The distance between the frontyard of Ricky and David Nolasco’s boyhood home in Rialto and the mound at Dodger Stadium is best measured in dreams.
“Pitching at Dodger Stadium, that’s it,” David says, “that’s all we ever talked about.”
As a grade-schooler, Ricky would pull on a Dodgers T-shirt and mimic the windup of his favorite pitchers, Ramon Martinez and Chan Ho Park. David would dig in at the plate like Eric Karros and swing at whatever Ricky threw — a tennis ball, a whiffle ball or a newspaper wrapped with electrical tape.
And when the sun went down, they would go inside, turn on the TV and watch the real Dodgers, the ones in real uniforms and with real baseballs.
So when Ricky was traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers this month one of the first text messages he got came from his older brother.
“It’s going to be crazy to see you in that uniform,” David wrote, “thinking of all those days we were playing ‘tapeball’ in the frontyard.”
And it was crazy Sunday, with more than 100 of Ricky Nolasco’s family and friends filing into Dodger Stadium to see proof that sometimes dreams really do come true.
Never mind that Nolasco matched a season low by going just five innings, giving up a two-run home run to Michael Cuddyer in a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies. For many of the people in Section 103 on Dodger Stadium’s loge level — just a couple of sections over from where Nolasco spent many warm summer nights as a teenager — it was the best pitching performance they had ever seen.
And certainly the most emotional.
When Nolasco’s name was announced in the starting lineup, the section stood as one and cheered. And when Vicente Fernandez’s version of “El Rey” — Nolasco’s new entrance song — began to play, the pitcher’s mother and sister dabbed at tears hidden beneath their sunglasses.
The first inning was a rocky one, with the Rockies knocking Nolasco around for a run, two hits and a walk. So when Colorado put runners at the corners with one out in the second, Nolasco’s father, Emilio, began to twist nervously in his seat, leaning forward on the empty chair in front of him.
He was the one who first urged Ricky to dream. The boy was just a toddler, a couple of years shy of kindergarten, when on the drive home from a Dodgers game his father told him he would be out on that field some day.
“I knew he was good. But I didn’t know how good,” says Emilio, who came to the U.S. intending to stay a year yet is still here four decades later.
When the next batter hit into an inning-ending double play, Emilio heaves a sigh of relief.
Three innings later, Nolasco was in trouble again after hitting Carlos Gonzalez in the foot with one out. This time his father couldn’t bear to watch, so he headed up the aisle to a concession stand, where he was waiting in line for pizza when Cuddyer hit a hanging breaking ball for a home run.
One out later, Nolasco’s day was done.
“He just made one mistake and it cost him the game,” Emilio says. “But good or bad it doesn’t matter.”
One row behind Emilio, Nolasco’s mother, Gigi, said much the same thing.
“Oh my God. Good day, bad day. We’ll take it,” she said, wringing her hands.
On most days her son pitches, those hands are clad in oven mitts to keep her from biting her fingernails. After Nolasco’s first start as a Dodger last week in Arizona, however, there are no nails left to bite.
But she wearing a blue Dodgers jersey she picked up at Walmart before making the 90-minute drive to Dodger Stadium from her home in Beaumont, where she lives in a four-bedroom house her son bought her.
Call it a dream house, because pitching at Dodger Stadium wasn’t the only thing Ricky Nolasco imagined doing when he was a kid.
“I’m glad I can be able to do that [for] my parents,” Nolasco says. “They’ve worked their whole lives to give me and my brothers and sister everything we’ve needed. Obviously you dream as a kid to be a major-league baseball player. And the chances of that happening are very slim.
“But to then come home to your hometown team and the team all your family and friends have been rooting for since you were young and kind of envision[ing] yourself being this pitcher or that pitcher? And for it come true with the Dodger blue? It’s kind of amazing.”