Watching the Dodgers From Different Viewpoints
Got an e-mail from reader Matt Hardy who said I should go to a baseball game with his friend Loren DePhillips, because DePhillips is a big-time Dodgers fan and believes they will be really good in time.
That was the first clue, of course, that Loren and I don’t look at the broken-down Old Timers in the same way, and so when we met, I asked him, “What, are you blind?”
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact,” DePhillips said with a laugh while following the lead of Athens, his guide dog, into Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.
“Just checking to see if you have a sense of humor,” I said.
“I’m a Dodger fan, aren’t I?” DePhillips replied.
WHY WOULD a blind man want to go to the stadium to watch a baseball game he can’t see? I asked, and DePhillips seemed surprised by the question.
“No one has ever asked me that,” he said. “Let me think about that.”
I had called the Dodgers to buy tickets after hearing from Hardy, and the Dodgers said they’d set aside three in the disabled section, which didn’t go over well with DePhillips, who insisted on being close enough to the field to hear and smell everything.
“When you’re blind, it really does matter where you sit,” he said. “I’ll tell you, having a good sense of hearing is great, but having a good sense of smell I could do without. This world doesn’t smell very good most of the time.”
So instead of the disabled section, we took our $75 seats about 17 rows up from the Dodgers’ dugout with Athens lying asleep beneath our seats.
“Kind of like the Dodgers’ offense,” cracked DePhillips, while petting the golden lab.
Right away one of the Dodgers pounded a ball foul into the seats, and I realized there was nothing to prevent DePhillips from being drilled. I thought it might be better to sit in the outfield seats -- given the likelihood these days of a Dodger hitting a ball there.
“Dude, if I was afraid of everything that could happen to me, I’d never get out of bed,” said DePhillips, 54, blind from birth, and attending his 18th Dodgers game this year. “I don’t know why, but for some reason Dodger Stadium is the one place I like to be, and if I could afford a season ticket, I’d probably go to all 81 games.”
He went to his first Dodgers game in the Coliseum as a youngster in 1959, wore a Dodgers uniform at age 10 to attend a game at Candlestick Park and still remembers how terrible the hot dog was that day.
Before he met his friend Hardy and before he began taking his dog to the stadium, he used to board a bus in Burbank and make his way to the stadium with only a white cane as a companion.
“If you guys disappeared for some reason, it’d be a pain in the butt, but I’d get to where I need to be,” he said. “That’s why I started going to Dodger games by myself. I couldn’t find anyone to go, I wanted to be there, so I just went.”
He listens to the radio, isn’t bashful about saying he cannot tolerate most broadcasters, and said, “When you grow up eating filet mignon, everything else is hamburger. Hey, my dad took me to my first Dodger game, and I began listening to Vin Scully. Why wouldn’t I be a lifelong Dodger fan?”
He doesn’t use earphones, he said, “because why would I want to screw up another sense? I can tell you this, I’ve never had anyone ask me to turn off” Scully.
He’s spent a lifetime listening to baseball, and he said if the day comes that someone must replace Scully, it should be Padres’ TV announcer Matt Vasgersian.
ASK HIM if he was granted a wish to see something in baseball for just a few minutes -- what would it be? There was no hesitation. “Sandy Koufax pitching,” he said.
Someone made a great play, and the natural reaction was to say, “Did you see that?” and of course he hadn’t, but then he said, “I’ve heard you on the radio, and it’s already obvious that I see things more clearly than you do.”
As for replays, “I’ve never missed a replay because I’ve never seen one,” he said. “You just don’t miss what you’ve never had.”
Given the chance once to step onto the outfield grass at Dodger Stadium while fans were being treated to a fireworks display, he went to the outfield wall, touched it and jumped to see how high it was to better visualize what happens when a ball is hit to the wall.
“I was amazed how perfect the outfield grass felt,” he said. “You know what my fantasy is? I want to stand in the batter’s box, have someone teach me to swing a bat, then stand there and hear what it sounds like when someone throws a pitch 90 mph past me. I’ll sign anything they want, because if I get beaned and die, at least I died doing something I really wanted to do.”
HE WAS screening tech calls for a computer firm but lost his job recently when that work went out of the country. He believes he has the skills and baseball opinions to work in radio, willing to begin as an intern.
In the meantime, it’s his pal Hardy who is his audience. Hardy, half the age of DePhillips, lived a few doors down, struck up a conversation and discovered a mutual interest in the Dodgers.
“You talk about the spirit of the Dodgers; it’s right here,” Hardy said. “I’ll admit I used to think it’d be a nuisance to go to a game with a blind man....”
That drew a chuckle from DePhillips, who interrupted to say, “Then he learned we don’t have to stand in lines, and if it’s late in the game and I want to move up to better seats, nobody ever stops me.”
The two laughed, and for some reason it reminded DePhillips of my earlier question, the one about why would a blind man want to go to the stadium and watch a baseball game he can’t see.
“I’ve been thinking about that, and why no one has ever asked me that question before,” he said. “Maybe they were afraid to ask, or maybe they just assumed I’m a normal person.”
He would have said more, I’m sure, but Cesar Izturis took a pitch for a ball, prompting DePhillips to jump to his feet and yell, “Good eye.”
T.J. Simers can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.