Column

Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Pennant series revives old memories while sparking hope for future

I had just returned in the nick of time, traveling the country peeping at the colors and living off the land. I was just in time for baseball fever, which has recently overwhelmed La Cañada. I delighted as I sat in Starbucks the other day, watching the Dodger Blue jerseys proudly on parade. And, rightly so — the Dodgers had made it to the National League pennant series.

I’m an oldtime Dodger fan. My earliest memories of baseball were aligned with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and when they announced in 1957 they’d be leaving New York, looking for sunny weather, I cried like a baby.

Fans flocked to the streets, pleading for the team not to leave. I still recall the cover of the Daily News; people were sobbing.

I was 10, yet I wanted to understand this phenomenon so I consulted the wisest man I knew, Frikkie Lynn, the old man who rode through the streets on a horse-drawn wagon and sharpened knives. Frikkie said it was all about “sociology.” Since I didn’t understand the word, nor could I spell it, I walked away and became a Yankee fan.

I became a fanatical fan, but it’s more of a “Zen” than “who’s on first.” Leo Durocher, the iconic manager of the Dodgers said, “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.” Consequently, I tried to understand. The duality of baseball is interesting. It connects us to the past and yet the future. It reminds us of all that was once good and all that could be again. Baseball made come true the dreams of past innocence, lost wonder, and the promise that there was something inherently good still left in the world.

Nothing defines that baseball Zen more than the Dodgers. The team has good bones. It was born in 1884, its name derived from the reputed skill of Brooklyn residents at evading the city’s trolley streetcar network. To make it through Flatbush, you had to be a good dodger.

Vince Scully, their longtime radio voice who began in 1950, said, “If you mentioned the word Brooklyn, people laughed. You might find that the one who was loud or raucous or rough-talking was always from Brooklyn, so people made fun of Brooklyn. I think the people relied on the Dodgers to give them some self-respect. I think that’s why the relationship was so great and so deep and lasted so long.”

The Dodgers have been at Chavez Ravine longer than they were at Ebbets Field, but to Brooklyn Dodgers fans, the franchise was forever frozen. While reminiscing, the present tense will sometimes sneak into conversation, as if Jackie Robinson is taking a big lead off first base. The Dodgers make memories shared by thousands seem remarkably intimate, while displaying an enthusiasm that hasn’t waned over five decades. The team left, but the feelings remain.

It was a love affair between the community and its team. When it came down to ownership, the borough of Brooklyn claimed more ownership of a team than any city. The players were accessible. People could identify with them. The players lived with the people. Everyone knew where Gil Hodges lived. The team embraced Brooklyn and were embraced.

From 1941 until their move, the Dodgers won seven national league pennants, had many Hall of Famers, and sparked social change with the integration of Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers became the vessel of all these highly and sometimes romanticized notions of what baseball was supposed to be.

When the Dodgers left, a borough was robbed of what defined it. Brooklyn never recovered. But it was a Brooklyn that could never have lasted. That time could never be recreated — only imagined.

But today, right here in the Southland, the Dodgers are still alive and playing for the pennant. Nothing is ever the same, nor should it be.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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