It was a graduation speech. Each fifth-grader at Burlingame’s Lincoln Elementary gave one.
They were allotted one minute to describe their favorite school memory. Some talked about their first teacher. Others talked about a recent field trip to the Hyatt.
A blindingly hopeful 10-year-old named Casey Johnstone changed the subject, using his moment to speak for the blinding hope of generations.
In the heart of San Francisco Giants country last Friday night, he stepped to the microphone in his bright blue shirt and talked about his love for the Dodgers.
“Hi, my name is Casey, the memory I chose ... well, it’s actually more like my least favorite memory, I guess you can find out what it is ... it’s when the Giants won the World Series.”
Casey was speaking to a roomful of parents who were Giants season-ticket holders, Giants sponsors, fathers who pretend to be Pablo Sandoval when playing catch, moms who just gave a teacher a gift of a night at AT&T; Park. He was speaking of life as his school’s only Dodgers fan, and how that felt after the Giants won last year’s World Series over the Detroit Tigers.
Yet he wasn’t speaking with anger or gestures or bravado. He was speaking with the sort of innocent Dodgers passion that frequently is lost in the canyons of Chavez Ravine boos.
“The whole school took a picture with everyone in Giants gear, and there I was, watching the whole thing decked out in every piece of Dodger gear I had. The whole school, mostly fifth-graders, were screaming ‘Beat L.A.’ right at me.”
His words were met with gasps, then laughs, then respectful silence. He was saying the sorts of things no one expects to hear at a Bay Area public event. He was saying them in a way nobody expected to hear them.
He was showing Giants fans how bleeding Dodgers blue doesn’t have to involve bleeding. He spoke, instead, about childlike trickles of faith.
“I’m a true fan. And true fans stand tough. True fans stay loyal to their team no matter what happens.”
Casey’s minute nearly up, he ended his speech with a playful nudge. He surely didn’t know how the parents would react, but it surely didn’t matter. It was his memory, his speech, and he was going to finish it his way.
“Oh. And one more thing. Go Dodgers.”
There was more laughter, and then great cheers, because, really, who could boo this? Who could argue with a 10-year-old so deftly explaining the impenetrable, inexplicable love for a team that lies in the heart of fans everywhere?
His father, Ron, a Bay Area lawyer, recorded the speech and put it on YouTube for relatives to view. He had no idea it would soon be linked by several websites, including the popular Deadspin, as an example of the essence of sports fandom.
“I guess people saw it as an innocent, good-natured expression of being a fan,” Ron said. “It was not malicious, not angry, it was about a kid loving his sport team unconditionally. That’s a universal thing.”
The key word here is “unconditionally.” Casey Johnstone is a huge Dodgers fan even though he has never lived in the Los Angeles area, never met or received an autograph from a Dodger, and only been to Dodger Stadium twice, watching two games from the upper deck. He’s a Dodgers fan because Ron is a Dodgers fan, yet Ron also grew up in the Bay Area and also rarely saw them play.
“It was 1981, the Dodgers were winning and the Giants were losing; it was something different,” Ron said. “I jumped on the bandwagon and never fell off.”
He passes along that love to his son, watching parts of as many as 100 games a season on TV with him, talking about the Dodgers over meals, cheering them from afar simply because they are the Dodgers.
Casey has a silk Dodgers jacket, a Dodgers sweat shirt, several Dodgers T-shirts, new Dodgers caps to replace the ones he loses, and an array of blue dress shirts and pants. His bedroom is adorned with a Matt Kemp Fathead poster, and twice he has roamed the Burlingame streets on Halloween night dressed in a Jackie Robinson jersey.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Casey said. “But my father loved them, so that’s become my team. My friends joke about it, but it will always be my team.”
When he learned of the assignment to write a graduation speech, Casey knew exactly what he wanted to say. He never consulted his father. He was assisted only with the dramatic pauses by his mother, Amy.
The only adult who seriously proofread the piece was his gem of a fifth-grade teacher, Patrick Carney, who is one of the school’s biggest Giants fans, and surely blanched when he read the words.
Yet afterward, Carney simply laid down the paper and said, “Casey, that’s all you. This will be your time to shine.”
And so the kid did, shining in shades of blue so blinding that it caught the attention of the Dodgers themselves. Guess who will be seeing his third game at Dodger Stadium next Tuesday night? And guess who will be sitting in better seats than the upper deck?
Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Dodgers against the San Francisco Giants will be Casey Johnstone.
Expect a curveball that becomes a strike.