Say It Ain’t So--Dodgers Have No Place in Their Hearts for a 10-Year-Old Catcher?
Tom, my 10-year-old, played catcher in Little League this year on a real Cinderella team.
It was a rocky start. Every hit by an opposing team could become an inside-the-park home run, while Tom’s team was too busy dodging pitches to swing at very many. But there were a lot of extra practices, hard work and good coaching. There may also have been a little of what sports commentators like to call character. With teamwork and stick-to-itiveness, the kids came back. They won two playoff games and then the league championship. The team’s name was the Dodgers.
After the championship, Tom decided to write to the Los Angeles Dodgers about his team. With the innocence and exuberance of a 10-year-old, he knew that the Dodgers would want to hear about what their namesake had achieved--that Tom and his teammates had lived up to “the great Dodgers name.”
Tom addressed his letter, “Dear Los Angeles Dodgers,” and began:
“Hi! How is everyone? I hope no one is injured.” After wishing the team good luck, Tom got to the news:
“Well, you will be pleased to hear that our team won the Old York Road Little League championship, and guess what our team name was. The Dodgers!”
Tom bought a hardball with his own money to send to the Dodgers with his letter. He told them that he would be “eternally grateful” if a Dodger signed his ball. He explained that an autograph from Darryl Strawberry would be great,
“But if the man is a Dodger his name is good enough for me!”
As a Little League catcher, he concluded with:
“Tell your picthers ( sic ) to stick around because I’m going to be behind the plate soon! . . . Good Luck!”
Tom sent the letter, his hardball and a ballpoint pen (for the autograph). I was a little worried that he wouldn’t hear back. But a Dodger fan in my office reassured me that the Dodgers had a great organization and would respond.
Tom waited. One day he asked me who I thought was the most important person in baseball. It was a good question. I asked him who he thought it was. Jackie Robinson. Why? Because he broke the color barrier. “And Dad, you know he was a Dodger, too.”
It is difficult to explain why baseball became so important to Tom and his friends. In part the game seems to have met their need for heroes, and baseball provides some great ones: the quiet strength, courage and dignity of Lou Gehrig; the humor, common decency and unique abilities of Brooks Robinson; the charisma and professionalism of Joe DiMaggio; the intensity and achievements of Mike Schmidt.
Weeks passed, but finally the package arrived. The Dodgers sent back Tom’s own letter, scrunched up and wrapped around the ball. There were no autographs, on the ball or elsewhere. They did send a slick promotional brochure selling Dodgers paraphernalia. T-Shirts, $12. Videos, $20. Dodgers Satin Jacket, $100. Join a Dodger fan club for only $5, plus $1 handling.
“They didn’t even send back my pen,” Tom said before he turned, dejected, and went outside.
As a federal prosecutor, I have grown about as cynical as anyone, and I can understand how ball clubs must regard merchants of memorabilia. But this was so obviously a genuine and heartfelt letter from a kid to the team. Only a kid would write in pencil and mail a pen for an autograph. The Dodgers did not even send a form letter expressing their thanks for his support or explaining why no one would sign the ball.
In this age of multimillion-dollar TV deals and player contracts, a boy opening his heart to his heroes seems not to count for anything. Say it ain’t so.