Sep 18

On waivers

My oldest son witnesses my outfield heroics at Dodger Stadium – winter 2008-09

It’s a complete coincidence that this post comes on the 10th anniversary of the last post before my one and only Dodger Thoughts sabbatical. That began four days before my daughter was born, and wasn’t by design as much as it was just a byproduct of feeling overwhelmed by a dramatic life change and wanting to make sure I had my priorities straight. I had only put three months into the site at that point, drawing but a handful of readers, and it wasn’t clear that I was actually giving up anything meaningful.

Tonight, I’m more clear on what I’m putting aside – including a dream of doing Dodger Thoughts for 50 years or more. To this day, I still have enough arrogance about myself to be surprised that no one has ever wanted to pay me a living wage to do this full-time. But the marketplace spoke, and unless it changes its mind someday, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring it. And I’m tired of doing mediocre work on something that meant so much to me.

Anyone reading this site knows how hard it has been for me to maintain a pretense that the site is still useful in 2012. There have been some decent moments, but mostly, it’s been painful. And it’s not getting any easier. My family and my day job demand bigger and bigger shares of my energy and my sanity. So let’s cut to the chase: I’m designating myself for assignment.

That doesn’t mean I’m never going to post here again – in fact, I can almost promise that I will at some point – but it does mean I’m releasing myself from the daily task of writing about the Dodgers, as well as creating chat threads for every game. Dodger Thoughts has become a burden – the opposite of what it was intended to be – and there are too many other sites that now do what I set out to do more productively. The fact that I’m cutting and running with only two weeks left in the regular season (and a Dodger playoff appearance still very much a possibility) indicates just how much of a burden it has been. For all their problems, I believe in the Dodgers much more right now than I believe in my capacity to write about them.  That about says it all.

For those who remain interested in my writing independent of the Dodgers, I encourage you to visit my Variety blog, The Vote.  I know the subject matter differs like apples and asparagus, but by focusing my blogging energy there, I hope to invest it with more of the life that Dodger Thoughts once had – and maybe draw in some non-hardcore fans in the process. (The comment section there is begging for a community.) Also, please follow me on Twitter, which will be the best way to keep up on what I’m keeping up on and the quickest way to find out if and when I post on Dodger Thoughts again.

Anyone who ever was a reader or a part of the Dodger Thoughts community, and especially those who provided critical support along the way, I can’t thank you enough. I really can’t. This has been the most memorable writing experience of my life.

But this message has already gone on too long.  Here’s hoping the Dodgers come back and make me feel stupid for folding at this moment. (And here’s wishing, as Bob Timmermann suggested in an e-mail, that I had just thought to explain all this as a figment of Tommy Westphall’s autistic imagination.)

* * *

Oh – one thing I already forgot to mention. A revised version of 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die is scheduled for publication next spring. Orlando Hudson’s cycle and other treats from the past three years will be included in the second edition.

Jul 21

Tenth Anniversary Freeze-Out

Sunday, July 21, 2002

This is where I will vent, and, if I can ever feel so comfortable, exult about the Dodgers and baseball in general.

* * *

Ten years, three kids, one puppy, 855 wins and 782 losses later (including 9-14 in the playoffs), I realize I might better have described my mission just as inhaling and exhaling – catching my breath – about the Dodgers and baseball in general, and life.

The landscape has certainly changed. This website began to fill a void in my writing life – “bad scooter searching for his groove” – now I don’t have enough time to write all I want. Life in general has only become more challenging. At the same time, when this site began there was virtually nothing like it covering the Dodgers; now there are more than I can keep track of, doing excellent work, providing a level of insight unprecedented in the history of Dodger reporting.

But overwhelmingly, I want to express that I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the invention of blogs, for the invention of the Internet, that enabled this platform for all my thoughts, baseball and otherwise. It has really helped sustain me. And I’m grateful to anyone who stopped by over the past 10 years and gave something I wrote a glance of consideration. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received, even through posts as self-serving as this one, and for the friends I’ve made through this site.

Sometimes, I wish I had channeled the past 10 years into something more majestic – a book or script that would stand the test of time. Sometimes, I wish I had just gotten away from the computer more altogether. The rest of the time, I can’t think of anything better than writing right in this spot and hanging out online with you.

Dodgers at Mets, 10:10 a.m.
Bobby Abreu, LF
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

May 26

Site update

For two weeks, I haven’t been able to give this site the attention it needs.  And I’m not happy with the level of content. It’s been of no use.

So until a solution comes, if you haven’t already, set your expectations accordingly. Thanks.

Feb 20

My Phil Dunphy problem

Here’s one of those posts I shouldn’t publish but can’t help myself publishing.

These days, I keep thinking about Phil Dunphy. Phil is the character played by Ty Burrell in the ABC sitcom “Modern Family,” a congenital optimist who combines a clever mind, an inventive spirit, an infallible faith in his sense of humor and a gleeful zest for life. He is not blind to mistakes or trouble, hardly incapable of misgivings or hurt feelings, but every crisis is but a hurdle to be overcome.

He is, I understand, fictional, but he is very real for me. The me I wish I were.

On Wednesday, my wife and I were watching the beginning of the latest episode of “Modern Family” (seen above) when we got to the bit where Clare mildly scolds Phil about not moving an old chair onto the sidewalk for disposal, and my wife remarked to me that if she had said that to me, I probably would have gotten defensive. I said that was probably true. I’m not Phil Dunphy.

Sure enough, that was borne out Friday morning. As I was making toast for the kids, there was a box from Noah’s Bagels on the counter in front of the toaster. We never get bagels from Noah’s – there isn’t one particularly close to us – and in the 7 a.m. fog of my daily business, I had assumed that my wife had bought these for some sort of school event later that day. But when she came into the kitchen, it occurred to me to ask her what was in the box, and she laughed a little and said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Bagels, for breakfast.”

Believe it or not, I took offense. It wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked. And we had a small, silly spat in which I told her I don’t like being laughed at, and she said she wasn’t really laughing at me but at the situation. Which I believed … sort of … eventually.

I get it.  It should have just been a laugh. But I am not Phil Dunphy. And I know why I’m not.

If you looked back at my life to this point, you would see an ongoing series of events where I have lost faith, faith in myself and faith that life will reward me for who I am. For 20 years, from about age 11 to age 31, that mostly centered on dating. And then, almost as if it were on a pendulum, after I got married and my personal and professional existence were both in nearly perfect alignment, my life tilted the other way, and I have spent the past decade-plus in a near constant state of anxiety about my career, in which so many optimistic signs have turned out to be mirages – unlike Phil Dunphy, a successful real-estate broker who is happily married and has raised three children who are crazy wonderful in their own ways.

The latest came when ESPNLosAngeles.com cut me loose at the end of last month. After I wrote my farewell post, a few readers sent some “good riddance” comments my way. That, actually, didn’t bother me. One of them listed four reasons why he had become dissatisfied with Dodger Thoughts; the first three were based upon false information, but the fourth is worth quoting here:

… Jon has no idea how many people would love to be in the position he is in — writing a blog about a hometown iconic sports team and working at Variety as Features Editor. Rather than seeing the glass more than half full he sees it as more than half empty and continues to question himself rather than bathe in the happiness life has presented him.

This is pretty accurate. Distress and I are well-acquainted, though not because I’m not aware of what’s good in my life. I do like what I do, and I do love my family. However, I am the sole wage-earner in a family of five (at least until my youngest enters Kindergarten 18 months from now and my wife potentially resumes her career), working primarily in a dying industry, and with that, as you either know first-hand or can imagine, comes considerable pressure.

I spent most of last year, for example, worried about the fact that despite my day job at Variety, my freelance salary from ESPNLosAngeles, a third chunk of freelance money from writing two episodes of Cartoon Network’s Young Justice and, on top of all that, what you might call a stimulus package from my parents, I barely made ends meet last year. Heading into 2012, I knew that Young Justice would be finished for me and that the financial help would diminish. Dodger Thoughts and Variety weren’t enough. I knew I somehow needed to take my career to another level.

Not only did I fail in that quest, I found out in mid-December that ESPNLosAngeles would evaporate, meaning that my shortfall in 2012 looked overwhelming. And no, after years of living like this, I have basically run out of savings outside of retirement plans and my kids’ college funds. After all these years, after working my way through salary cuts and the recession, I expected finally to be on the upswing, not reeling from yet another financial punch.

For two months – and I’m not saying this is a long time – I have explored solutions, mainly solutions that involve continuing to get paid for what is my passion, while also being open to the possibility of dropping Dodger Thoughts if something more lucrative materialized. For two months I have done this, and I’m not done. But this past weekend, I fell into a deep, dark discouragement in the face of the nearly complete lack of interest shown by the world in being paid to write about the Dodgers or baseball.

It’s true that there are a few small freelance opportunities still extant, and there’s actually one currently viable option for hosting Dodger Thoughts, so I probably shouldn’t be writing about my lack of current marketability at all right now. But though the interest is sincere, I haven’t been led to believe that the money on the table would solve anything for me. So while I might be shooting myself in the foot by waxing anxious about the dearth of options, I sort of can’t help myself.

I’m aware that I’m better off than many. That doesn’t change my observation that things aren’t good enough.

I look around, and see almost all my friends seemingly exactly where they’re supposed to be with their careers. I have a few, my age or only a bit older, who could retire now if they wanted to.

I see the major bloggers I came up with, so to speak, finding their station. Aaron Gleeman is full-time at NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk. Erstwhile Yankees blogger Cliff Corcoran has become a major cog at SI.com. Jay Jaffe, once upon a time the Futility Infielder, is everywhere. Eric Stephen, who didn’t even start blogging until 2009, is covering the Dodgers’ full-time beginning in Spring Training for True Blue L.A.

I’ve written about baseball for SI.com, the Los Angeles Times and ESPN. And now …

No, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that I already have my own full-time job, and a good one for the industry I’m in. But I am unable to look away from the reality of my overall situation, nor the fear that I have spectacularly mismanaged my career.

As I said, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. The arc I’m experiencing right now is disturbingly similar to one from a decade ago. After a few years of writing film and TV scripts on spec, I started to get paid, then got an agent, then became a regular freelancer for the Disney Channel. But I was unable to make the leap to primetime, and then unable to stay consistently employed at the level I was at, and then unable to keep my agent or land a new one. As fast as my screenwriting career seemed to be building, it all dried up.

I was faced at the time with the choice of persevering in the face of rejection or taking a guaranteed salary back in journalism. In a move that I would describe as panic, and without the kid-induced financial pressure I face today, I chose the guaranteed salary, a decision that I have extraordinary regret over.

I’m not sure what I’m facing today even qualifies as a choice, except to the extent that everything is somehow a choice. The marketplace no longer seems to want to pay for Dodger Thoughts, yet I’m truly not sure I can stop, or that even if I could, whether I should. In my view, quitting screenwriting full-time was a mistake. Quitting Dodger Thoughts would seem to be the same mistake. But what if what I do is never meant to be appreciated by more than a small group? How can I look my family in the eye and with the confidence that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing for them?

That’s why I’m not Phil Dunphy. Phil Dunphy operates from a fundamental position of faith and confidence in the goodness of things. The things I’m confident in are not good. I know that bills will pile up, that life will be filled with challenges, that people will die. Those are inevitable. What I don’t know is whether, or how, I’m going to give my family what they need. Based on the trajectory of what has become a massive sample size of my career, I’m not sure exactly why I should have faith.

There’s another TV show that’s been a touchstone for me this week, though it doesn’t officially premiere until March 1. The show is NBC’s Awake, from Lone Star creator Kyle Killen – who can also speak to highs and lows, given that his last show was canceled after two airings – and it tells the story of a man who, following a traumatic event, lives in two parallel universes, unsure what is real and what is a dream. I’ve seen the first three episodes (no one said my day job doesn’t have its perks), and while “Awake” has its flaws, it is in my opinion the best new broadcast network show of the 2012-13 season, and has the dual effect of being something I wish I had created and resonating with how I’m feeling today.

I’m not sure what world I’m supposed to be living in. I’m not sure what’s real. Is it the world where things will be okay if I just keep at it, or the world where believing I’m special will just take me and my family over the waterfall? I know I’m not supposed to know the answer, but I feel I should at least know what to believe. But I don’t.

Phil Dunphy would tell me not to give up. For that matter, I think Ty Burrell, whose career had its own ups and downs and financial uncertainties before Modern Family, would tell me the same thing. But I am not them.

What do I gain from not believing in myself? I gain the possibility of avoiding that waterfall. (Just the possibility, since I feel like not giving up on myself as a screenwriter still helped send me over the edge.) I feel like I’m already halfway down as it is, my family in the barrel with me. The thought of us dropping any further, sinking any lower, pains me in a way I can’t describe.

The alienated Dodger Thoughts commenter I mentioned earlier also made other points, which, as I said, were wrong. Here is one of them:

Jon used this blog to get “love” from his acolytes talking about his anxieties around parenting issues, spouse issues and issues at being a good son. Rather than invest money in psychotherapy or family therapy this site became a place for Jon to get external validation. He then chose who to thank by name.

This is not true. I’m not looking for “love” for this post. I’m not looking for comfort. I’m not even sure I want comfort if it were offered, because of the two realities I’m caught in between, comfort would feed the one that I fear is false.

(To be clear, I’m also not writing this to solicit a Dodger Thoughts relief fund.)

I’m writing it because I’m in pain, and when I’m in pain, I write. And then, if I finish something, I take the calculated risk that by publishing, the satisfaction I feel in having articulated how I feel – and the immature ego-boost I receive from the idea that some people, however few of them, would care – outweighs the humiliation in showing what a mess I am.

There is a part of me, and not even a small part, that believes that all my problems could be solved tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the next day, and if not the next day, then the next week, or the next month, or if I can hold out long enough, someday. Someday.

It’s the holding out part that confounds me.

And so, while I haven’t forgotten how to laugh, or even how to laugh at myself, when it comes to my self-worth and self-confidence, my sense of humor goes out the window, and I can’t find the Phil Dunphy in me.

Feb 14

Save the date?

Believe it or not, the 10th anniversary of Dodger Thoughts comes Saturday, July 21, which seems like as good an occasion as any to have a gathering of the site’s readers and friends. (Above is a photo by Rob McMillin from the first Dodger Thoughts gathering in 2006.)

The Dodgers will be on the road July 21, playing a day game in New York with a 10:10 a.m. Pacific starting time. If you have any interest in getting together, would you be more interested in assembling

a) Saturday morning and playing ball at a park with the game on the radio?
b) Saturday afternoon or evening at a park for a barbecue or some such?
c) on a different day at Dodger Stadium and catching a game together, perhaps July 28 against the Giants (6:05 p.m. start).

Just curious about your thoughts – thanks.

Feb 04

Tab, you’re it

One new feature at this Dodger Thoughts home is the selection of tabs near the top of the page. So, for example, if you’re only here for the Dodger content, click “Dodgers,” and there you go.

Teaser: I’m planning to add a new tab next week!

Feb 01

Blogging in the cornfield


It’s been a fun two days. Seeing commenters old and new reunite, brimming with dormant enthusiasm, has made Dodger Thoughts a kind of giddy place since the move from ESPNLosAngeles.com.

I’ve been told more times than I can count in the past 48 hours that I seem happier and looser here at the new site. If that’s true, that’s mainly a reaction to the enthusiasm I’ve seen in readers.

“I can’t explain it, but this just feels better somehow,” wrote Eric Enders, longtime friend of Dodger Thoughts. “It’s like the ESPN LA site was some depressing domed stadium, and this new site is clean and bright and open-air – I guess that makes it Dodger Stadium.”

To which I replied, “I totally get that, and feel it to boot. I’m just saying, the domed stadium doesn’t have to be depressing.”

It really is worthy of a case study the effect that a site’s appearance can have on its community. The commenting system here isn’t madly superior to the one at ESPNLosAngeles.com. In one respect, it’s inferior, in that you have to refresh the page each time you want to see new comments. That’s labor-intensive. Yet few seem to mind. People don’t complain as much about the plumbing when the view is nice.

So yes, all things being equal, I would play in this open-air ballpark ’til the end of time, with readers emerging one after another from the cornfield for a little catch.

But I don’t want to mislead anyone. I’m still exploring paid possibilities for what I do. My time here is now down to nine days or 9,999. If it’s a choice between providing for the Dodger Thoughts community or providing for my family, then I have an obligation.

In the end, I might not get that choice, but if there’s a move I need to make, then like Moonlight Graham, I will have to trade my uniform for my medical bag.

That being said, I have also had conversations about what it might take to generate income while staying independent. If that became a viable option, that would be wonderful.

You can’t fight City Hall, and you can’t tell a readership to be content when it’s not. Certain environments come with certain challenges. I do accept that if Dodger Thoughts moved again, the motivation that has been reborn in this community would probably move away as well (making this particular moment in time something like the brief respite for Robert De Niro in “Awakenings.”). I understand the consequences. My free agency has had the unique quality of being a kind of punishment and rebirth all at once.

All I can say is that whatever happens, the biggest factor determining the nature of a community is not the infrastructure, but the people. If people are committed to making things better, things will be better. It’s not all up to me. Whatever anyone wants this community to be, an inferior site location is a hurdle, not a barrier.

Anyway, I’m here now, and it’s a pleasure.

Jan 30

Dodger Thoughts is moving


Jeff Lewis/US Presswire

Hi everyone. I’m packing up gear.

January 31 marks the last day for Dodger Thoughts at ESPNLosAngeles.com. Please follow me to my new location, which will have the dodgerthoughts.com URL.

Please note that it could take a few hours before the process of redirecting the URL to the new site is completed. But everything should be ship-shape soon enough.

I would very much like to thank everyone at ESPNLosAngeles for giving me the opportunity to be part of their team for two years. It’s been a great addition to the Los Angeles sports landscape, and I was proud to be part of it. (In fact, you might still see me over at ESPNLosAngeles on a freelance basis.)

And now, on to the next chapter …

Jan 30

Welcome to the new home of Dodger Thoughts

Three years ago, full of piss and vinegar, I took Dodger Thoughts from its idyllic home at Baseball Toaster to the Los Angeles Times. I wrote a farewell to the Toaster that evoked my excitement of moving to a bigger stage, on which I had long dreamed of performing. While I wondered what I was leaving behind, I was filled with confidence.

The journey that followed was better for me professionally than for Dodger Thoughts itself. While I was taken more seriously than ever for my work on the Dodgers, and (in a welcome relief) compensated for it, the site itself suffered. The commenting community, which I valued immeasurably, broke apart. Readers remained, but despite joining a mainstream site with wide reach, the page views for Dodger Thoughts did not rise. Commenters, by and large, had other places to go.

For several months in 2009, I was hoping that improvements could be made at the Times that would bring that community back, but they were neither sufficiently fast nor user-friendly. I value those who have stuck around and who have come anew, but essentially, that Toaster wonderland was gone.

By the time I moved two years ago to ESPN Los Angeles, I was left to focus on doing the best work I could, hoping to at least retain readers if not commenters. As far as my professional life, I dreamed big again.

Well, now I’m back on my own. For now, anyway. The reasons, I think I can say without being indecorous, relate to shifting priorities over there in the big city. So what are you gonna do?

Start over. Reboot. So here we are. I could be here for 10 days or 10,000. Still figuring that out. Still figuring a lot of things out. There’s still so much I dream of accomplishing, but my path is still around a bend or two. I’m eager to see what happens.

So, if you’ve made it this far, here to home No. 6 (four more to catch Tommy Davis), thanks for stopping by. I’ll do my best to provide informative, meaningful and fun posts as much as or more than ever before.  Hope you hang out a while.

Note: The commenting system should be up and running Tuesday morning.

Dec 19

Lullaby


The quietest period in Dodger Thoughts history was after the birth of my daughter in September 2002. I had only started the site three months earlier, had fewer than 10 readers daily and was experiencing a life change like no other. I didn’t post for the remainder of the year.

I can’t remember what it was like. That is, I can remember my infant daughter, but I can’t remember what I thought about the absence of blogging. I can’t remember if I intended to restart, or if my mind had just gone blank. I can’t remember if I even thought about it during those black-of-night winter moments with my girl.

I remember those bleary nights now so fondly. I was so tired, a tired I haven’t shed in the years since, but I’m not sure my mind has been so clear, so uncorrupted, as it was during those three months.

She was a good baby, too. She kept us up, but she was a good baby. There were times as a baby she would wake up in the morning at 7 and just sing to herself in her crib. A lullaby for her sleepy parents.

In early January the next year, shortly after my girl had slept through the night for the first time on a holiday vacation to Carmel, I remember sitting in my cubicle at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and thinking that I might be ready to start Dodger Thoughts again. And I did. And I haven’t stopped since, for nine years and two more kids. Not for nine years has there been a day that I haven’t thought about this site. I can’t say that about anything else except my wife and children.

Sep 18

September 18, 2006: Here comes the end of the world


Jeff Lewis/APThere’s home, Nomar. There’s home.

For the five years since it took place, I’ve had this vision of the 4+1 game.

September 18, 2006. I replay the game in my head, a game that, unfathomably, stood toe-to-toe with the R.J. Reynolds game in 1983 as the greatest game in Dodger Stadium history, and I hear The Who’s “Had Enough” as the soundtrack.

As the 2006 baseball season bore down on its finish, the Dodgers were in a vexing battle with the San Diego Padres for first place in the National League West. An 11-5 pasting by the Padres knocked Los Angeles into last place on May 5. The Dodgers staggered back and reached first barely a month later, but in a tight division, San Diego drove them back to last with a 7-6, 11-inning victory July 24.

It was that kind of year. When the first day of August dawned, the Dodgers were still on the bottom looking up. Just 10 days later, Kenny Lofton’s walkoff RBI single beat Colorado, and the Dodgers were atop the NL West looking down.

And there in first place they stayed, until September 17, when Padres pinch-hitter Termel Sledge’s RBI single in the ninth inning broke a 1-1 tie, leading to Jonathan Broxton’s first career loss in the majors. The Dodgers had handed first place back to San Diego again.

And so when I think of September 18, 2006, I hear Roger Daltrey singing, practically shouting …

I’ve had enough of bein’ nice
I’ve had enough of right and wrong
I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother …

* * *

It was an unusual night – a Monday finale of a four-game series. “Here we go ahead for the final time,” Vin Scully said at the start of the local cable broadcast, “the Dodgers desperate for a win. … If it feels like a playoff or postseason game, that of course is the aim of each team.”

Three players who had begun Sunday’s game on the bench were in the Monday starting lineups. The fellow batting cleanup for San Diego was familiar – his name was Mike Piazza, slugging .500 in his first season in San Diego after 7 1/2 in New York and in his final season in the National League.

For the Dodgers, the two big changes were these: Rookie outfielder Andre Ethier was rested in favor of new acquisition Marlon Anderson, and returning to play after missing two games with a strained quad was Nomar Garciaparra, who had talked manager Grady Little into starting him. At the time, you had to know their numbers or their looks to know who these guys were – this was part of the brief era in which the Dodgers wore no names on the back of their jerseys.

On the mound, who knew what to expect? Brad Penny had earned a start in that summer’s All-Star game, striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning, but had been inconsistent ever since, posting a 5.81 ERA. In his past two starts, he had lost 7-0 to the Mets and won 6-0 against the Cubs. On the other side, Jake Peavy had been dominating the Dodgers as usual (two runs allowed in 14 previous innings that year), but his overall season ERA was a modest 4.17.

Jeff Lewis/APRussell Martin tries to settle down Brad Penny in the midst of San Diego’s four-run first inning.

With fans still pouring in to the ballpark, Penny retired the first two hitters, Dave Roberts and Brian Giles, before Adrian Gonzalez lined a 3-1 pitch into center field, bringing Piazza to bat.

“In recent games against the Dodgers, Mike looked like he was pressing,” Scully said as Piazza worked the count full. “He was trying to pull pitches that were down and away.” Almost on cue, we saw vintage Piazza, hammering the 3-2 pitch, driving it five feet below the top of the center-field wall on the fly, for an RBI double. The game was on: 1-0 Padres.

Penny walked Russell Branyan, bringing a visit to the mound from Rick Honeycutt and a visit to the plate from Mike Cameron, whom Scully pointed out had hit five home runs against the Dodgers so far in 2006. On the first pitch after Honeycutt returned to the dugout, Cameron shot the ball off the short wall in right field for a standup triple, driving in two runs (Nos. 14 and 15 vs. Los Angeles that year) to make the score 3-0.

“The Dodgers in a huge hole,” Scully said. Down in the Dodger bullpen, Aaron Sele began to warm up – not for the first time this night. Not by a longshot.

Nor was the hole finished being dug. Geoff Blum hit an 0-2 pitch to right field to drive in Cameron for a 4-0 lead, before Josh Barfield flied out to finally end the inning.

But the Dodgers wasted no time trying to rally. Rafael Furcal bunted for a single, and Lofton’s hit sent him to second. Garciaparra hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but ever-irascible Jeff Kent doubled to deep center field, driving home Furcal to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Peavy limited the damage to one run, but as he walked off the mound, he and Dodger first-base coach Mariano Duncan began shouting at each other.

I’ve had enough of bein’ good
And doin’ everything like I’m told I should
If you need a lover, you’d better find another …

* * *

The Dodgers pulled closer. After Penny struck out three in the second inning, Anderson – the August 31 discard from the Washington Nationals who had made surprising contributions in Los Angeles – hit a one-out solo home run. And after Russell Martin threw out Cameron trying to steal to end a two-out Padre threat in the top of the third, Furcal hit a solo homer of his own to dead center field.

“A mighty man is he,” Scully said of Furcal, who hit 15 home runs that year. “And you want to talk about a team trying to bounce back.”

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Kent, shown here against the Padres in August, went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits.

Before the inning was over, Kent hit his second double in as many at-bats, once more to center field, a ball at the wall that Cameron leaped for but came up empty. “Standing hands on hips, trying to figure out how he missed it,” Scully observed.

J.D. Drew entered the box next, and he sliced a breaking ball left up in the zone by Peavy for a ground-rule double to left field to tie the game, bringing the crowd to its feet. In fact, Martin then almost put the Dodgers ahead right there, but Peavy speared the first-pitch line drive off his bat.

The score was 4-4 after three innings. Not once over the next four innings was a team retired in order, but not once did a team score.

Each missed a tremendous opportunity. In the top of the fifth, after another Gonzalez single, Penny walked Piazza and Branyan to load the bases with two out, but Cameron flied to right. In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson singled, Wilson Betemit walked and pinch-hitter Oscar Robles loaded the sacks with none out when he sacrificed and reached first on a fielder’s choice. But Furcal hit into a forceout at home, and then Lofton grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.

By the eighth inning, the starting pitchers were long gone. And so was any remnant of sanity in this game. The attendance was announced. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers drew a legitimate 55,831 fans. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers registered their highest ticket sales for a Monday game ever, capping a record for a four-game series: 219,124.

Broxton entered the game in the eighth inning. Scully commented that after Sunday’s loss, Broxton had said wasn’t nervous, but he was worried he had been tipping his pitches. “Jon was just 22 in the middle of June when he made the jump from Jacksonville, and now he has the key role as the set-up man.” It was his fifth game in seven days; he had thrown 88 pitches since the previous Tuesday, and was about to throw 22 more.

Things soon turned grim. With one out, Blum walked, and Barfield drove one to right-center field that Drew couldn’t get. Lofton overran the carom, Martin dropped the throw home, the go-ahead run scored and Barfield ended up on third base. Pinch-hitter Todd Walker then hit a flare over the drawn-in infield to give San Diego a two-run lead.

Roberts struck out (a career-high fourth for the former Dodger outfielder), but Walker went to second on a steal and third on a wild pitch. Giles then sent Drew to the right-field wall, which he banged into while making the inning-ending catch.

Not once had the Dodgers led, but not once had they failed to score in an inning in which they trailed. Sure enough, off reliever Scott Linebrink, Anderson drove one down the right-field line, running through a stop sign to reach third base with a triple, and Betemit lined an 0-2 pitch up the middle. Just like that, the lead had been reduced to one.

“Boy is this a game, huh?” Scully marveled. “Wow. And this crowd loving every moment of it. It’s been a roller-coaster ride from depression to euphoria and all the stops in between.

“Boy, it’s not Monday night here. It is Mardi Gras night. It is New Year’s Eve night.”

With two out, Lofton doubled with two out to send pinch-runner Julio Lugo to third base. Tying run was 90 feet away, go-ahead run one base behind him.

But Garciaparra struck out. You could practically fit the goat’s horns for him.

Life is for the living
Takers never giving …

* * *

Takashi Saito, the 36-year-old first-year major-leaguer from Japan, was asked by the Dodgers to protect the one-run deficit. There was little reason to expect he wouldn’t: In 70 innings, emerging in the spring in the wake of Eric Gagne’s last gasp as a Dodger, Saito had a 1.93 ERA and 93 strikeouts against 63 baserunners in 70 innings.

The importance of keeping the Padres close was clear, as Scully noted. “They’ve won 26 games by one run,” he said, “and one of the big reasons is warming up in the bullpen. Yep, it’s Trevor time.”

But Gonzalez led off the ninth with his third single of the game, and Manny Alexander (Piazza had exited the game for a pinch-runner in the seventh) bunted him to scoring position. Up came Josh Bard, the Padres’ lesser-known catcher but one who had an .869 OPS, even better than Piazza at that moment.

On a night filled with long fly balls, Bard drove what appeared to be the capper of the night, to deep center. Lofton went back. He leaped. His glove went over the fence; the ball banged off his wrist and back onto the field, while an uncertain Gonzalez advanced only to third. “Goaltending,” remarked Scully as he watched the replay.

Saito walked Cameron intentionally in the hopes of forcing an inning-ending double play, but his next pitch to Blum went to the backstop, and the Padres doubled their lead. Then Blum hit a sacrifice fly, and San Diego led by three in the ninth. Scully practically threw the white flag.

“And the Dodgers will have to collect themselves and go after Pittsburgh,” he said. “It has been a Friday night and a Saturday night combined emotionally, but now it’s starting to feel like Monday.”

It’s not as if the Padres got greedy after that, but you could argue they suffered from an embarrassment of riches. After Barfield singled to drive in Cameron and give San Diego a 9-5 lead, Scully glanced back at the Padres bullpen, looking to see if Trevor Hoffman was still getting loose.

“We said it was Trevor time, but maybe not,” Scully reported. “Nope, it’s Jon Adkins now. That figured.”

Jack Cust made the third out of the top of the ninth. The Dodgers trailed by four runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Up to that point, Adkins had allowed one home run in 51 1/3 innings in 2006.

“The Dodgers are asked to do what they did (before), but they’ve run out of innings,” waxed Scully.

Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world …

* * *

Francis Specker/APJ.D. Drew follows through, bringing the Dodgers within two.

And then, a symphony …

Kent conducts a 1-0 pitch to center field, over Cameron, and out of the park.

“So Adkins is rudely treated,” Scully says. “Two pitches, one run.”

Drew, strumming the strings on a 2-1 pitch …

“And another drive to deep right center, and that is gone! Whoa, was that hit!” exults Scully.

“What is that line? Do not go gentle into that good night. The Dodgers have decided they’re not going to go into that night without howling and kicking.”

Hoffman is quickly rushed into the game. “He has been absolutely magnificent against everybody, but especially against the Dodgers,” Scully says, adding that Hoffman’s last blown save against the Dodgers was in April 2001.

Francis Specker/APMartin hits it a ton, bringing the Dodgers within one.

Hofman throws his first pitch.

“And a drive to left center by Martin,” calls Scully. “That ball is carrying into the seats! Three straight home runs!”

Bedlam at Dodger Stadium, bedlam like it’s the ninth inning on September 11, 1983. But the Dodgers, as Scully reminds us, “are still a buck short.”

Francis Specker/APMarlon Anderson lets it fly, and the Dodgers are tied.

Anderson is the next batter. He has four hits and needs a double to hit for the cycle.

Hoffman throws his second pitch. Anderson swings. Immediately after his follow-through, he jolts out of the box …

“And another drive to right center …”

… two arms thrusting in the air …

“Believe it or not, four consecutive home runs! And the Dodgers have tied it up again!”

As Martin practically had to be restrained in the dugout from running onto the field, Anderson raced around the bases, leaping into his high five at home plate before sprinting to the dugout, where he disappeared under a white and blue volcano.

It was the first time since 1964 that a team had hit four consecutive home runs, and the first time it had ever been done in the ninth inning, let alone to erase a four-run deficit. (The six homers in nine innings were also the most by the Dodgers since they hit eight in the Shawn Green game in May 2002.)

“Can you believe this inning?” exclaimed Scully, still agog. “Can you believe this game? … It is an unbelievable game.”

Before the cheering had even begun to subside, Lugo swung at his first pitch – still only the third pitch Hoffman had thrown in the game – and hit it on a trajectory to right-center that, for an instant, made the fans double-take. But it landed in Cameron’s glove. Ethier, batting for Saito, blooped out.

In the Dodgers’ last chance to win in nine innings, Furcal, 2 for 5 with a home run already, tattooed one himself, taking Giles to the warning track to right field before it was caught.

“Well, wouldn’t you know this was gonna go extra innings?” Scully said. “No, I don’t think you did when it was 9-5 in the ninth.

“This crowd is beside itself with joy. You can come down the wall now.”

* * *

With their top relievers already used, the Dodgers turned the guy that had warmed up for the first time back in the first inning, Aaron Sele. One of general manager Ned Colletti’s ongoing reclamation projects on the mound, Sele had joined the Dodger starting rotation in May and had a 2.91 ERA in 65 innings before the All-Star break. After a couple of poor July starts, soon followed by the acquisition of Greg Maddux, Sele ended up spending most of his second half in the bullpen (the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter that September, you might be surprised to remember, was Hong-Chih Kuo). Sele’s ERA had risen to 4.35, and he had pitched three total innings in the past two weeks.

But with the score 9-9, the Dodgers went to Sele over the other available options in the September Dodger bullpen: Giovanni Carrara, Elmer Dessens, Tim Hamulack and Eric Stults.

Sele retired Roberts (0 for 6) on a fly to center, but Giles doubled on a sharp hit down the left-field line past Lugo. Gonzalez, who had been tormenting the Dodgers all night – then again, who hadn’t – was walked intentionally.

Paul McAnulty, pinch-hitting for Alexander, killed a Sele pitch that Lofton caught at the wall. “That ball had a chance to go out but just died at the last minute,” Scully said. “There is a light breeze, but barely a zephyr.”

Sele dodged that bullet, but couldn’t avoid the next. Bard singled to right field, and Giles came home from second to score and once again give the Padres the lead.

Threatening to once again put the Dodgers down by four, Sele walked Cameron, who became the 23rd Padre to reach base. With no room to put anyone else, Sele, on the Dodgers’ 200th pitch of the game, induced an inning-ending fly to right.

“Boy, you talk about the anguish of a fan,” Scully said. “There’s a lot of it, but they’ll remember this game for a while.”

Padres 10, Dodgers 9, heading into the bottom of the 10th.

Rudy Seanez, who had pitched for the Dodgers in 1994 and 1995 (and would do so again in 2007), was the Padres’ 23rd player of the game and seventh pitcher, chosen ahead of relievers Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney and Mike Thompson. Nearing his 38th birthday. Seanez had struck out 52 in 51 innings combined with Boston and San Diego, but he had walked 29 and allowed seven home runs.

His first pitch to Lofton was a called strike, but his next two missed the zone. Strike two came on a check swing, but the next pitch was high and the one after that was inside, “and the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run,” Scully said as Lofton dropped his bat and headed to first base.

To the plate came Garciaparra.

Low and outside for ball one. Fastball for a strike. Low and outside for ball two. Inside for ball three.

Francis Specker/APNomar, hero.

On the 376th pitch of the night of September 18, 2006 …

“And a high fly ball to left field – it is a-way out and gone! The Dodgers win it, 11-10! Ha ha ha – unbelievable!”

The end of the world.

“I forgot to tell you,” Scully said after watching the celebration at home plate. “The Dodgers are in first place.”

* * *

Jeff Lewis/APGarciaparra celebrates on behalf of Dodger fans around the ballpark – and televisions and computers.

To this point, I haven’t quoted from the Dodger Thoughts game thread from the night of September 18, 2006. But while any one of us would rather have been in the ballpark, the online experience is not one I’ll forget.

You can see some of the highlights here, or you can go back to the original thread and re-experience from start to finish. But there’s only one way to finish this remembrance, and that’s with this classic:

2006-09-18 22:40:43
604. Xeifrank
Gameday seems to be broke. It keeps on saying every Dodger hitter is hitting a home run. Major software bug or something.
vr, Xei

Jun 27

My journey

… In about the mid-1990s, after it became clear how awful the DeShields-Pedro Martinez trade was, I started to conjecture that the Dodgers really could become the Cubs – that a journey to 100 years of mediocrity can begin with a single step. Subsequently, I started to think that I might be following the same path. I’m a published writer, and people (some of them, anyway) have enjoyed my work. But I don’t feel like I really made it to the champagne celebration in the locker room.

I’m very happy these days – I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful baby, and you won’t catch me regretting the choices I made that allowed those things to happen. But I do have frustrations, and those frustrations, I’ve come to realize, are played out each time the Dodgers do something. Anything. I’m not just talking about the 162 games; I’m talking about the offseason trades and the decisions to replace the dirt warning track with rubber and the removal of the sandwich station on the Club level of Dodger Stadium. I was raised in an easier time, where things were more often right than wrong, and I haven’t shed my addiction to that time. I want things with the Dodgers to be right. That, essentially, is the genesis of this website – to deal with that want.

I think what it is, is that when I was younger, the games were more fun. They were carefree. Now, they do seem to mean more to me. They carry this weight. And now, it’s been so long since the Dodgers have been a winner, I can’t imagine anymore what it will be like to celebrate that. I hope I enjoy the glory, if it ever comes, as much as I’ve suffered the pain. I think maybe I will.

– Dodger Thoughts, March 12, 2003

Lorenzo Charles died, and that was by far the worst news I heard all day.

I poked my thumb on a fork in the dishwasher, and that was by far the most pain I felt all day. I slammed my hand down on the counter and cursed.

But the angriest I got over the McCourt news today was when my web browser crashed while pages were loading.

This afternoon, I found myself wondering why I can get angry at so many things, so many little things – “Why won’t this page load?! It’s a computer! It’s all 0s and 1s!” – and yet I can remain unflappably calm over the way Frank McCourt treats the team I grew up loving.

It’s not because I don’t care. I couldn’t write for this website if I didn’t care.

Sometime over the eight years since I wrote the post excerpted above, Dodger games went back to the way they were. They went back to being carefree, to being an escape. I suffer every loss, yearn for every win, but even with a losing team, the games are a release for me again. They don’t carry weight. I channel my frustration elsewhere.

So much of the frustration and anger in my life is about unmet expectations. The computer should work. I should be able to do the dishes without maiming myself. March Madness God should not die at age 47. The biggest one of all: I’m not the person I want to be.

But Frank McCourt has no way left to disappoint me, because I have zero faith in the man to do the right thing. I have no expectations of him.

This is a particularly personal view that I don’t necessarily expect anyone else to share, so please don’t get the idea that I’m telling any of you not to be angry. You have every right. I’m just talking about me here.

I think part of my problem in life has been that I’ve not always been cynical enough, which is why I’m so easily disappointed. But McCourt is like a shot of cynicism straight into my veins. In some ways, it’s a relief. McCourt might own the Dodgers, but he doesn’t own me.

The Dodgers are my Odyssey, and to paraphrase Roberto Baly, Vin Scully is my Homer. Safe at home or mired on the seas, the Dodgers are a story, an endless fable that I see in the making, and so, so instructive.

The way I react to each chapter in this epic is the way I wish I reacted to the rest of my life. Suffer with dignity, accept limitations, believe that the next good moment is around the corner. I don’t want to have to become a cynic to survive my remaining time in this world, but if I can ever learn to take the bad with the good in my everyday life, like I do with the Dodgers, I’ll be the better man for it.

Don’t surrender. Be a dreamer, not a demander. It might not be what you need, but it’s what I need.

Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

A year ago, I posted these 33 theses on the doors of Dodger Thoughts.  Let’s see how they have held up …

Thesis Result Comment
1) Frank McCourt will prevail in the courts against Jamie McCourt and retain ownership of the Dodgers. No Failed to anticipate the Great Adverb Dispute.
2) Rather then sell the team, McCourt will take on a minority partner to improve his cash flow. TBD It might not be quite that simple.
3) The incentive for the minority partner will be the Dodgers’ ability to make a profit, with potential for greater revenue from development of the Dodger Stadium property. TBD This plus the TV contract.
4) The project to turn the area behind center field into a gathering place of restaurants, shops and a Dodger museum will begin by 2015. TBD I sure was looking ahead, wasn’t I?
5) The Dodgers will earn enough money over the coming decade to remain competitive, though they will never spend like the Yankees or Red Sox. TBD Fans are probably pessimistic about this one, but we’ll see.
6) The Dodgers will sign a veteran with an unexciting name to take the No. 4 spot in the 2010 starting rotation, completing their offseason in much the same manner they would have even if the McCourts weren’t divorcing. Yes Hello, Vicente Padilla.
7) Observers will decry the state of Dodger starting pitching entering the season, even though it will probably match up well with every team in the National League West except San Francisco. (Arizona’s No. 4 starter: Ian Kennedy?) No San Diego ruined this prediction for me.
8) The focus will be on what the Dodgers didn’t do, ignoring how thin the pitching market was and how little their division rivals have improved themselves. Yes This was a safe one.
9) Spring training will come as a relief, as the conversation returns to baseball and, despite all that has happened, the sight of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw roaming the field becomes too intoxicating to resist. Yes Spring Training was relatively enjoyable this year.
10) Exhibition performances will excessively color people’s views of the coming season, even though Val Pascucci’s .429 batting average in March 2009 failed to carry over into the regular season. Yes This at least applied to the Dodgers themselves, vis a vis Les Ortizables.
11) Sportswriters will blast the Dodgers for not acquiring a big name, then criticize every move Manny Ramirez makes while knocking the Dodgers for all the money spilling out to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Kind of Not all sportswriters, but certainly some I can think of.
12) People will be intrigued with how Russell Martin explains that this will be the season everything will be OK for him. No “Intrigued” seems strong in retrospect, plus Martin got hurt in March.
13) Chad Billingsley will gamely turn the other cheek as reporters and fans insultingly question his manhood. Then he’ll go out and throw bullets. Yes He wasn’t red-hot to start the season, but ultimately this came true.
14) The Dodgers will not get off to as hot a start in 2010 as they did in 2009, when they were 10-3 and 21-8. Yes To say the least …
15) The Dodger community will be on edge, as it becomes clear to all that 2010, like most years, will be a season-long challenge. Yes To say the least …
16) Jokes about portable concession stands will grow old fast, yet continue to be told. No This died down more quickly than I expected.
17) Lines at Dodger Stadium food stands will remain long anyway. Yes No change here.
18) Nevertheless, the Dodgers will remain in the thick of the National League West race into May, when the McCourt case launches in the courts. Yes/no Dodgers had the best record in the NL at one point, but the trial was delayed.
19) The free-for-all between the McCourts’ lawyers will be annoying beyond belief. Yes All those fun revelations and accusations …
20) Kershaw, Kemp or Andre Ethier will suffer a setback, while Martin, James Loney or Rafael Furcal will experience a rebirth. Yes Setback for Kemp, rebirth for Furcal (until he got hurt, but I’m counting it).
21) Ramirez will have his ups and downs but will regain some of the fans he lost in the final months of 2009. No I could probably prove this true on a technicality, but I won’t try to push this one through.
22) There won’t be as much Dodger walk-off magic in 2010 as there was in 2009. Yes There was some moments early on, but they didn’t carry on.
23) Forced to rely on the farm system for pitching depth, the Dodgers will benefit from some precocious performances. Yes John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Kenley Jansen, among others, did some good for the team.
24) “Don’t Stop Believin’” will be gone, but “God Bless America” will return. No/yes Oh well.
25) With the dust from the courtroom settled, the Dodgers will make a trading deadline deal. No/yes Deals came while dust was still swirling.
26) The biggest moment of the year will be when Vin Scully announces his plans for 2011. Yes You can argue with me, but I’m counting this one.
27) With almost nowhere to go but down after two National League Championship Series appearances, 2010 will almost surely end as a disappointment for the Dodgers. Yes This had a chance to be wrong in summertime, but in the end it was right.
28) The Phillies will not win the NL title, because it looks too much like they should. Yes That’s the way it goes …
29) The Dodgers will have more reason to be nervous after the 2010 season, when the team has to replace Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda while giving even bigger pay raises to the homegrown talent — even those who had subpar years. Yes Even though Kuroda and others are back, if we’re talking about how most people felt at the end of the 2010 season, there was more nervousness and pessimism than 2009.
30) Minor league pitchers Aaron Miller, Chris Withrow and John Ely will come to the rescue, sooner or later, either by becoming major-league ready or major-league trading chips. No Given the way Ely ended the season, it’s hard to tally this one in the Yes column.
31) The Dodgers will have enough talent to stay competitive, but not enough to make them prohibitive favorites. Yes I’ll probably get some heckles on this one, but if the 2010 Giants could win, I’m not ruling out the 2011 Dodgers.
32) The Dodgers will continue to be good enough to keep all but the most reactionary fans hooked, yet weak enough to keep all but the most tolerant fans unsatisfied. Yes Accurate, no?
33) Fans will start to pay attention to the ticking clock that is the end of the 2012 season, when Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier and Billingsley are scheduled to become eligible for free agency. No I’m not sure enough people are worried about this.
Total 19-7-7 What does this mean? I have no idea.