Oct 16, 2011
After inching closer in the top of the sixth the Pirates are on the verge of a lead before getting shut down by the Dodger bullpen. As starter Kuroda is hit for, I look around. Not as many fans are at this game as I've seen at previous tilts in previous seasons but I take note that when the billboards flash "MAKE SOME NOISE" the place really stars jumping. The fans out tonight are the passionate, do or die all-in fans. With the score 3-2, the Dodgers get some pop from an unlikely candidate. As a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth James Loney lofted a ball to right-center. It was going to be close--A fly out? A wall-ball double? Nope. The pearl descended and bounced squarely off the tip-top of the wall and five rows back into the right field seats. A carefully timed jump and a solid glove were all it took from there for die-hard Dodger Fan, Mike, to make a sparkling catch.
Over the thunderous cheering I interview Mike just a section and a half closer to center field than where Alex had been sitting. "Well, James Loney came up and hit a pinch hit home run off the top of the fence... and into my glove." I get the feeling that Mike is stunned by his good fortune and convenient positioning in the stands. He is wide-eyed and speaks with uncertainty... he is, as he later mentions, overwhelmed by the experience. When I get to the 'What did you feel when you caught it?' question Mike replies, "I was in shock, actually... yeah!" I inquire: "Did you think there would be a chance you could end up with a home run tonight?" "Sure, yeah" he states... but it must be this Whittier resident's lucky night because," I've only sat here... twice in the last five years." Wow! When asked if he considers himself a big Dodgers fan Mike tells me enthusiastically, "Yeah, totally! Yes!"
Mostly though, he watches the games on TV and roots on his Boys in Blue. Mike only goes to about "four or five" games each year. Tonight he's with four buddies. He reminds me, true fan that he is, "They're not mathematically out yet," referring to the slim shot the Dodgers have of securing a playoff spot after their great September run. Mike's a very positive person, he assures me... then he looks for the first time to see it's now 7-2 Dodgers. He's thrilled--it was a three-run homer! I watch Mike's face light up when he realizes the lead is that much. And has he ever gotten a ball before? "I did catch one once in batting practice... when I was about twelve years old. In this same section." "And since then?" I ask. "Not another one until tonight."
Amazing! The stadium and this team, it's clear, mean so much to fans like Alex and Mike, Rudy and Dan. Mike tells me, "I'm gonna show it off to everybody!" as he's holding out the ball. "I caught it with the same mitt." The same Mag Plus he's had since he first became a fan of the Boys in Blue--I told him, "I don't think they even make Mag any more!" He brings that glove to every game... just in case. And tonight it paid off in a huge way. "Heck yeah, this is the best game I ever went to!"
That 7-2 score holds up as the Pirates are unable to mount a charge against the hometown heroes. It's a glorious night in Dodgertown, a cool evening--but not yet jacket weather in L.A. Plenty of fans are thrilled that their boys will fend off playoff elimination for another day. For a select few, though, this night meant something so much more special than a win from their team--this night is one they'll remember forever, tell their kids about, and they'll have a souvenir unlike any other to treasure in their own special way. When that sphere finds its way into the stands, whether it's in fair or foul territory, the game itself comes into the hands of a fortunate fanatic at the stadium that night. A piece of the game is theirs to keep and theirs to show off to friends and loved ones. It's a lasting memory of the laughs they shared and the sights and sounds of the ballpark and that ball signifies that sometimes the game, quite literally, gives back to those who come out to support it.