Yesterday, on the morning of game one of the 2020 World Series, I sat in the small chapel of a funeral home in Oklahoma City. My wife, the ProcrastiNation Princess had lost her grandfather, they were very close and as you could hear the rain pounding on the stained glass windows, I could feel my wife’s pain and sadness. She held my hand while we looked on at her grandfather, a sports fanatic, a caring, family man who would always call my wife to remind her when Syracuse Basketball had a big win and especially when Duke Basketball lost. I was composed for the most part during the service, but eventually a wave of emotion overcame me and I thought about my grandfather. He has been in and out of the hospital lately and while I sat in the pew watching a slide show of my wife’s grandfather life, I was flooded with memories of me and my grandfather.
I grew up in upstate New York, a few years ago, my wife and I moved to the south to start our life as a married couple. The toughest thing about leaving New York, aside from the Italian deli’s was that I wouldn’t be able to see my grandfather whenever I wanted. My grandfather is a baseball man, he has coached competitive baseball for fifty years, yes, you read that correctly FIFTY years. Since the day I can remember, I wanted to be around my grandfather and the think we bonded over the most is our love for baseball. He instilled this in me since the day I was born, there are photos, videos and stories of him holding me on his lap as an infant while he slugged Pepsi, showing me old highlights of the Dodgers.
When I was able to walk and run on my own, I would reenact game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I knew every inning, player and could recreate the Vin Scully home-run call while I ran around my grandparents kitchen table, hobbling, pumping my fist just like Kirk Gibson. He would sit on the couch after working, waiting for dinner to be ready and get the greatest joy out of me recreating an iconic moment in Dodgers history.
My grandfather has been a fan of the Dodgers since they played in Brooklyn. He loves Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider and has told me stories about finding Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle rookie cards and ripping them up because they didn’t wear the Dodger blue. He would sit for hours and hours and tell me stories about baseball, his philosophy and by the time I was five years old, I was bat boy for his team, traveling with my parents to Cooperstown, the home of the baseball hall of fame to see Pop in action, coaching on Doubleday field.
Until I was 12 or 13 years old I was fascinating with the mystique and aura of the New York Yankees. Being a baseball phonetic living in New York, so close to the house that Ruth built, it made sense. When I told my grandfather that I was going to be a Dodgers fan, that I was going to jump head first into the pain, sadness and disappointment that comes with being a Dodgers fan, he was so happy. His life’s work of brain washing a kid had finally paid off. I was head over heels in love with everything that had to do with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the other teams in the league, including the vaunted Yankees, were secondary. The Dodgers were my heart and soul in terms of fandom and I was ready to go into the abyss, rooting them on to win a World Championship. When my grandfather was in a bad mood about the Dodgers letting us down in a big game, he will not hesitate to remind me that he thinks I might be the jinx because the Dodgers haven’t won a World Championship since I was born.
This bond of baseball has been something that has given us some of the most memorable and unique experiences of my life. I played for my grandfather and then I was fortunate enough to coach with him. He taught me so much, the way he handled me as a player and his ability to trust my judgement as a coach at a young age was something I didn’t appreciate or realize until the years had rolled on and I looked back on these fond memories of spending time with my grandfather, my hero.
So, perhaps, this World Series means more to me than it does for a casual fan. Although we can’t watch it together because of the state of our country and our geographic locations, I look forward to our pre-game call and our in-game texts back and forth more than anything. I realize that life is fragile and that we aren’t always going to be fortunate enough to have people in our lives forever. I dream of the moment that a ball is hoisted in the air toward a Dodger outfielder who camps underneath it and squeezing the glove for the final out in a championship season, the first since 1988 and I could call my grandfather and share that moment with him. I was so close in 2017 and again that hope creeped in the following year in 2018 only to be crushed and hear that annoyance and hope thwarted in the voice of my Pops.
Being in New York, my grandfather and I went to a bunch of Dodgers games at Citi Field, the home of the Mets. My grandfather had not been to a Dodgers home game since they called Ebbets Field in Brooklyn the homestead. A few years ago, we took a trip to Los Angeles to see Dodgers Stadium in person. It was an amazing experience, aside from the fact that the Dodgers naturally lost every game we were there. Sharing a drink and some peanuts with my grandfather, while looking out on the most beautiful piece of greenery I had ever seen was something that I will never forget.
While I try not to get ahead of myself, it is tempting to dream of the possibility of the Dodgers beating the Tampa Bay Rays three more times before this series concludes. That is something that I will love for the fact that I am a die-hard Dodger fan but it will resonate and mean more when I think about why I am a Dodger fan, the reason, my grandfather. The guy who always believed in me when others didn’t, who gave me the benefit of the doubt when I used up all my leverage with others, the man who introduced me to baseball, who let me watch his 88′ NLCS and World Series VHS Tapes so much that I wore them out – I will think of him when that final out is made and we are the World Champions. So, it might not be this year and it might not be next, but when it does happen, I will think of my grandfather, smile, and thank him for making me a negative, cynical, obsessed, hopeful and die-hard, Los Angeles Dodgers fan.
Hey Randy, cue the music for me baby.