Chapter Two - King of Victory Blvd

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Wednesday night I had tickets to the last game of the year for the Clippers or the Dodger / Giant game. The Clipper game had appeal because after 8 years I was going to give up my season tickets and it would be the last time I’d sit in my beloved Staple seats. However they had nothing to play for except the lottery and with two teams trying to lose even as big a Clipper fan as I am I couldn’t conjure up enough interest. Yet, while I write for True Blue you’d think it would be a slam-dunk I’d pick the Dodger game but that would not be true.  I’d avoided Dodger / Giant games for several years because of the repugnant atmosphere where the games reminded me more of Raider football on Sundays then baseball. This might shock most of you who read this blog but I don’t hate the Giants. Maybe I did back in the early 70’s when I first became a fan but I’ve outgrown that. Life is to short to waste hatred on a sports franchise or even a player.  I’ll focus my hatred for the bastards who really deserve it; and everyday this world reminds us that we have plenty of them.

I posted the question on Facebook about which game should I attend and all the comments told me to pick the Dodger game. Good thing I asked because otherwise I’d have made the wrong decision and going to the Dodger game was the best decision I’d made in a long long time. I've been going to Dodger games for 40 years now and this might have been the best game I've ever seen during the regular season. If would have been nice if life had let me reasonate in the beauty of this game, but it had a Kershaw curve for me and just like Bengie Molina, I never saw it coming.

  

The last 24 hours have taken me to new heights and to lows that happen all to frequently these days as my favorite things keeps disappearing at an alarming rate. As I headed to the game I had $12 in my pocket, not enough for parking (enough for a Clipper game) and I didn’t feel like stopping at an ATM so I was betting I could nab street parking close enough that I wouldn’t die of a heart attack walking to the game.  Sure enough I grabbed the last spot before the Scott Road light. It was the furthest away I’d ever parked but I had no choice. I headed up the hill to Chavez Ravine hoping that something would happen tonight to rekindle my love for baseball. After a winter of writing about baseball I was beginning to wonder why I did so.  I’m not really a stat guy, in the beginning I was a storyteller or tried to be. Did I have any stories left that anyone would have interest in? My passion seemed to be ebbing with the memory of last October far from my mind.

Snowy found us and with any pet, the best ones are the ones who choose you. Verdell and I had first noticed him when we’d go for a walk. He’d be sitting on the corner neighbor’s fence aloof of the world while staring down on those who’d dare pass by him and his kingdom. He was a large gorgeous white cat with luminous eyes and we’d always talk about him as we passed. One day the neighbors were gone and the fence had been torn down. We figured they had taken their cat with them and didn’t give it much thought.

As I settled into my seat I was delighted to find that a pair of season ticket holders who had told me last year they were not renewing were in fact in their seats. They actually didn’t renew but got the 27 game package for the same seats that had been season ticket seats. Don’t tell me the Dodgers aren’t having trouble when the fourth/fifth row of the loge does not have season ticket holders in them. We got reacquainted and I settled in to watch Clayton get his warm ups in. My seats sit right above the bullpen and the best perk about that is watching the bullpen activity.  He looked sharp in the bullpen and in one year he already looked like he was filling out his frame. Clayton took the mound and while he struggled with his command he set the Giants down in order with two punch-outs.  Matt Cain was not so lucky. He also had command issues and by the time he had walked Loney with the bases loaded he’d thrown thirty pitches. Matt Kemp was his escape hatch, striking out with the bases loaded.

Verdell and I were gardening in the front when Snowy came straggling into our driveway. This was far from the regal king we had seen looking down upon us from his fence. Not sure if he’d let me handle him I beckoned and he came over and as I inspected him with his permission I found his fur was a mess, he was beset with fleas, some small wounds, and his skin was full of bumps. I gathered him up and gave him a bath and cleaned him up as best I could. Given that we already had more then two handfuls of pets I made a spot for him in the garage.   He must have been exhausted as he curled up in the bed we made and preceded to sleep away the next two weeks. Not knowing if he was neutered we decided to keep him inside the garage during that spring. While inside the garage he rediscovered his energy and found a cat toy my wife had purchased. One part-scratching pad, one part ball in a circle. He would bat that ball around inside the circle and go crazy. Once I discovered he was playful we spent many an hour knocking the ball back forth between us. For me it was akin to playing catch with your son.

In the 2nd Clayton gave up a blast to Molina that landed in our bullpen giving me a great glimpse of it as it soared toward us landing horizontal from where I sat. Then he got serious setting down Sandoval and Aurilla on strikeouts. Rowand meekly popped out.  Cain struggled again but was able to use  Manny as his escape hatch this time.  After two innings one pitcher was struggling while the other seemed to be cruising but they had both thrown near the same amount of pitches.  I took a look around the stadium and being a Wednesday Night crowd noticed quite a few seats empty behind home plate on my level. As good as Clayton looked I wanted a closer look so I left my seats to find a better place to watch Clayton. Very quickly I established myself in about the 10th row, behind home plate at the loge level.

Once we found out that Snowy was already neutered after much discussion we let him become an outdoor cat with the garage as his home. My wife was much against this but we agreed this was my cat and since he had been an outdoor cat it wasn’t fair to keep him inside any longer. So we gave him his freedom and hoped he come back.  He headed outside with joy in his heart and once again took up the reign of King of Victory blvd. He roamed for blocks and was well known around the neighborhood as the “big white cat”. For the next year or so he came and went, as he wanted. Working from home during those years we’d play all the time. Then we had to give him a companion who decided that we also were destined to be his caretakers. He lived across the street but got tired of crossing Victory to eat the food we put out for a different stray. So one day he just decided to stay on our side of the street and never went back but that is a cat story for another day. By this point we had our two dogs Molokai & Scarlet, plus Petey and Snowy sharing the garage. It was working out well for everyone.

In the 3rd inning Clayton just blew away Uribe and Cain before getting Winn to fly out. I had been getting worried about his pitch count but this was an easy inning and I started thinking he’d be able to go at least five. Loney ended our turn in the 3rd with a double play and we went to the fourth still knotted at one.

Over time we tried to bring Snowy into the house to see how it would go over with the other cats. Not so well so we kept him in the garage. Occasionally I’d sleep in the garage to keep them company. One such night I heard Molokai moaning with pain, it was about 04:00 in the morning. He looked awful so I called the emergency vet line and they said to bring him in. By the time I got back to the garage he’d already died. We never knew what happened but whatever it was it caused him great pain before he died.  Our gang in the garage was now down to three.

As the top of the fourth started, Clayton had already struck out six batters. This game was getting very interesting. Renteria would have none of the K fest and flied out. Fred Lewis on the other hand could do nothing with Clayton and quickly became his 7th victim. Up stepped Molina who had launched the home run in the 2nd. Clayton remembered and blew fastball after fastball by him until he used Uncle Charlie to get him for his 8th victim. By this point I was into this game. I mean into this game. I started texting friends with his KKKKKKKKershaw totals.  It was time for the Dodgers to make some hay of their own and after  Matt Kemp led off the fourth with a fly ball Casey Blake taking his all or nothing approach whacked a nasty line drive to left center that carried into the seat for his 3rd home run of the season. He’s only had six hits for the season and ½ of them have been home runs. Clayton now had his lead as he headed out for the fifth inning still averaging two strikeouts per inning.

Only once during his time with us did he disappear for long enough for me to be worried but one night during a particularly nasty windstorm he disappeared. After one day I wasn’t very worried that had happened before but when it became several days I searched the shelters and put out flyers. When it became two weeks I figured he was gone and sat down and cried a little. We had become quite close. Then the phone call rang asking if we had cat named Snowy. I figured the next words were going to be could you pick up his body, but this time it was good news. Snowy had been found in their tree way up and they had gone up and gotten him. Turns out they were right on the corner behind us a block over. I ran over and picked him and carried him home. These new owners saved Snowy for me that day, but it would be a different story several years later.

The fifth was a different kettle of fish for Clayton. Sandoval flied out to Manny but he walked Aurilla. Rowand stepped up and after a little battle lined a shot to centerfield, Kemp charged and made a sparkling catch just  before the ball touched down. From that point it was an easy throw to Loney for the double play as Aurilla had assumed it was a hit from the get go. Never underestimate the speed of a Bison Mr. Aurilla.  Once Loney caught the ball from Kemp I sat back and started imagining that story I was going to write about this game. This was a baseball game. After five innings Clayton still had eight strikeouts but more importantly that had been a fast inning and a 7th inning for Clayton was starting to look probable. Cain got Hudson and Manny rather easily but then ran into the buzz saw of Andre Ethier. The count was 3 –1 when Ethier fouled off eight straight pitches before taking strike three. He may have struck out but damn he put on a show.  A joy was building in my chest that only those who watch baseball can understand. This was a baseball game.

The garage time for Snowy was probably his best time. He had no set hours and could come and go as he pleased. He had many great attributes but one of his best was that he had discerning taste. My wife has multiple bird feeders in the back yard and the fear with outdoor cats was that they would eat the birds. The other outdoor cat Petey had no interest in other animals at all. He wouldn’t’ chase anything, he was content with playing, sleeping, and eating whatever food we provided. Snowy on the other did catch a bird or two. Whenever I’d catch him with a bird I’d take it away, save it if I could and if not make sure he didn’t get to eat it. Very quickly he learned that we didn’t lean kindly to him being a birder. However we did want him to get the rats that inhabited our area and in that area he was awesome. Seemed every night he gets one of those pesky little buggers. We almost didn’t need to feed him he was so adept at catching rats. The lone dog that remained was Scarlet and she went to pieces after her companion, Molokai had died. She was already in bad physical trouble and being a Chow was not expected to live long past 10 years.

As Kershaw took the mound he had eight k’s but also had Uribe/Cain coming up. He’d made short work of them in the 3rd and sure enough he made short work of them in the sixth. By the time his sixth inning was done he had double-digit strikeouts. This was when I missed Eric the most. It was killing me to know when was the last time two Dodger pitchers under the age of 25 had hit double digits in strikeouts in back to back games. Cain for his part had also settled down and got the Dodgers in order. We were headed to the 7th in a 2 – 1 game with history being made. Little did I know how much history was about to be made. .  Did I mention I was loving this game?

With Scarlet in physical trouble we decided to bring the gang of three into the house. Also because a new group of kittens had been born under our house. Somehow in a stroke of luck I was able to capture the two kittens, the mother, and the mother’s mother all in one night with one simple live animal trap one at a time. They were all females and they needed to be fixed to stop the cycle of kittens. We got em fixed but since they needed two weeks to heal they had to hold up in the garage. The gang of three was moved into the house which now meant Snowy would have to keep regular hours. I had gotten to attached to him to now let a Coyote get him and we have plenty of Coyotes in our area. One of them had gotten a stray called Cinders that we had kept for a short while. We found only the half of his body with a collar attached. Petey must have seen it happen, as he’s never gone into the front yard since. Ever. For a cat that can go wherever he wants, that is a bit unusual. Scarlett did die not more then a year after Molokai had died. It was expected, they had been inseperable since we had first rescued the both of them about a month a part many years ago. The gang was down to two.

What can you say about the seventh inning? What he’d done is six was already remarkable, not only for a 21 year old but for any major league pitcher. He’d already pitched a game that I’d estimate that over 90% of the pitchers in baseball history had never topped. Then he went and turned a great game into history by striking out the side.  Some good old Dodger fans got up and left so now I moved to the 2nd row. The 2, 3, and 4 hitters were no match. He just simply blew them away. The crowd had been kind of apathetic up to this point. After Renteria went down a few of us were standing. Once Lewis went down, more got up. By the time he started to work on Molina the crowd finally woke up to the fact they were looking at history, at greatness. Boom, 13 k’s in seven innings for a 21-year-old kid. Silverwidow had predicted a break out season for Clayton. On this night he was dead right. Affeldt came in and proceeded to shut us down in a hurry. Brendan had done a little column the other day on the hardest throwing lefties in baseball and in that inning I saw both of them.

Snowy decided to play games with me after the move into the house. He’d sleep in the house at night but not with out a fight. He hangs around the backyard and if we didn’t snag him before dusk he’d disappear. After a while he taught me the routine. Sometime between 10-12 and not always the first time, I’d take a walk around the block calling his name. Rarely did I find him, but sometimes I did. However almost always, he’d be in the front or back yard waiting for me as I finished my rounds. Then I’d scoop him up and bring him inside. For some this may seem like drudgery, for me it was something I looked forward to. It was a good time for me.

Before the eighth started I left my seat behind the backstop knowing Clayton was not going to come out for the eight. By the time I got around to the left field side of the loge closer to my original seats Kuo was already out of the game. I was as shocked as everyone when Belisario came running in out of the bullpen. I changed seats again so I could check him out but I stayed near the top. Boom, 94, Boom, 95. Oh my I said to myself he does throw some nasty heat. For some inexplicable reason, they then threw a slider and Rowand said thank you and good night as he launched the gimme slider into the left field pavilion. Did my heart sink. No, not on this night because even if they lost I’d already been treated to a dream game. After an out the next batter got on with a squib single. What would Belisario do I wondered, would he cave in and turn this into a huge inning or would he bounce back? Bounce back indeed, with a K and then a simple ground out. The game was still close. I decided to move back to the front row.

The midnight calls for Snowy were done; he was getting older and was now trained to come in before dark. I never had to go looking for him. Other problems became bigger problems. The owners on the corner that had saved Snowy had rescued a cat called Mr. Misty and Mr. Misty had decided this block was his. Mr. Misty was a young large lean tomcat but Snowy was not about to give up his title easily and they did epic battles. For a while it looked like a standoff but one day he got a hold of Snowy and left a claw right above the right eye. It got infected and it was nip and tuck but he lived. It was also the fight where he gave up the title of King of Victory. From that point on he stayed mostly in our backyard. He would still fight with Mr. Misty because he’d come in to our yard but no more injuries were forthcoming.  Some of you may ask why didn’t you just make him an indoor cat. I thought about it, but being outdoors during the day was where he wanted to be. It was enough that he couldn’t hunt at night anymore. Some cat owners don’t get this and I understand but it was a price I was willing to pay and he was my cat.

When Bochy lifted Affeldt after one batter in the eighth I knew we were going to come back. Affeldt scared me, no one else did and they weren’t going to use Wilson in the 8th even though they should have. It was a sweet line drive to left field by Ethier against a very tough LH that knocked Affeldt out of the game. Martin then whistled a shot down the line in left and we had 2nd/3rd no outs and Loney up. Even one of his patented ground balls to 2nd would at least score one run and move the other runner to 3rd. He didn’t give me the ground ball but his fly ball to right did the trick just as well. So with Kemp up and Martin at 3rd representing the tying run I was confident we’d tie the game. Kemp did get me worried but then shot a single up the middle and we had a tie game. Have I mentioned how much I was loving this game?

For about seven years I’d worked out of my house. Two ½ years ago I’d had to go back to an office job. For the next two ½ years I’d come from work and head to the backyard, call out Snowy and he come up to me and we’d go inside the house for the night. On weekends he’d hang out wherever I was gardening. He’d give me a look with those luminous eyes that said trust. With all my friends having moved away over the last ten years, Snowy had turned into a replacement. Sitting in our outdoor swing, him on my lap purring away, watching the backyard life, that was good enough for me.

Broxton came out for the ninth in a tie game. That was the right call, you have to hold the other team if you want to win the game. Broxton was hitting 99 on the Dodger gun and honestly it looked like a mismatch. It didn’t even seem fair to the Giants. Kershaw/Kuo/Belisario/Broxton. Has any team ever had to face so much heat? Martin hand must have been pummeled with those fastballs, none less then 91 all night long.

The bottom of the ninth was anti-climatic for me. I knew we going to end the game in the ninth when I saw Howry take the mound. Bochy left his best pitcher in the bullpen to start the inning. It was a fatal mistake and by the time Loney had walked to end the game this game had far exceeded any game I had ever seen at Dodger Stadium. At 50 years old I had just watched the best game of my life.

 I went home on a high, and when I got there I told Verdell inning by inning what had transpired and why it was the best game I’d seen. She told me Snowy was already on the bed waiting. He never does that; usually I have to scoop him up. In fact he rarely slept on the bed. It had only been in the last few weeks that he had started doing it. He’d had a cold several weeks ago and I took him to the vet twice. No fever so no antibiotics. Last week my wife took our other eight cats into the vet during her spring break. They are all 15 years or older and all of their time is short. Snowy was the youngest, we figured around 12-13. She told me he had been sluggish for the last few days and that I should take him in. I checked him for all sorts of wounds or pains and he didn’t have any but she was right, he was moving very slow. I should have taken him to the vet once she mentioned it. I didn’t. So last night I got into bed and he quickly snuggled up with me and stayed there most of the night. Early in the morning he moved to the foot of the bed. Around 06:15 I heard him sneeze four times and decided that cold must still be with him and I’d take him to the vet that morning. I got up to get the medicine for him and came back to the bed to give it to him. He was dead, his body still warm he must have just died. The King of Victory was no more. Cancer took one of my closest human friends a month ago, now something else took the best animal friend I'd ever had. We buried him last night in the backyard in an area he used to sleep. We normally cremate out pets but we have buried two. Digging the hole brings some strange relief, talking over him with your wife and remembering him brings some relief. Writing about him brings even more.  Today not having him home to pick up and yell "sloopy" and swing him around and feel his purr of joy that I'm home will be tough. Those who have connected with their pets will understand this story, those who haven't won't.

 

 

 

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