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Dodgers

Blind Dodgers fan relies on Vin Scully’s narration and the roar of the crowd

A special place
Phil and Jessie Wojdak attend Dodgers games regularly: “Sometimes I know it’s going to be a home run by the sound of the bat,” he says.
(Wojdak family)

Vinny, vidi, vici.

Scully saw, Scully conquered. He charmed us. He was sunny even in sad times. No wonder he wound up here.

Thanks to Vin Scully, Phil Wojdak’s Dodgers experience is equally sunny. Blind since 15, he attends games as much of L.A. once did, with a transistor radio in his pocket, tuned to Scully’s adept and delightful play-by-play.

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In this bittersweet last homestand, Wojdak represents yet another irreplaceable piece of the Scully era (1950-2016), the vital connection to the team. What Edison did for light bulbs, Scully did for baseball – harnessed its kinetic magic.

Who else will ever grace us with such tidbits as, “Uggla is Swedish for owl”?

So, imagine what that voice means to Wojdak, who depends on Scully to narrate the game for him, weaving stories and play-by-play.

Wojdak notes how other announcers miss pitches or become sidetracked by their cohorts in the booth. Not Scully, who works solo yet seems to provide more detail, ambiance and action than 10 announcers ever could.

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Through the years, Wojdak has also learned to pick up little clues on his own.

“Sometimes I know it’s going to be a home run by the sound of the bat,” he says.

From the crowd reaction?

“No, from the crack of the bat … it depends on the home run and who hit it and how hard,” he says.

Wojdak seems to get as much out of the aura of the game as anyone — the juju of opening day, the promise of the playoffs.

“Every game is different,” he says. “It’s all in the noises the crowd makes.”

“He can hear the wave,” says his wife, Jessie.

“I can follow it around the stadium from the roar of the crowd,” he says. “I love the wave.”

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“He asks me when to stand,” Jessie says.

There are more than 50,000 stories at every Dodgers sellout, many related to Scully. Over and over, fans will describe how they listened to the team as a child, many having pulled the sheets up to hide the radio from Mom.

Obviously, Wojdak’s story is more amazing than most. He grew up in Temple City, his vision giving him increasing difficulty as a teen — one eye with one problem, another eye with another.

By 15, the world had gone dark, and so could have Wojdak. Instead, he upped his grades, went to Claremont, then Hastings College of Law, and thrived as a deputy district attorney, where he made a name for himself as a litigator in the vulnerable victims unit.

In 1997, he met Jessie, a CPA. They married the next year and bought a house 10 minutes from the stadium. Jessie, who adored baseball from a very young age — is there a better family heirloom? — insisted they take in a Dodgers game every two weeks or so.

When Kenta Maeda joined the team this year, their allegiance grew in more personal ways. The new pitcher became a link to a Japanese daughter-in-law living in Tokyo with two half-Japanese grandchildren. The Wojdaks even made a banner to hang over the rail.

“Welcome Maeda,” it said.

Ushers removed it, citing stadium policy.

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“But they were very nice about it,” Jessie says.

Two weeks ago, in a flash of the kind of kismet that seems to pervade Dodger Stadium these days, Wojdak stepped on another fan’s food as he bumped his way to his seat, in Row A of the loge level.

Dr. Michael Levi with foul ball he caught and gifted to new friends.
Dr. Michael Levi with foul ball he caught and gifted to new friends.
(Rachel Levi )

This being Dodger Stadium, the fan with the smashed food could’ve been anyone — a thug, a mogul, a preacher, a movie star.

In a grand piece of luck, the fan turned out to be Dr. Michael Levi, a podiatrist who works with local teams, volunteers everywhere, even donates his free time to clip orangutan toenails at the L.A. Zoo.

In short, Levi is a mensch of all mensches.

Levi, at the game with his daughter Rachel, quickly understood and forgave the stomped food. Over the next several innings, he became fast friends with the couple … heard about their Maeda connection, their love of the Dodgers, the grandkids back in Tokyo.

When Levi, who like any 57-year-old kid brought his Rawlings glove to the game, snagged a foul ball off a pitch thrown by Maeda, he quickly came up with a plan.

A season-ticket holder, he sent the ball to the Dodgers, and a week later treated the Wojdaks to dinner, where he presented them with a token of his new friendship — the ball thrown by Maeda, with the ballplayer’s autograph.

You think baseball is just another sport? You think a Dodgers game is only about mustard and millionaires?

Sometimes. And sometimes, it’s about much more.

Thanks, Vin. Thanks, Phil. Thanks, doc.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Follow Chris Erskine on Twitter @erskinetimes


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