Dodgers’ hot streak, ownership fire up the faithful
With her Dodgers dogged by injuries, Emma Amaya made a stop before work at the Our Lady Queen of Angels church in downtown Los Angeles, where she lit a prayer candle for her boys in blue.
The next day, as the team prepared for game one of their series against the Atlanta Braves, Amaya, 57, rushed to take her train to Glendale, listening to the telecast on her iPhone, where she picked up her car for an hour drive to El Monte. There, amid countless bobbleheads like Vinny and Sandy and Fernando, her anxieties washed away in the warm pulsating glow of her television set and a growing Dodgers lead.
What a time to be a Dodgers fan.
“The future is bright,” Amaya said. “They’re spending a lot of money. With these owners, it’s not just talking with them that they’re going to put the best team on the field. They’re putting their money behind it.”
Although a series loss would be a bitter disappointment for Dodgers fans, many say it would be eased by a growing sense of optimism about the franchise’s future. It is a stark contrast to the Frank McCourt years, when the team’s ownership came to be reviled and when troubles on and off the field -- with loutish and even violent fans -- seemed to take a little of the shine off the storied team.
It’s easy to forget that during those years, the Dodgers frequently had winning teams, though none that went far in the playoffs. Now, the team under Guggenheim Partners is spending like the Yankees, not only in acquiring top-shelf talent but also on renovating a stadium that, 52 years after its opening, remains a major-league cathedral to the Dodgers faithful.
“There’s a sense of confidence in the early days of this ownership group,” said Terry Cannon, founder of the Baseball Reliquary in Pasadena. “Obviously, with the recent spending orgies of the current regime, fans are now encouraged that ownership will go out and bring in the pieces that are needed to put the team over the top.”
That will soon bring expectations not just of playoff wins but also championships, Cannon said. The Dodgers last won a World Series in 1988.
In the meantime, many fans say their love of the Dodgers has been, if not rekindled, spiced up.
When an Atlanta Braves fan on his Echo Park street playfully taunted Stephen Seemayer, saying the Braves would sweep the Blue Crew in three games, the 59-year-old artist and documentary filmmaker had a Zen reaction for a guy who watches almost every home game from the upper deck of Dodger Stadium.
“I say, ‘No, you’re totally wrong. They’re going to beat them in five,’” Seemayer said.
In fact, he was worried about his team’s chances because of key injuries. For years, Seemayer has painted Dodgers-related signs and planted them in his front yard. His latest read in Spanish: " Nuestro equipo esta cojeando a los playoffs!” Our team is limping into the playoffs!
But Seemayer’s attitude also had to do with his feeling that the Dodgers’ success this year isn’t a one-off because the team is “literally doing what the Yankees did, spending ridiculous money.”
That’s also the sentiment of Marcos Ortiz, 32, a powder coat company worker from Downey. He had been turned off by the rowdiness of some fans in recent years, rowdiness that culminated in the near-fatal beating in 2011 of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. Ortiz said when he went to a game late this season, he was gratified by the friendlier vibes in the stadium -- and by the roster on the field.
“They have a really good team, and it can only go up from here,” he said. “I’m pretty confident if we don’t win it all this year, then the next year and the years to come.”
David Carter, executive director of USC’s Sports Business Institute, said winning is a cure-all for a lot of things. But he said the optimism many fans feel is driven in part by the sense that the team had fallen so far in the eyes of the community, with the off-field drama of the prior ownership and teams that weren’t competitive enough.
“The performance is better. The perception of the team is better. There’s certainly a buzz because there’s great stories in [Yasiel] Puig and some of the great pitchers,” Carter said. “I think there’s certainly a lot of reason for the optimism shared over the Dodgers.”
With Magic Johnson, a minority owner of the Dodgers, becoming the public face of the team, many fans wonder whether the franchise is using a model for winning employed by legendary Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who died this year. Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ chief marketing officer, was a Lakers publicist under Buss and became Johnson’s agent.
Rosen said that the Dodgers studied how other great teams around the country and in Europe did business, and that there’s clearly a Lakers way of doing things in that mix. “We all learned quite a bit from Jerry Buss,” he said.
The Dodgers have some die-hard celebrity fans, including “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston, but the team has reached out to stars -- including NBA players -- and made it easier for them to come to games, Rosen said.
“It’s fun for them, and fans love to see them,” he said. “If you talked to Jerry Buss, that was one of his mantras.”
Clement Hanami, 51, a visual artist and art director for the Japanese American National Museum in downtown L.A., said he recently took his 20-month-old son to watch his first game, a slugfest against the Colorado Rockies in which the Dodgers scored 11 runs.
“He’s been running around the house with a baseball bat, swinging it everywhere. He gets excited hearing us cheer,” Hanami said, adding that if the team falls short of a championship this year, it won’t dim his hope. “In my mind, they are committed to winning.... It makes us proud to be in Los Angeles with the Dodgers.”
Amaya was so excited to get home Thursday night for the Dodgers’ first playoff game that she left her keys in the car with the radio on -- and found the battery dead early the next morning. The computer programmer, who has a popular blog about the team, walked into her condominium, past a light switch with a cover custom-decorated with a famous picture of Pee Wee Reese pushing his wheelchair-bound former Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella.
She wore a Dodgers shirt emblazoned with a 22 and the name of one of her favorite players, ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, and earrings with the Dodgers’ interlocking “LA” logo. Her friends sent her constant text messages as the game went on, such as, “6th strikeout in a row for kersh.” When Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis couldn’t make an at-bat count, a friend smitten by him texted in Spanglish: " My AJcito no pudo.” My little A.J. couldn’t.
Amaya talked about Vin Scully, about the Sandy Koufax signed baseball she won and about being teased by Fernando Valenzuela and how Kershaw is always smiling. Amaya gushed about Hall of Fame Spanish-language Dodgers announcer Jaime Jarrin, and about how he calls her “Emmita” and follows her on Twitter.
“Jaime follows only 88 people. And he follows me,” she said, smiling widely. “Isn’t that special?”
Amaya was worried after Atlanta’s starting pitcher struck out the side in the first inning as she took her Metrolink train from Chatsworth. When the Dodgers scored two runs to open a lead, she yelled and clapped so hard she woke a friend and startled other passengers. By the time she got home, around 7 p.m, the Dodgers had scored a barrage of runs. They won, and now the series is split with the Braves as they return to Dodger Stadium on Sunday. All was right with the world.