This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.
Circumstances conspire to form our major league baseball alliances. Perhaps we live near a team and going to games forms an unbreakable bond with the franchise. Maybe our rooting interests were handed down, family member to family member, a continuous line of Cubs or Reds or Orioles fans.
My circumstance was my mother handing me a pack of baseball cards.
She had just returned from the grocery store. It was 1974 and it was the first time I had ever seen or even heard of baseball cards. It was a cello pack, which contained around 35 cards back in the mid-1970s. Don’t ask me how I remember this, but the first card I pulled from that pack featured someone on the brink of a career-threatening injury. They thought he’d never pitch again.
I didn’t know any of that as an 8-year-old. I just knew that I liked this Tommy John fellow, standing there on this piece of cardboard, with a glove held up in front of his chest, his mouth half-open as if he wanted to tell me something. Instantly, I pledged allegiance to the team featured on that card, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers were my team from that moment, even though I lived 3,000 miles from where they played their games. It was a tenuous relationship, which could have withered and died, if not for circumstance.
A few years later, during the first year that I actively watched baseball on TV — my interest in cards had blossomed into a full-fledged love for baseball — the Dodgers made the World Series. My Dodgers. The guys I collected on bubble gum cards.
I lived in Upstate New York, Yankees country. Almost all of my classmates were Yankees fans. They were relentless. I could never hold onto Yankees cards because everyone around me always wanted to trade for them. Gradually, I grew tired of their hounding, their superior attitude as they bragged about how good their teams’ players were. And now my Dodgers were playing their Yankees.
My Dodgers lost. Something about Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in Game 6. The following year, my Dodgers played their Yankees again in the World Series. Something about Reggie Jackson sticking out his hip. I was deflated. Two years in a row of my team losing to the team everyone around me thought was so superior.
I resented them. But the experience strengthened my resolve. Circumstance saw to it that I remained a Dodgers fan.
In 1981, the Dodgers obtained their revenge, beating the Yankees in six games, just as L.A. had been beaten in six in ‘77 and ‘78. I saw that my team COULD beat their team in the ultimate series. I went to school the next day and announced to the Yankees lovers in the hallway, “How about those Dodgers?”
In 1986, I picked up a book called “The Boys Of Summer.” I was in college, a journalism student. Roger Kahn’s famed memories of the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers appealed to me as a fan and a future writer. But I didn’t know how fascinated I would become with my team, thanks to that book.
Kahn’s very human stories of the very human Dodgers, and what became of them, sealed my allegiance forever. I was proud of the stories my team had to tell. Jackie, Pee Wee and the Duke. Campy, Billy Cox and Joe Black. The Dodgers’ history is as rich as any team in professional sports. I wanted to follow a team like that.
Circumstance — an interest in stories and the human condition — drew me tighter to this team. Forever to this team.
Today, I appreciate every moment of my Dodgers’ history. My favorites — Kirk Gibson in the ‘88 World Series, of course — are both large and small. Ron Cey’s crazy RBI April in 1977. Reading about Fernandomania from afar on the floor of my dining room in 1981. Shawn Green’s four home runs against the Brewers in 2002. I could go on for pages. And the characters–so many. Tommy Lasorda. Mickey Hatcher, Nick Punto.
The Dodgers, in my lifetime, have experienced highs (the epic 4+1 home run comeback game against the Padres) and lows (which franchise gave up both Hank Aaron’s and Barry Bonds’ record-breaking home runs?) . They illustrate the humanity of baseball as well as any team. Bob Welch’s and Steve Howe’s battles with substance abuse. Brett Butler’s battle with cancer.
Living so far from my team, I have watched them play in person only once (Eric Gagne’s blown save in his hometown of Montreal in 2002). But thanks to my third-shift job and night owl habits, I can keep careful track of my favorite team from a distance, far better than when there was just a newspaper and a Saturday Game Of The Week.
I am a victim of circumstance. A faithful fan following his team from the other side of the country, spurred on by a single baseball card and some well-placed moments in time.
And to think my mother — not a baseball fan in the least — started it all by handing me a pack of cards in 1974.
Gregory Gay is a editor and sportswriter for a newspaper in Upstate New York. He operates the popular baseball card blog “Night Owl Cards,” under his blog alias “night owl.” His twitter handle is: @nightowlcards.
This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.