Op-Ed: Notes on the championship series from a onetime Dodgers resister
In the end, I was rooting for the Dodgers. When AJ Pollock grounded out to end the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night, I was yelling at the TV. The Dodgers’ playoff run, beginning with Chris Taylor’s walk-off home run in the wild card game against the St. Louis Cardinals and ending with Pollock’s grounder, was high drama in our household, as it was throughout Los Angeles. The nightly ritual of it — the sense of living through these games together — recalled to me the sport’s key promise, its ability to connect us, to serve as a binding influence, a source of collective pride and loyalty.
I have a complicated relationship with the Dodgers. I’ve paid only glancing attention to their recent postseason successes, and I actively boycotted all of baseball during 2020 because there’s nothing legitimate about a season in which only 60 games are played. Another aspect of the game’s abiding resonance is that it lingers; the season flows and ebbs and flows again across the course of half a year.
My antipathy for the Dodgers has lingered also, with roots that go back to before I was born. My grandfather was a die-hard Dodger fan in Brooklyn, attending dozens of games a season at Ebbets Field. He was there on Oct. 5, 1941, when a dropped third strike by Dodger catcher Mickey Owen allowed Yankee batter Tommy Henrich to reach first base with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series. (The Yankees came from behind to win the game and — the following day — the championship.) He was there on April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut.
I grew up on these and other stories. Their place in personal and family lore is only exacerbated by the unrelenting figure of my grandfather, who never attended another baseball game after the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1957.
My wife insists that this is ancient history, that it shouldn’t matter to me. In many ways, she’s right. All the same, my resistance to the Dodgers has also been a source of pride and loyalty from which it’s hard to walk away, especially when it comes weighted with heritage and blood.
Here’s a more encompassing example: Chavez Ravine, where long-established Mexican American communities were dispossessed after Los Angeles swapped the land with team owner Walter O’Malley, enabling him to build Dodger Stadium. The reconciliation of the team with those who were uprooted has required an ongoing process, beginning in 1959, when Hall of Fame broadcaster Jaime Jarrín began announcing games in Spanish, and culminating with the arrival of Fernando Valenzuela, who electrified the city — and baseball — as a 20-year-old rookie pitcher in 1981.
“By 2015,” Smithsonian Magazine has reported, “2.1 million of the 3.9 million fans attending Dodger games were Latino.” Still, the relationship remains a work in progress, in the manner all relationships are. As historian Natalia Molina tweeted during Game 5 of the NLCS: “How did it take nearly 60 years to realize that a mariachi playing throughout the game at @dodgers stadium was a good idea?”
Molina and I recently had occasion to discuss baseball and its social implications in a class at USC, where we both teach. The core connection comes in recognizing oneself, as with Fernandomania or the mariachi in the stands. Something related happened with my grandfather and the Dodgers, albeit in a different century and on a different coast. He was a Jewish immigrant from eastern Europe, and baseball offered him a way to belong. When the team moved away — when it left him — how could he not feel betrayed?
For a long time, I did too, on his behalf, but now I’m not so sure.
Instead, I’m starting to consider it another way, which may suggest a reconciliation of sorts. It might be said that I have followed my grandfather’s team to Los Angeles. It might be said that this is a way of coming home. Throughout these playoffs, I was struck by the idea that, as I watched the Dodgers, I was walking in my grandfather’s footsteps, that this, too, was my heritage.
Not betrayal, in other words, but continuity.
History, after all, is always accruing; it evolves. The Dodgers have played at Dodger Stadium for 60 years — 15 more than their tenancy at Ebbets Field. I’ve long mythologized those Brooklyn teams, their near misses and never-weres. I’ve dreamed my way into my grandfather’s stories, without allowing myself to understand that they were still unfolding right in front of me.
Does this mean I’m a Dodger fan? I’d be lying if I said that was the case. Like all fans, my loyalties are complex: a matter of affinity, yes, but also a system of belief. Within that system, the Dodgers have played a particular role for so long that it’s hard to imagine it could change. But here I am, at the cusp of something: acclimatized — or better yet, invested — in a way I never used to be.
David L. Ulin is a contributing writer to Opinion.
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