Dodger Mania Hooks Reluctant Fan

By Bob Vickrey
Special to the Palisades News

The Dodgers were down 4-1 to the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth inning with no outs and no one on base. That ominous situation made me wonder why I was still standing in my living room holding the remote control instead of going to bed.

But since I’m not really much of a baseball fan, the larger question was why I was watching a Dodgers game in the first place. In recent weeks, that’s also what my friends have wanted to know. “What’s gotten into Bob?” they ask. They know I’ve always claimed that watching baseball is about as exciting as watching grass grow.

So, just as I started to click off the game and head toward the bedroom, right fielder Yasiel Puig hit a lead-off single and the Dodgers crowd slowly began to stand and cheer as if they had seen this scenario before.

MIAMI, FL - JULY 16: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the eighth inning during the game between the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Marlins Park on July 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – JULY 16: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the eighth inning during the game between the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Marlins Park on July 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

After the Arizona pitcher delivered three consecutive walks—which scored the lead-off hitter—bedlam suddenly erupted in the stadium. I realized these true-blue fans that had filled Dodger Stadium on this warm summer night were completely confident their team was going to find a way to win this game—even though they were still two runs down.

I sat back down in my recliner and decided to see how all this would play out, although I realized word could easily spread among friends that I had watched an entire major league game. My curmudgeonly attitude toward baseball was hanging precariously in the balance. (And I’m among the privileged minority whose provider offers every televised Dodger game, while many devoted fans across the city have been left in the dark during the team’s protracted dispute with cable companies.)

You must understand that I grew up in Texas, where football was king and where the second most popular sport in the state was spring practice in the off-season. Texas eventually landed major league baseball and NBA franchises, but none of them ever really challenged the state’s obsession with high school, college and pro football. They were merely diversions until the “real season” began in the fall. The fact that the book “Friday Night Lights” was set in Texas was no mere coincidence.

My sudden infatuation with this Dodgers team seems to be right in step with an entire city that has been captivated by their ability to win close games in late innings. This team has shown that when the game is on the line, their players firmly believe they will win—and so do their fans.

The 2017 lineup features a solid mix of veteran players and several budding superstars who routinely perform their nightly version of Home Run Derby. The pitching staff includes two all-stars who virtually guarantee Dodger wins when they are starters.

As the team headed into the All-Star weekend break in July, the surging Dodgers owned the best record in the major leagues. But even more impressively, I actually knew players on the roster not named Clayton Kershaw.

In recent conversations with local friends, I’ve enjoyed watching the incredulous looks on their faces when I ask, “How about those Dodgers?” I rattle off the names of Seager, Utley, Bellinger and Turner as if they are close personal friends of mine. I wondered if this was how addiction begins. Surely, there must be a 12-step program available that would allow me to return to my normal life.

That was when my friend Arnie Wishnick, who runs the Palisades Chamber of Commerce office, stepped in and asked me to sit down with him. He leaned toward me and said, “Are you okay? You’re talking baseball and this has me very concerned.”

It was then when I confessed to my long-time friend that I’d been secretly watching Dodger games night after night. That was the moment Arnie had to pause as he struggled to grasp the fact that I had given in to Dodger “fever.”

The late-night game with the Diamondbacks that had kept me up past bedtime featured what has become a season-long, Hollywood-scripted ending for the Dodgers. Right on cue, shortstop Chris Taylor delivered a walk-off single with the bases loaded—sending delirious fans home happy once again, while sending me off to bed with a big smile on my face.

I feel certain I’m not the only marginal baseball fan in Southern California who has become entirely seduced by this Dodger team, but I would encourage those secretive fans to step forward and come clean about their addiction. It could ultimately offer the first step toward recovery.

Bob Vickrey, a longtime Palisadian, is a regular contributor to the News as well as the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald. He is also a monthly contributor to the Boryana Books website.

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