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Love Letter to the L.A. Dodgers 

True blue

Tuesday, May 22 2007
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{mosimage}I am as excited about the Dodgers as I’ve ever been. And now that I’ve finally discovered the power and the glory of the garlic fries at Dodger Stadium, my attendance at games is assured for the remainder of the season.

Right now, the team seems to be glistening with the dew of a fine spring morning: Every good thing they do feels extra special, extra emotional, and maybe a little fragile; and every great thing they do feels like an act of God. (Remember the four consecutive home runs last year?)

But unlike some fans, I’m not all amped this spring because the Dodgers have a shot at the big time. I love to win, for sure, and consistently embarrass loved ones and myself by singing Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” too loudly as we exit the stadium after a victory. (I can’t help it! The song is too good. Sixth Street!) I mean, I love to win. When we win, I experience, for just a moment, a feeling of rushing through space, if space were made of pure joy.

But to me, what’s more important than winning all the time is just having a team that doesn’t suck.

And I can say for sure, at this moment, the Dodgers Do Not Suck.

Having a team that maybe doesn’t set the world on fire, but can sorta hang in there around .500 throughout the season — well, to me, that’s gold. As a fan, I need to have a deep well of security to draw from, a well that can only be filled by consistency and competence. It’s great to have a mom who’ll take you to Disneyland once a year; but it’s more important to have a mom who’ll read to you every night. I don’t mind losing games if we lose them playing well, and playing hard, with an equal effort on everyone’s part.

You may say I’m easily pleased, but my pleasure is real. I get parking-lot butterflies every time I walk to the stadium from the car, and I think, “Oh! I wish we were inside already!” How breezy and peaceful humanity looks from that distance — tucked into the stands, with a muffled roar, bleaching gently under the golden sun like Vin Scully’s hair. And when I’m driving at night and I spot that baseball-glow over Elysian Park, I get a good, something-fun-is-happening feeling.

But in order to understand the pleasure of this moment, and why I am so sanguine even after we failed to win the division last year, you gotta grapple with the trauma of the not-so-distant past. I’m talking about 2004. I’m talking about 2005. I’m talking about you-know-who. And you-know-what-happened.



Obviously, young catcher Russell Martin is a star. But I still have some lingering bitterness over the trade of catcher Paul Lo Duca back in ’04. (Ironically, as I sit here typing, Brad Penny — whom we acquired from the Marlins in that dirty deal — is pitching an awesome game against his old team. That’s great. But it really doesn’t change my feelings about what happened.)

I was a brand-new baseball fan at the time, naive to the ways of the world. I had no idea baseball could be so rotten.

I grew up with a baseball-loving mom who ate sunflower seeds in the shell, drank Lucky Lager (with Rebus puzzles inside the caps), hollered at the TV and made felt Dodger pennants for us kids during the ’78 World Series. (I had no clue what was going on, but it all seemed pretty fun.) Like anyone who lived here at that time, baseball fan or not, I was regularly accompanied by Vin Scully, everywhere — in the car, on TV, at the neighbor’s pool or out in the yard while the greaser dude next door washed his Thunderbird. (Yes, there was a greaser dude with a Thunderbird because, as you know, in the ’70s, it was also the ’50s.) All I knew from baseball was mom, Vin, Tommy Lasorda, Dusty Baker and all those cool ’70s guys, and then Fernandomania.

The whole show seemed benevolent, good-timey, team-spirity and, in retrospect, quite stylish. And of course, if you take in the fullness of the Dodgers’ history, including our integration of the major leagues way back during Jim Crow, you’d have to conclude we have a mystically exciting ball club.

So as I began watching baseball on my own in 2004, the Dodgers’ lineup looked pretty swell too, and full of potential. Some real personalities were in there but, more than that, a brotherly vibe underscored the proceedings. It seemed like a good time to be getting in on this whole Dodgers thing.

That’s why the Lo Duca trade knocked the breath from me. (All he ever wanted was to be a Dodger!) And the decision seemed to anger the baseball gods as much as fans, setting off a chain reaction of bad luck, bad blood and bad baseball. The ’05 season, the Dodgers’ second worst since moving to Los Angeles, felt like cosmic retribution. And right or wrong, in my heart I blamed the trade for the eventual fall of Eric Gagne, pitching titan and Lo Duca’s best friend. (Those dudes were psychic! They needed each other!)

And yet betrayal and devastation do have an upside for fans, which is this: Now that we’ve lived through such a cruddy little stretch, this new era — post–Jim Tracy, and post–Paul DePodesta — has a special quality that’s irresistible. It’s like that moment when you finally feel better after being sick or in pain. After real discomfort, just being okay feels like floating — like all’s right with the world, and we’re all going to heaven. That’s how I feel now. Being okay is more than okay. I learned the hard way what value it has.

And I’m still a brand-new baseball fan, after all. And it’s fun to be a new fan. One thing that bugs me about some veteran fans is their lack of foolish romance about individual players, and their tough-skinned acceptance that “baseball is big business.” (Even Vinny, the eternal romantic, disappointed me with his dispassionate Zen reaction to the ’04 trades.) Baseball is big business, all right, but that’s because it’s big entertainment, and entertainment is about much more than pure numbers.

That’s why, for me, Nomar Garciaparra is actually an acceptable replacement for Shawn Green — who was one of my favorite Dodgers. Nomar is the kind of personality and player you can really get excited about — and wonder about, and develop theories about, and feel a gut-level loyalty toward. He’s so real-L.A. it’s not even funny. (“Lowrider” is his theme song!) He’s got some weird habits that are fascinating to be a part of (you really can’t watch his at-bat rituals without feeling a part of the sacrament), and his appreciation for Dodgers history is palpable. (If the end of last season was any indication, I expect we’ll have some more Kirk Gibson moments from this guy to cherish forever.) He also seems like a genuinely nice guy — and that matters to me. Really. I don’t want to hear any mess about any mean-spirited baseball players, especially on the Dodgers. The Yankees can get away with it, because that’s part of their mystique, and they’re American League. But the Dodgers are different.

All this cheerfulness doesn’t mean I have no opinions on what the team is doing. We need to cut the crap with the bases-loaded situation. We also need to get savvier about stealing and running bases. (And Juan Pierre needs to get serious about fielding or get glasses — one friend calls him Juan Pierror.) Overall we need fewer goatees, more sideburns and mustaches. (Kent’s mustache effort has been inconsistent at best.) And I’d also suggest we need to up our swagger quotient: The Dodgers’ confidence seems much lower than their actual ability; for example, a team this good has no right being cowed by lesser teams like this year’s Cardinals.

But when we fail to grow appropriate facial hair, or score with men on base, I don’t get all freaked out. Not yet, anyway. (I’m still too busy being impressed by our pitching staff!) My biggest problem is actually with Dodgers fans. As beautiful as they may look from the parking lot, they are an absolute mess up close. Firstly, stadium staff need to shoot on sight anyone with a beach ball. Fans trying to start a wave should be forced to watch the remainder of the game in their underpants. Fans trying to perform a wave during tense late-innings moments should be lined up and tickled by the bullpen, then banished for the remainder of the season. Fans trying to start a chant that includes the word “suck” should be lightly beaten about the head and shoulders, and reminded that a truly great team doesn’t need to insult anyone else.

Fans who choose instead to chant, “Let’s go Dodgers, let’s go!” should be given free ice cream as reward for their sportsmanship and good taste.

Let’s go Dodgers, let’s go!
Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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