Don Rogers: Answer to life
Last time the Dodgers made the World Series, I lived in Quincy. It’s been a long haul since 1988, me migrating from town to town, them hopping from owner to owner.
Sometimes they were good. More old-time Cubs good, though. Just not nearly so lovable. The family enterprise went corporate, Fox no less. Then a parade of high fliers owned the team like an ornament until the current group of investors, including Magic Johnson, brought some of the love back. Magic, with the Dodgers! Now this has the whiff of storybook!
More than the other sports, baseball is about failure, a heart-breaker if you let it. Even stars succeed only three of every 10 times at bat. You can stretch the Series to a full seven games, dramatic comeback by dramatic comeback as the Dodgers did this year, only to crumble at the end — quietly, almost politely, in order. Close the book softly, with a sigh. Maybe next year.
I set a record the season I began as the acknowledged star of my Little League team, playing shortstop, batting third. I went 0 for 40 or 50 or something like that. Oh for a whole season. Oh, no.
I had endured other childhood injustices: parents divorcing before it was in vogue; boozy family dynamics I took as normal; racial snubbing I thought was just me, a haole.
In my new home, this foreign land Southern California, I became the “dumb” kid always thrown in the smart class, getting grades like my batting average. Wide-eyed, stick-skinny and unbelievably shy.
But on the court or the field I was fury, white hot, never backing down. Ever the runt showing poor command of the playground rules. I took no hints. I got in fights all the time, losing every one.
“God, I’m sick of beating you up,” one playground alpha lamented after school. “Just say Uncle. Just once.”
I said something else.
I was too light for Pop Warner football and short for basketball. Baseball, though, depended less on size or heft.
So this nightmare when stardom was mine felt particularly cruel. Learning later my eyes had changed and I needed glasses delivered no consolation. My humiliation already was complete.
My grandfather, a semipro pitcher in his time, loved the game. At 16 he jumped a train out of Anniston, Alabama, and wound up in New York City, where he met Grandma. He drove for Union Oil, eventually scraping up enough to buy a gas station in downtown Los Angeles before World War II.
He made his first fortune reducing the station to a couple of pumps and charging for parking on the rest of the lot. He secured retirement by selling the land to developers, who put up a skyscraper.
All the while he and Grandma followed the Dodgers like the answer to life. When I came along, the only grandkid who played ball, they swept me off to Dodger Stadium or we watched over TV tray dinners.
The worst thing was letting him down, as if my place in the family lineup had a thing to do with my batting average or it could put an end to the grownups telling me I could be anything I set my mind to be.
Well, I wanted to play shortstop for the Dodgers. How ’bout that?
A crying baby almost kept me from the all-time Dodgers moment. Our 6-month-old was bawling down the hall and this was on me to get him back to his nap while my wife worked on dinner. No, no, no. Shh, shh, shh. There you go.
He drifted off and I tiptoed away. I got to the kitchen as Kirk Gibson was fouling off pitches from A’s reliever Dennis Eckersley. On and on, it seemed. “Oh, my,” declared Vin Scully, voice of the Dodgers from the ’50s until just last year, glue between generations.
“Oh my God, he’s gonna hit a home run,” I told my wife. And then he did. She enjoyed the spectacle, only smirking a little. Her folks were White Sox people.
The bawling baby grew up to have his own Little League experience. I have my father’s memories of the line drive he pinged — aluminum bats now — into left to win a big game, the bunts, the triple play he started, the one he was caught in, the season he got a base hit or walk every time up for four consecutive games.
My greatest joy came when a coach on another team told me he was the most coveted 12th player in the league. Everyone loved how hard he played, how he took everything in stride, never sulked, boosted everyone.
No one, least of all him, cared that he didn’t get a hit all season.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-4299.
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