My beloved Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the National League Championship Series tonight. It’s been 20 years since they played their last Game 1 of the NLCS, and it’s been a loong wait for me. The Dodgers have made the playoffs several times since they won it all in 1988, but they had only managed one measly postseason victory since then. With all apologies to Cubs fan, we Dodger fans have become weary of getting swept in the first round. So this year Dodger-fever kicked into high gear when we took it to the Cubbies in three straight. I think everyone’s favorite Dodger right now is Manny Ramirez. Hey, even if he is a rent-a-player from Boston, at least he’s got my team on his shoulders right now.
It was twenty years ago (almost) today when Dad asked me to make a choice I’ve regretted for 20 years. I was only 13 years old, but I still remember it like yesterday. Dad came home after work in early October and gave me a choice between two options. First a little background.
The Dodgers, led by Orel Hershiser’s season-ending 59 consecutive scoreless innings record, had won their division but were up against the highly favored New York Mets.
My best friend Ryan was a big Mets fan and we had a good time bragging about whether his team or mine was going to beat up on the other in the playoffs. But I was realistic, knowing that the Dodgers couldn’t handle the mighty Mets in their contests during the regular season in 1988. Anyway, Dad and a few of his coworkers were season ticket holders back then, so I got to attend 8-10 games a year. One of the benefits of being a loyal season ticket holder was first dibs on playoff tickets. So Dad put before me the great dilemma: being the oldest kid, I got the first choice of games to pick. I could either choose Game 1 between the Dodgers and Mets in the NLCS, or I could instead gamble and pick a World Series game *if* the Dodgers could beat the Mets. My younger brother Jeff would get to go with my Dad to the game I didn’t pick. What to do?!
I had already been to 2 LCS games. In 1985 I witnessed Jack Clark of the St. Louis Cardinals homer off of the Dodger’s Tom (bleepin’) Niedenfuer in Game 6 to end the series and the Dodgers’ season. Left fielder Pedro Guerrero never even turned around to give chase after Clark swung. He just chucked his glove down in disgust as the ball sailed half way up into the bleachers. We all knew the game was lost when Tommy Lasorda brought in Niedenfuer to close the game, a hard thrower who had a penchant all season for grooving pitches. Although we lost that game, it whet my appetite for October baseball. Then in 1986 a family friend at church invited me to Game 5 of the ALCS between the California Angels and the Boston Red Sox. That was a great game too, historic even, as there were many lead changes and a blown save by Donnie Moore. In fact that game is now infamously known as the Donnie Moore game, which all baseball fans remember as the beginning of the end of Moore’s career that eventually led to his suicide a few years later. So even though the home team had lost in both those games, I was spellbound by the stadium atmosphere at those games. There’s really nothing like your team playing in October after following them for 6+ months. A fan’s relationship with his team in not unlike a summer romance. It’s a lot of fun when the sun is shining and the weather is warm. And when the weather gets cool, you say goodbye until next year. But I had never been to a World Series game. That is the holy grail for baseball fans. What to do?!
The poet Robert Frost wrote of two roads that “diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.” Frost ended by writing that he “took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I looked down the long and uncertain road that led to the World Series long and hard, but ultimately decided that if I wanted to go to a game at all, then the safe bet was the NLCS. Brother Jeff could have the iffy World Series game. Yeah, I was generous and selfless like that. ;-) I figured I was fortunate to have the first choice. Turned out he was the lucky one when he and Dad witnessed one of the greatest World Series homers in history, and certainly the greatest homer in Dodger history. I was left watching at home while Kirk Gibson limped around the bases after his miraculous, impossible home run off the Oakland A’s Dennis Eckersley. Even though the Dodgers lost Game 1 of the NLCS that year to the Mets, any painful memories were erased by the Dodgers beating the A’s in the World Series in five games. But I’ll always regret making the “safe” decision and missing out on the bigger jackpot. Shoulda learned the lesson from Robert Frost.
When you’re 13 years old and you’ve already been to 3 baseball playoff games, and your favorite team just won the championship for the second time in 7 years, you tend to take success and sports glory for granted. Since then I’ve learned patience. So watching my team this year brings back 20 year old memories.
[It’s the fourth inning of Game 1 right now in the 2008 NLCS. The Dodgers are playing the Philadelphia Phillies, and they just scored again to make it 2-0. I really like this 2008 squad, plus Manny Ramirez is electric! I liked this goofball on the Red Sox, but I really like him now that he’s mashing for my team. Manny drove in the first run of the game in the 1st inning on a near-homerun. It could have been a triple if he would have hustled a bit, but he was admiring his shot at the plate. Oh well, I’ll gladly put up with “Manny being Manny.”]
On the way home from work this evening I called Dad and asked him if he wanted to do something really fun. “I’m always up for something really fun! Ha ha.” he replied. So we talked about getting Game 7 tickets in Philadelphia. Just on a lark a friend and I at work had search for tickets for sale, and they are available! The only thing that stood in the way of getting them was my wife, but she’s a sweetheart and knows that waiting for something for 20 years is worth her sacrifice.
[It’s 9:33pm, and Blake DeWitt just made a *great* barehanded play to get Ryan Howard at first on a slow roller to second. Wow! What a play for a rookie. This team is hot!]
Well, I just visited Stubhub.com and took the plunge for 2 tickets. Those are the most expensive tickets I ever bought. The stock market went down a record amount for the seventh day in a row (the Dow is down 675 points just today), and my wife is gulping at the price we just paid. Of course the ticket prices are refundable if the game is not played, but the $57 in commission and S/H is now spent. “I hope this is worth it,” she says as she looks concerned. I just smile like I’m 13 years old.
[It’s now the top of the 6th. Derek Lowe just pitched himself out of a jam in the 5th by getting Jimmy Rollins to fly out with men on base. Whew! Score is still 2-0 Dodgers. Tim McCarver just enlightened us all watching at home by explaining in the play-by-play: “That double play was good.” Uh, thanks Tim, Master of the Obvious.]
[It’s also the home stretch of presidential campaign season, and the only commercials I’m seeing are Barack Obama ads. I’ve seen 4 just today. John McCain must have a reason for not responding with equal TV time, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. I wonder if his campaign is broke. He must have a lot invested in Wall Street.]
[Bottom of the 6th, no outs. Chase Utley just homered off Derek Lowe. Ugh! Score is now 2-2. Please Joe Torre, don’t leave Lowe in too long!]
[Too late, Torre. Pat Burrell followed up two batters later by going deep off Lowe. 3-2 Phillies. Lowe is finally out of the game, and the momentum is now squarely in the Phillies corner. Oh well. That seems to be the only way the Phils can score. Those who live by the long ball die by the long ball. Please, please may this series go 7 games!]
[Bottom of the 7th. Wow! Blake DeWitt again comes up big, this time with a sweet double play, even getting the speedy Rollins at first. We’re only one run down with 6 outs to go. Let’s go Blue!]
[Top of the 9th coming up. This is it for this game. What an exciting, well-played game, but the Dodgers are losing again. Maybe I should stop paying attention while they are playing. Seems that whenever I do in October, they play well but give up a late-game lead (happened in *all three* playoff games I attended). I’m still optimistic though, since we hit Cole Hamels well, and he’s (by far) their best pitcher. We’ll get’em in seven. Let’s go Manny!]
[Top of the 9th, 2 outs. Blake DeWitt, the rookie having a great game is at the plate. I can’t expect him to come through against Brad Lidge. He’s had a great game so far. So all he offers up is a dribbler in front of the plate and the catcher throws him out at first. Game 1 is in the books. Philly phans are going nuts. Fireworks going off everywhere. Fox queues the Rocky music. Cole Hamels is the player of the game. Yeah, he pitched well, only giving up 2 runs. Enjoy it Philadelphia. We’ll be back on Friday.]