Warning: Personal, non-Dodger content ahead.
Category: Thinking out loud (Page 1 of 6)
My favorite piece that I wrote this year was “Baseball has its day in the son,” the story of how my 10-year-old developed a new interest in following baseball in unlikely circumstances.
“A modest thing, but thine own,” as Vin Scully liked to say. I felt I adapted a uniquely personal moment into a story that could be meaningful to total strangers, while keeping the true feeling intact.
Aside from the happy memories of the moment itself, it was a story that energized me, making me believe that a non-fiction, non-baseball book I had been sketching, one that I alluded to 10 months ago, could actually work, not in the sense of being any kind of bestseller, but simply in the hopes of being something to someone.
As much as the Dodgers are part of my soul, they have never been the only part. Amid all the pleasure I enjoyed from the publication of Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition, I have been wanting to stretch myself as a writer. The piece about my son, along with several others like it in my history at Dodger Thoughts that revolved around life more than baseball, convinced me that I wasn’t crazy to write a sustained narrative devoted to what was right in front of me.
Less than a month later, those plans were on the shelf.
Every baseball season compounds pleasure and pain with intensity. In that chemistry, all that changes is the mix. What – the older among us had to be reminded, the younger had to learn for the first time – would playing in the World Series make different?
We could imagine easily enough the euphoria of ultimate victory, and we could wonder if defeat would cause depression or devastation. But passing through that window, how would it feel? Keep in mind: It had been 29 years since the Dodgers had won a World Series, but it had been 39 years since they had lost one.
Let’s pause and remember, for a moment, how we got here. The record-setting run to the best record in baseball, cozying up to the greatest mark of all time, legitimately raising the question of whether this would be the best team ever if it won the World Series, if if if, before a 17-day impersonation of Job caused us to question the true nature of baseball good and evil. A smidgen of run-of-the-mill stability led us into the fresh thrills of the postseason.
Remember that just beating Arizona in the National League Division Series, let alone sweeping the Diamondbacks, was an achievement – many thought the first landmine would be more than sufficient to waste the Dodgers. Then Chicago, 12 months earlier a Waterloo, transformed into a wonderland. Justin Turner hit a glorious walk-off homer on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s. Three games later, Kiké Hernández, a semi-regular as famous in baseball for his banana costume as anything else, knocked three home runs in a single evening, and suddenly, the nearly holy grail found its way into our grasp, a demon-exorcising National League pennant, birthing our ride into the mystical land.
The unknown awaited.
Speaking for myself, little was more terrifying for Game 1 of the 2017 World Series than the drive there, bounded by my oldest son’s 3:15 p.m. release from school and the 5:09 p.m. Dodger Stadium first pitch, with 14 miles of the densest daytime Los Angeles traffic teeming in between, all of it in the 105-degree asphalt jungle that wilted the air conditioning in our 2006 Honda Odyssey. Barely was there any time between our arrival in our seats and Clayton Kershaw’s initial strike for me to focus entirely on the stress between the baselines, and with the underdog’s underdog, Chris Taylor, homering on the first pitch thrown to a Dodger World Series batter since Alfredo Griffin grounded to third in the ninth inning of Game 5 in 1988, joy took hold before tension had a chance to lay down a finger. Houston tied the game but never led, Turner hit his then-usual postseason home run, the Dodger bullpen followed its blueprint, and just like that, a 3-1 Game 1 triumph. No Gibson, no problem. Less than an hour after witnessing the final pitch from the Reserved Level, even with our car parked at the opposite end of Chavez Ravine far beyond center field, my family was home, safely, victoriously.
With Game 2, whose schizophrenic late-inning craziness needs little elaboration from me, the true experience of the 2017 World Series really began. There’s a moment in Hamilton when Thomas Jefferson comes to understand the incomprehensible reality behind a sordid scandal involving Alexander and says, softly thunderstruck, My God. As I watched Game 2 and the next four on television, those words reverberated in near non-stop echo.
All the home runs and the comebacks complete and incomplete in Game 2: My God.
Yu Darvish’s meltdown to start Game 3: My God.
The chest-knotting tie in Game 4, unbroken until the five-run Dodger ninth: My God.
And Game 5, the game of 4-0, 4-4, 7-4, 7-7, 8-7, 8-11, 9-11, 9-12, 12-12, 12-13 – Why do you hit like you’re running out of time? – the game in which a future first-ballot Hall of Famer stood three competent innings from sealing his postseason legacy, the game in which a 2017 Dodger team could have practically assured its place in Nirvana?
My God, and then some. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, sings Hamilton’s complicated frenemy, Aaron Burr. It takes and it takes and it takes.
Typically, after a Dodger loss, I stew a very short time. I always believe in tomorrow. Even after Game 2, which anyone could reasonably say was a disastrous loss, my disappointment was quickly supplanted by my awe at the insanity. But Game 5 left me in a fog that shrouded and confused me beyond what I can recall feeling before.
Game 5 buried me. My hopes lay in reincarnation.
For Game 6, I was back in my car, though not on the way to Dodger Stadium. I spent the early and middle innings driving through Halloween night rush hour in Los Angeles to retrieve my daughter from her late rehearsal for the school musical and bring her home. It was with me in transit that the Dodgers withstood an enormous threat from the Astros in the top of the fifth and then rallied in the bottom of the sixth, and I exulted so quietly, with the tiniest of fist pumps, because Young Miss Weisman, now 15 years old, is at the place where she finds my devotion to this sport unnerving almost to the point of embarrassment. But home for the final two innings, I saw Joc Pederson’s homer, I savored Kenley Jansen’s domination, and as the clock neared midnight on October, I began preparing for Game 7.
For my first November baseball game, we didn’t mess around. More than an hour before the game began, I was in my seat with a hot dog. Time to take in the atmosphere and share it through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and e-mail. It’s really the atmosphere, after all, that draws you to the game, the desire to play a part, however small in the chorus, because not even the best seats get you as close as the television.
In fact, when the game began, what I had sacrificed in favor of that atmosphere was quickly apparent. Our seats far, far down the right-field line put us in a realm filled with hope but miles from the action, and with slow-signaling home-plate umpire Mark Wegner making his strike calls on the backbeat, it seemed as if news of the game was coming by telegraph. A white sphere landed in a far-away field before we had barely inhaled the game’s first scent, and it was a double for George Springer. An Alex Bregman grounder went wide, wide of first base, Cody Bellinger threw off-balance, and like a newsreel of the war, we learned the casualty of a 1-0 Houston lead. Bregman then ran away from us, stealing third base, and then just as quickly scored on another grounder to Bellinger.
In a World Series like this one, I was quick to despair but slow to lose hope, especially when Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. allowed a leadoff double by Taylor and then began hitting nearly every other Dodger batter with a pitch. Two outs into the bottom of the first, the bases were loaded for Pederson, the afterthought when the postseason began who was now one hit from going toe-to-toe with Springer for potential World Series MVP honors.
Pederson hit the ball sharply but indiscreetly, into an inning-ending forceout. Forlornly, Los Angeles took the field behind Darvish to start the top of the second, and the third run of the game scored in slow motion, Brian McCann plodding home from third base on a wet newspaper slap from McCullers that sent the ball drifting with infernal apathy toward Dodger second baseman Logan Forsythe.
Do people remember that the Springer home run that destroyed Darvish and made the score 5-0 came on a 3-2 pitch. I’ll not soon forget the fear as Springer came up to the plate with the entire season at risk, but the first five pitches Darvish threw in that at-bat took no foothold in my mind. All was obliterated by the punishment Springer laid out on the last.
Before Game 7 began, I fully understood the case for starting Kershaw and didn’t particularly disagree with it, but nor have I ever second-guessed the decision to open the game with Darvish, who after all had successful outings in the two previous playoff rounds. As bad as Darvish looked in Game 3, it struck me as aberrative. It didn’t make sense to assume he would do worse on four days’ rest than Kershaw on two days’ rest — and since Kershaw wasn’t going to go the distance in any circumstance, why not use the experience he had picked up coming out of the bullpen in the 2016 NLCS to your advantage?
Instead, the choice will be remarked upon for years. Nearly 40 years after the last big elimination-game controversy involving a Dodger starting pitcher, Darvish became a Dave Goltz for a new era, the outsider who usurped the spotlight moment from the homegrown prodigy and pratfalled, even if Darvish was dimensionally more talented than Goltz, even if people always forget that for Fernando Valenzuela to have started the NL West tiebreaker at the end of the 1980 season, he would have been pitching on zero days’ rest.
The game still was not over. It couldn’t be, right? Not in a Series as magnificent as this one, not without Rocky landing one more flurry of punches on Apollo. In the bottom of the second, Taylor came to the plate with two runners on against the wobbly McCullers. Taylor lined the first pitch 96 mph, but as with Pederson’s 97 mph grounder in the first, it found nothing but glove. Two hard-hit balls by the Dodgers with five baserunners on, and zero to show for it.
The sad march continued. In the third inning, after a Corey Seager leadoff single, Turner was hit by a pitch for the second time — the fourth HBP of the game by McCullers. The last time a pitcher hit four batters in a game at Dodger Stadium, Orel Hershiser was discovering that his career was over. But again, no one scored.
Wounded, the crowd kept swaying, kept stomping, but the dominoes kept falling, falling faster, crashing one atop another, the tumbling interrupted only by an RBI single by 12-year Dodger veteran Andre Ethier in what many understood to be his last at-bat in baseball’s most beautiful uniform. Unlike the cyclonic Game 5, Dodger fans stood face to face with a steady wall of doom for hours before Game 7 ended.
Ethier was the final Dodger baserunner of 2017. The remaining 11 batters all made outs. The last, a grounder to second by Seager, brought a silence to Dodger Stadium unlike anything I have ever experienced at the conclusion of a major-league baseball game. Had the victors been the ALCS finalist Yankees instead of the Astros, no doubt thousands of chest-thumping Bronx Bomber fans would have taken over Chavez Ravine with their whoops. But with Houston represented so sparsely in the stands, I swear I could hear the cheers of the Astro players cut through the quiet as they swarmed the field to celebrate in the ballpark they had turned into a morgue.
It takes so much out of you, a baseball season, never more so than during a World Series run. If you didn’t know it before, you know it now. What does it mean to lose a World Series? It means you don’t take that exhaustion anywhere except home. You toss it in the trash if you choose. Or, you own it, and you take pride in it, you treasure it, even if it is nothing like joy, nothing like euphoria, nothing like pounding your chest and shouting to the heavens.
You think about coming so close, and your breath draws heavy and sad.
Come the next breath, you are stronger.
And we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes and if there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died, then I’m willing to wait for it.
By Jon Weisman
It’s me, alive and well. I’m two months into my job at Showtime, which means I’m two months removed from blogging about the Dodgers. (That blogging time has been rededicated to working on my upcoming Dodger-themed book, details of which will be revealed in the coming months.)
After covering the Dodgers on a daily basis for most of the past 15 years, I haven’t minded a break from the grind. But I will say that whenever I see a shot of a beautiful baseball diamond, at Camelback Ranch or at Dodger Stadium, I sigh a little bit. It’s possible that I’ve missed the ballpark more than I’ve missed the games.
I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s Dodgers, who are both deep and talented. That’s not to say they don’t have weaknesses, or that the Cubs have gone away, but the Dodgers probably have as good a chance to go the World Series — and win — as they’ve had in the post-1988 era.
As the headline shows, the main reason for this post was to provide a quick guide to enjoying the 2017 Dodger season. So let’s get to it …
1) The Dodgers will lose at least 60 games this year. Probably a bit more. Some of those losses will be in a row. You know those losses are coming. Don’t freak out about them.
2) Great players will have terrible games. Good players will have terrible months. That’s baseball. That’s allowed. Again, big picture.
3) When you focus on the Dodgers’ problems, don’t forget that other teams have problems as well. For example, the Giants begin the season with Matt Cain as their No. 5 starter. The Cubs’ starting rotation includes 38-year-old John Lackey and the injury-prone Brett Anderson, with nothing like the pitching depth the Dodgers have behind them. Those two guys could have great seasons, and the Cubs also have the organizational depth to make a trade. But it’s not like the Dodgers’ rivals have nothing to worry about.
4) This Dodger team not only has the potential National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winners, it’s got talent up and down the roster — the best in baseball, according to Fangraphs. And, it’s a likable bunch, led by a manager who could be here for 20 years or more. Savor that.
5) At the end of each day, it’s a game. No, really, it is. We all want to win, but if you’re angry for more than a minute after it’s over, you’re doing baseball wrong. Have fun! (And don’t be obnoxious on Twitter and Facebook …)
P.S. Celebrate Opening Day by buying my book — the one I’ve already written — 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. About 98 of them are still alive and well!
By Cassandra Lane
The baseball park can hold close to 60,000 bodies, but it is eerily empty in the days after the Dodgers lose out on a chance to advance to the World Series race for the first time in 28 years. Another race is going on in the country — one of the bitterest presidential bids in U.S. history — yet none of that seems to matter in these parts. Chavez Ravine is a sleeping giant — no, not quite asleep; it is in a deep and sullen state, painfully aware that its soul is gone — the crowds, the roar, the hope — while its body is one great hull of a thing that must stay put until another season. It hibernates in the open, all blue and golden in its loneliness, picked on by laughing ravens and overlooked by helicopters flying over the open mouth of the stadium … to somewhere else.
By Jon Weisman
Let’s separate Yasiel Puig’s fate as a baseball player from his fate with the Dodgers for a moment.
First comes the blame. Some say Puig had this demotion coming. Some say the Dodgers have mishandled his development. It’s easy to throw stones when there’s a free pile of ’em lining both sides of the Internet. No one’s claiming to be perfect, but no one should think it was easy.
What seems relevant to me is that it has never been in anyone’s interest to see Puig be anything less than the best he can be. That remains the case.
Maybe Puig’s next Major League game will be in another uniform. Maybe it’ll be in familiar, cozy L.A. whites before the next homestand is over. Maybe his next chapter won’t be written until 2017.
Even then, the next chapter will only be a chapter.
By Jon Weisman
Every now and then, your brain takes you to some weird places.
Most of the time, mine thinks about baseball … which can also lead you to some weird places.
For a few years now, I’ve nursed this feeling that sometime in the distant future, Major League Baseball games would be reduced from nine to seven innings. I don’t really think this will ever happen, but there’s a logic to it.
It’s in part because pace-of-play rule changes are fighting an uphill battle against baseball’s evolutionary elongation. (MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday compared the challenge of eliminating the issue to “dandelions in your front lawn.”)
A double inning-ectomy would lop a good 40 minutes or so off the average game, taking them back into the sub-2:30 range that seems to have been the sport’s sweet spot. This would be particularly handy in the postseason, helping more fans see a fantastic finish before midnight.
To be sure, not everyone’s in a hurry to leave the ballpark — certainly not my friendly colleagues here at Dodger Stadium trying to sell food, drink and merchandise — which is probably reason enough to end this conversation.
But the best reason for the seven-inning game is that it’s just getting harder and harder to cobble together the pitching to get 27 outs or more each game.
By Jon Weisman
So, something went awry Thursday with the Dodgers’ march to an 0-83 finish. They won.
Does that delay the inevitable? When the news came that Clayton Kershaw was going on the disabled list, that was the final straw on 2016 for some. Maybe many. Los Angeles Dodgers (2016-2016), RIP.
But yes, I’m here to remind you that there is reason not to give up. In fact, here are nine of them, one for every inning of this glorious, vexing game.
I offer these not because I’m blind to what can go wrong, but for those who are blind to what can go right.
By Jon Weisman
We’re not really the sum of all our parts. We’re more the multiplication of them.
The fractions of ourselves don’t neatly add up in tidy columns. They clash and they explode like calculus.
So just in the past several days, the answer to Yasiel Puig involves finding the product of this:
By Jon Weisman
It has been, if one weren’t to mince words, an ugly time.
The Dodgers have lost four straight, six of their past seven, 16 of their past 25.
Since April 25, when they were 12-7, the Dodgers have played .360 ball and have lost eight games in the standings to the National League West-leading Giants, who are 17-8 in that span.
On Saturday, the Dodgers lost when Chin-hui Tsao threw 12 of his final 14 pitches of the game out of the strike zone, forcing in the game-winning run.
“We’re finding different ways to lose games and I haven’t seen this one,” Dave Roberts said afterward. “It’s a tough one and to try to defend it, having a hard time.”
The only thing harder to watch than the final score of the games has been the frustration of the fans, because that’s really whom the games are for.
I’ve been blogging about the Dodgers a long time now, coming up on 14 years. This is when I usually step up and make my attempt at “it’s always darkest before the dawn” arguments. I’ve hesitated, not because I believe any less in those arguments, but because I believe less that the audience for those arguments is willing to hear them.
Nonetheless, there are certain fundamental things I feel worth saying, however succinctly. You either buy in, or you don’t …
By Jon Weisman
As you know, Louis Coleman’s grandfather, Harold Louis Coleman Sr., passed away last week. That’s about all we knew about the Dodger reliever’s need to go on bereavement leave.
But thanks to a column by Coleman’s uncle, Billy Watkins, in Jackson, Mississippi’s Clairon-Ledger, we now know much more.
Watkins’ piece is not only a reflection on his own uncle, but a reflection on our priorities, our choices and our lives.
… I asked Uncle Harold a few years ago something about my maternal grandfather, who I loved deeply. Uncle Harold was one of the few still alive who knew the answer and the only one I felt comfortable asking about it. Understand, it wasn’t concerning anything illegal or shameful. It was merely something I wanted to know about my grandfather.
“I’ll tell you,” Uncle Harold said to me. “But you have to drive to Schlater to hear it.”
It was his way of inviting me to come see him.
I never made that trip. So whatever he would have said to me was lowered with him into the black Delta earth late Saturday afternoon.
My ignorance, arrogance and apathy haunt me. …
Watkins also wrote this passage on Louis Coleman (that is, Harold Louis Coleman III):
… Hal and Kathy’s son, Louis, spoke at the funeral.
Louis is a relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I read on the team website the night before: “Louis Coleman has been placed on the bereavement list following the death of his grandfather. Also, the Dodgers called up … ”
One line. I wish all Dodger fans could’ve heard Louis’ tribute. He didn’t dance around the fact that his “Pappy” was “always right” and, at times, not the easiest person to get along with. He called him “a man’s man.”
“But he had a way of making things simple,” Louis said. “I used to throw at a tater sack hung across a barbed wire fence when I was growing up. That was my target.”
As a member of the Kansas City Royals in 2011, Louis earned his first save at Yankee Stadium in New York and his first win at Fenway Park in Boston.
“And to this day, if I can’t find my control, I can hear Pappy saying, ‘Just hit the tater sack.’ ”
A little more than 48 hours after delivering that talk, Louis was back with the Dodgers, back on the mound in a one-run game against the Miami Marlins in the seventh inning. Louis was perfect. Three up, three down. He struck out slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the third out. I came out of my recliner and pumped my fist. …
You can read the entire piece here. Thanks to Watkins’ longtime friend, Dodger senior vice president of planning and development Janet Marie Smith, for forwarding it to me.