almost. My inner self suddenly knew this was the best Dodgers team of my lifetime, and that they would go to the World Series and win it.

Magically, the Dodgers went 50-12 in their next 62 from that day forward. I couldn’t help but feel like a little of that magic was just for me. Nevertheless, we know their ending was star-crossed in 2017. Still, one of the greatest weeks of my life, in the greatest city I had ever seen; had it’s apex with Kershaw and Seager involved. A lifetime dream had been realized.

Few things in my life will ever be that special that I see live and in person.

Other Dodger Tidbits To Share

Of course, I have had the package for as long as I can remember. I also have the Dodgers to thank for making me an impossible night-owl. To me, the night is just beginning here in my neck of the woods around 10 PM Eastern Time. Most importantly, I owe none other than Vin Scully for teaching me how to unwind and relax.

Night over night from the time I graduated college until fatherhood – I would fall asleep in the later innings on my couch listening to Vin and Vin alone tell stories. The guy was better than Ambien, he just seemed to relax me like nothing else in this world. To me, the other 29 fan bases didn’t know what real baseball was like unless it was late at night – and the greatest voice to grace a baseball broadcast was staying there with you like a family member.

Sometimes, dreams come true.

The rest really, is history.

My son was born the night that Corey Seager broke up a Giants no-hitter with two outs with a bloop in August of 2016. Sorry again, Matt Moore. The second voice my little boy heard other than mine was Vin Scully calling a Rich Hill delivery on my laptop. The nurses asked my wife ‘is this guy serious’ in between her breathing – and she said ‘he’s not normal when it comes to baseball’. Now, my son won’t go to sleep unless I play Randy Newman to a montage of Dodgers 2016 home runs. When he wants to hear it, he just says ‘L.A., L.A., L.A.’ over and over until I relent. The truth is, he doesn’t have to drive a hard bargain.

I’ll share a secret with those of you who are still reading. The last time I remember crying – and I mean uncontrollable sobbing – was the day Vin Scully retired in San Francisco. I sat in my living room on my couch and could not control my emotions. That was one of the hardest goodbyes of my entire life, and I expect it to remain that way as long as I live.

Some of my favorite memories that span a lifetime are the first month of Yasiel Puig’s career – which I felt was a turning point in the new era of Dodger baseball. That, along with Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter in 2014; which I could tell he would get early in the outing. And of course, Cody Bellinger’s rookie season where it seemed as if he knew what was coming. Mike Piazza 1993 to 1997, Adrian Beltre’s 2004 season, and Uribear’s walk-off in the NLDS against the Braves are all close to the surface as well.

Finding My Way To Dodgers Nation

I have written about baseball somewhere online since 2007. The thing is – I was never able to write exclusively about the Dodgers. Surely, some gigs would allow me to cover them here and there; but not on a daily basis. That is until I found Dodgers Nation and had a conversation with Mr. Gary Lee, who afforded me the chance to just write Dodgers. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity – after all – I make a habit of saying one thing. To watch, write about, or follow the Dodgers in any fashion is leading a charmed life. There’s no better place to write about baseball on the internet than right here – freedom to write stuff like this and tell a story are the evidence. And there’s no better team in any sport to spend time invested in than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s not just because the Dodgers are running a successful organization. You would be hard-pressed to find a team with a more beautiful stadium, in a more exciting city, with anything close to as good as those beautiful white home uniforms. Sure, there’s been heartache; but there’s been a lot more smiles.

Surely, no one knows if they will ever reach the zenith and lift the veil of 1988. However, I know the Dodgers have helped me live a fulfilled life within what I love most: the game of baseball. Even all the way out here in the Midwest.

Cody Bellinger Home Run 71