While you’re cheering for runs and hits, he’s just looking for somebody who can get to first base.
“It’s all about the kiss,” Dan Valdivia says. “I love to see the kiss.”
This is a Valentine’s Day tale about the hopeless romantic who spends his summers scouring the Los Angeles sports landscape looking for love. His cuddly nickname is “Panda,” he’s been married 21 years to a woman with whom he’s had four wedding ceremonies, and he has a job where every day is sprinkled with tiny candy hearts.
Valdivia directs the Dodger Stadium Kiss Cam.
“If you will kiss, we will find you,” he says.
As director of DodgerVision, Valdivia, 52, chooses the shots that appear on the Dodgers’ video board during the popular middle-innings promotion that encourages fans to smooch.
“I want the sentimental moments,” Valdivia says. “I want the goose bumps.”
If you are an older couple with a little spark, Valdivia will find you, because the entire stadium will love you.
“Nobody gets louder cheers than older couples kissing,” he says. “You might think the most popular thing would be young couples, but no, folks appreciate the longevity and commitment.”
If you are a uniformed veteran with your partner, Valdivia will find you, because the roar will also be huge.
“To see someone who is devoting their life to our country be kissed by their loved one, it gets an incredible reaction,” he says. “Even now, I get chills just thinking about it.”
If you and your partner are clearly together, yet also clearly too shy to kiss in public, Valdivia will find you. And find you. And find you.
“If we think we can get a kiss out of them, and the crowd keeps cheering, we’ll keep going back to them,” he said. “A kiss is worth it.”
Working with six camera operators, rushing to collect a bevy of besos in less than two minutes, Valdivia is an equal-opportunity matchmaker. Mom and embarrassed son. Father and giggling daughter. Hip couples. Silly couples. Three people whose arrangement isn’t known until the actual kiss. Or, in a celebrated moment last summer, Steven and Rick.
In the same ballpark where, in 2000, two women were ejected for kissing during the game, the cameras focused on Steven and Rick Simone-Friedland for a smooch greeted with loud cheers that Steven later called “unexpected and beautiful and affirming.”
Says Valdivia: “Same sex, different sex, I don’t even notice, it all works as long as they kiss.”
When Valdivia put his aging parents on the Kiss Cam, and they responded with a show of affection appropriate to their 50-plus years of marriage, he beamed. But when he put his oldest teen daughter Lauren and her boyfriend on the Kiss Cam, well…
“She begged me to do it, and we did it, and it wasn’t comfortable for me at all,” he says with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘OK, let’s get off that right now and I’m never doing that again.’ ”
His wife, Louise Van Zeyl, says she “thankfully didn’t attend that game” but understands how Valdivia will always err on the side of the kiss.
“My husband is absolutely a romantic, he’s always doing things like that,” she says. “He really tries to touch people’s hearts.”
Not surprisingly, Valdivia was unrelenting in trying to capture her heart. He asked her out for a year before she finally agreed. They dated nine years before he proposed on Christmas morning. They were engaged another 18 months before being married in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. But the marriage certificate was incorrectly recorded, so they were married again a few weeks later in a celebration in Marina Del Rey. Amazingly, the certificate was botched yet again, so after their honeymoon they were finally officially married in their minister’s living room.
The fourth wedding? Of course. On their 10th anniversary, the Los Angeles sports cupid took his bride to Las Vegas to renew their vows by an Elvis impersonator.
“I’m just an old softie,” he says.
He’s not the only one in town. The Kiss Cam was popularized here by the Lakers, but can now be found at all sorts of Southland sports events. Valdivia, who graduated from Cal State Northridge and joined the Dodgers in 1993, also directs video operations for UCLA sports, USC football, and the occasional Olympics, so he has been involved in Kiss Cams worldwide.
But he has been on a Kiss Cam only once. It was last season while he and Louise were attending an Angels game. His buddies in the Angels’ video room found their seats and set them up. They were surprised. They laughed. But, of course, in the most unsurprising part of this story, they delivered.
“Yeah,” the Dodgers’ lord of lip sync says with a laugh. “I don’t mind a little PDA.”
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