Koufax, the rain and me
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This was well before cynicism took firm hold. Before having battled one too many prima donnas, heard one too many lies, seen far too many real foibles.
It wasn’t like I was some fresh kid out of journalism school, but it was my first visit to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, Dodgertown seemed an almost mythical place.
I tried hard to conceal excitement as I strolled the grounds, to keep an air of professionalism.
And then, there he was.
He lived in Vero and was something of an occasional, part-time pitching instructor. Would drop by for a few days, work in the ``strings’’ area with a lucky prospect or two.
I knew he was private, media shy. Knew he preferred to avoid interviews. But this was one of the great heroes of my youth, and I had to try.
Never knew why he agreed to be interviewed by a total stranger. Only thought my career was about to peak early. He said he could meet me at the complex early the next day before practice.
So on a gray, spring Florida morning, we each grabbed a Styrofoam cup of coffee and sat alone at a small table in what was essentially an oversized, screened-in patio off the deserted camp dining area.
Sandy was polite and obliging. Answered every question. I hardly broke new ground with an overly respectful interrogation. Can’t even remember a lot of what I asked.
I recorded the interview, and it kills me to this day I lost the tape. I could suffer the embarrassment of my wandering interview to relive that moment.
What I do remember clearly is the end of the interview, when the rain came. Not just any rain, but a sudden hard rain, droplets the size of marbles just pummeling the grass and pitching mounds before us. Puddles formed in moments.
We sat there in relaxed silence and just watched. And then Sandy said, ‘You know, the amazing thing is, as hard as it’s raining now, it’ll stop in a few minutes and then that Florida red, clay earth will absorb every drop. In no time, you’ll hardly be able to tell it rained.’’
And it happened just as he said. The rain ceased and pools of water disappeared as if by magic. Sandy right again.
I ended up spending 10 consecutive spring trainings at Dodgertown. Was there when Kirk Gibson went ballistic after the black eye, when Fernando Valenzuela was cut, when Kevin Brown took a bat to a urinal.
But my most memorable Dodgertown moment will always be that quiet morning, when I sat alone with the great left-hander and watched the rain disappear.
-- Steve Dilbeck