Why do people become fans of a certain team? For myself, at first glance, it was totally due to location. I grew up in Los Angeles and thus became a fan of the Dodgers, Lakers and Rams. But my path to being a Dodger fan wasn’t something that happened right away.
I do believe the first time I learned anything about baseball, it was from a book. It could have been a biography of the first five players inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Or a baseball children’s book by Matt Christopher that I checked out of my local library.
All of that reading made me a baseball fan before I went to my first game at Dodger Stadium in summer of 1972. By then, I am sure I was listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett on the radio and maybe seeing a game or two on TV.
I knew the Dodgers were originally from Brooklyn. That Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947. I read about Sandy Koufax, a great pitcher who retired before I would ever see him pitch.
The Dodgers were not the first professional team to get my daily attention; that would have been the Los Angeles Lakers. I went to my first Laker game in October 1971. The Lakers lost to the Golden State Warriors. They wouldn’t lose again for 33 straight games.
It was also Elgin Baylor’s last game but I don’t remember much about that. The streak captured national attention and I remember getting a team picture that was pinned to my bulletin board for years after the streak ended.
In 1973, the Dodgers would start an infield that would be together through the 1981 season. Those infielders, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and Bill Russell, along with outfielders Jimmy Wynn, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, and Rick Monday formed a core group that would become the first Dodger team I followed.
Their rivalry with the Cincinnati Reds was intense; the Reds had Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. The Reds won two World Series while the Dodgers lost three World Series in the 1970s.
That last World Series loss in 1978 was perhaps my most disappointing moment as a Dodger fan. First off, the Dodgers were supposed to be playing the Boston Red Sox. I wanted to see Garvey, Cey and Baker hit at Fenway Park.
Bobby Welch striking out Reggie Jackson could have gone down as a signature moment in a World Series title. Instead, Jackson would homer off Welch in the Yankees’ series clinching win.
By 1981, I knew that the group of players I had watched for many years were going to be breaking up. But with the help of players like Fernando Valenzuela and Pedro Guerrero, that group finally beat the Yankees and I saw them win a World Series. It put a ribbon on my memories and I am now able to think back fondly of all those win and losses.
That is why I hope the 2018 Dodgers can win four more games to put a bow on their fans’ memories of this group of players.
This current run by the Dodgers is already historic; their six-consecutive Division titles are only behind those dynastic runs by the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves. With back-to-back National League Pennants, they match the 2008-2009 Philadelphia Phillies and 1995-1996 Atlanta Braves as the only NL teams to do this in the Wild-Card era.
Three players have been members of all six division-winning teams, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Yasiel Puig. Kershaw is the franchise leader in postseason games started with 22 starts. Jansen has 36 appearances and is the franchise leader in postseason games pitched.
Puig leads the franchise with 53 games postseason games played. He is in the Dodgers top five in postseason runs and hits. More than that, his teammates for now appear to appreciate what he does on the field and how his joy for the game gives them energy.
It wasn’t surprising that all three of them played a role in winning Game 7 on Saturday and they along with their teammates will have to perform well again to defeat a very good Red Sox team.
By now, I have gotten to the point where I appreciate the journey of each baseball season and wins and losses stay with me less long than they did in 1978. The journey the 2018 Dodgers took was often like running up a sand dune, struggling to get a foothold and trying not to lose too much ground.
It took nearly the entire season to get to the top of the dune but now they have gotten where they wanted to be right after the last out in 2017. They are back in the World Series with the knowledge that one more slip down the dune would have ended this opportunity.
Somewhere out there, a Dodger fan has made these players his or her team; it was the one that captured their imagination and will always be one that they look back on most warmly.
For those fans, and for the ones who have been around for many years before then, I hope the 2018 Dodgers will be the team this year to win the World Series. I know, I’ll be watching.