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Big Boy Blue

Inside the bedroom doorway is a faded Dodger light switch.

On one of the walls hangs a Steve Garvey youth league bat.

Draped across curtain rods are weathered Dodger towels.

“Since I was little, this is all I ever loved,” Chuck Tiffany says, beard stubble on his cheeks, a child in his eyes.

And for the first time this winter, you remember.

For the first time since the locals began hacking the roster and cutting employees and raising prices, you are reminded of a truth that still breathes through cluttered Southland neighborhoods as consistently as hope itself.

The Dodgers can still be the dream. The Dodgers can still be the Dodgers.

The Dodgers are the reason Chuck Tiffany, as a 14-year-old youth leaguer, spotted Tom Lasorda at Los Angeles International Airport and announced to him, “You’ll be seeing me at Dodger Stadium.”

The Dodgers are the reason, two years ago, the Tiffany family wept when Chuck was drafted by the Dodgers in the second round.

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The Dodgers are the reason that today, as one of their top pitching prospects, Tiffany is proud to have a souvenir license-plate holder on the truck that sits in the driveway of his modest Covina home.

“Follow me to Dodger Stadium,” it reads.

It’s not because he’s guaranteeing that he’ll one day make the big leagues, although one magazine voted the left-hander as the hottest Class-A prospect in baseball last year.

It’s not because, after throwing a consecutive no-hitter and perfect game last year for Columbus (Ga.), he is a reminder that the Dodgers have not had a hometown, homegrown All-Star in more than 30 years.

It’s because, well, you really can follow Chuck Tiffany to Dodger Stadium.

Even though he now works for them, he is still their biggest fan, attending games last fall after his minor league season was completed, including being in the stands for the Dodgers’ West-clinching victory over the San Francisco Giants.

Watching the team dance together on the field, Tiffany’s dad nudged him.

“That’s going to be you one day,” he said.

Not to put too much pressure on a kid who owns stacks of Dodger baseball cards and a framed Magic Mountain souvenir photo of him wearing a Dodger uniform at age 3, but ...

How we wish.

*

They have been linked to questionable ownership, linked to young management, linked to weird statistics.

Yet nothing remains stronger than the Dodgers’ link to this community.

We forget that, then Chuck Tiffany shows up.

His grandfather, Anthony Gonzales, grew up in a Chavez Ravine home that was razed, when he was 13, to make room for Dodger Stadium.

“No hard feelings,” Gonzales said. “Wouldn’t it be something if I can go back one day to see my grandson pitch there?”

His father, Chuck Sr., dated his mother, Gina, at Dodger Stadium.

“She had no choice,” Chuck Sr said.

Shortly after Chuck was born, he was given a baby Dodger jacket that is still stored on a hanger.

“We dressed him in Dodger stuff then, and are still dressing him in Dodger stuff today,” Chuck Sr. says.

The kid was one of many in this town who was handed down a love for the Dodgers as if it were a gold watch, from generation to generation, from Alston to Tracy, from Scully to Scully.

In their Covina family room, both the TV and radio blared for every game.

Father and son would drive the 40 minutes to the ballpark several times each summer, often at the last minute, grabbing bleacher tickets and hanging out like it was home.

“I loved Hershiser, Valenzuela, all of them,” said Chuck, 20. “They were a big part of our lives.”

That part of the story is the same for many. But this one is different because Chuck could do more than watch, he could also pitch.

From the time he was throwing tennis balls against a square painted on the door of his garage, he could pitch.

When his Covina team won the Pony League World Series when he was 14, he was the star, playing so well on television that a channel-surfing Baltimore Oriole official called his scouts and told them to check him out.

That official was Logan White, who is now the Dodger scouting director.

When Tiffany was a senior star at Charter Oak High in the spring of 2003, it was White who made him a second-round pick.

“We knew of his great love for the Dodgers,” White said. “We knew it would help his signability.”

Help? When news of his selection was broadcast on the Internet, his family danced and cried and quickly drove from home to school, where they surrounded their son in a giant hug in a hallway.

“I didn’t know what to think, I still don’t,” Chuck said. “It was such a dream. It still is.”

After spending a few minutes in rookie-league Ogden at the end of the 2003 season, Tiffany became the only Dodger whose father attended every winter workout.

“I’m on a ride right now that I don’t want to come down from,” said Chuck Sr., a detention officer with the Los Angeles Police Dept.

His family was so excited about his job, his mother Gina overcame her fear of flying and climbed on a plane for the first time to see him pitch.

“The Dodgers have always been our life,” she said.

Last season their son took the organization on a real trip, emerging as a baffling pitcher with enough stuff to strike out 141 batters in 100 innings with only 40 walks.

Early in the season, throwing mostly in the low 90s, he threw a five-inning no-hitter followed several days later by a seven-inning perfect game ... which was witnessed by the visiting

Lasorda.

“Yeah, he told everyone the story about me and him and the airport,” Tiffany said.

He ended the season by striking out 46 of his last 86 batters and now folks in baseball are talking. If he can watch his weight, and work on his mechanics ...

This season he probably will be advanced to Class-A Vero Beach, possibly putting him two or three years from Dodger Stadium.

If he arrives and succeeds, he will be the first Los Angeles-area kid who signed as a Dodger, and became an All-Star as a Dodger, since Willie Davis in 1971.

“He has a chance to have a big league career, and I really hope he makes it,” White said. “If that happens, what a story.”

During these stormy Dodger times, it’s a story that folks apparently want to hear.

Tiffany was cheered throughout town this week as a member of the Dodger fan caravan, and will appear Sunday at UC Irvine’s baseball field with other pro players as part of a tsunami relief effort by the Professional Baseball Scouts of Southern California.

He doesn’t drink, smoke, dip, or have earrings or tattoos.

He is such a baseball junkie, he uses an open can of snuff for his truck deodorizer because the smell reminds him of the game.

In his head isn’t the latest tunes, but music from the Dodger Stadium loudspeakers.

“That song, ‘Let’s Get It Started?’ It still gives me goose bumps,” Tiffany admitted.

Goose bumps and Dodgers. We haven’t seen that in a while. Or maybe we just stopped looking.

Long before his first major league win, credit Chuck Tiffany with a save.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Home-grown

Chuck Tiffany has the chance to be that rare Dodger standout signed directly out of a Southland high school. A few locals who did succeed:

DON DRYSDALE, Van Nuys

* A football and baseball star at Van Nuys High, he signed with the Dodgers a day after graduating in 1954.

BILL SINGER, Pomona

* Signed as a 17-year-old in 1961, he had his major league debut five months after his 20th birthday.

WILLIE DAVIS, Los Angeles

* Three years after signing as a 17-year-old, his 1961 rookie year was the subject of a David Wolper documentary.

Los Angeles Times


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