While the rest of L.A. is hustling through the workday, we lucky few find ourselves at Dodger Stadium on a gorgeous sunny day to watch the “Boys in Blue” do battle with the Arizona Diamondbacks to defend their fragile lead in the National League West.
I'm sufficiently pleased, waiting patiently in line for the complimentary Dodger dogs offered reporters, when I hear that old sweet voice, like a gentle spring breeze. The voice that is everywhere synonymous with Dodger baseball.
I presume it's coming from some television or radio nearby, and yet it sounds so clear … I turn my head, and there, in all his dapper glory, stands the man himself, Hall of Famer Vin Scully, sporting his trademark festive-colored sports coat, red hair parted with neat perfection and gracious smile beaming.
“How ya doin', fellas!” he waves at a trio of reporters who seem to blush as he passes. “Buenos dias, amigo,” he says to another. “We got ourselves another cliffhanger today,” he exclaims with uncontained relish.
The excitement in the air is palpable. It happens to be Disney School day, or something like that. At least 14 schools from around L.A. are represented in the stands.
Little troupes of excited youngsters bounce around, all shouts of joyful anticipation. Not such a bad way to pass the school day!
Some of them have started chanting old standard Dodger cheers even before the game has begun! “Let's go Dodgers, da, da, da, da, da (repeat indefinitely).” Their enthusiasm persisted the whole game demonstrated by such chants and several valiant, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempts to coordinate a “wave,” beginning from the left field bleachers.
Back in the press box, I begin to recognize faces that in my youth were very important. Is that Ron Cey, “the penguin” himself, still sporting the clean-cut mustache? And the tall, grey-haired gentleman, could that be former All-Star Jerry Reuss? It is! And there goes Fernando Valenzuela.
Like high school alumni who just can't stay away, the old boys are in attendance, coolly and a casually making the rounds. “Nancy” the Dodger organist of 25 years nimbly thumbs out the dainty rhythms of old show tunes. “Something for the kids,” she explains.
It's a veritable Dodger heaven in the press box as we settle into our seats overlooking the freshly checkerboard-cut green field, the rolling hills of sandy chaparral in the background. It's time to watch our beloved Dodgers.
They did not disappoint. Gentle giant Mark Hendrickson (all 6' 9” of him) took the mound a brilliant six scoreless innings with the nonchalance that another man might tie his shoe with, giving up a mere three hits and striking out seven. The performance dropped his earned run average to an astonishing 1.30.
Arizona starter Doug Davis was in top form himself, putting in a solid seven innings and only allowing one unearned run after centerfielder Chris Young dropped a routine fly ball hit by Rafael Furcal. Dodger Juan Pierre was quick to capitalize on the error with a flare single to right, which brought in speedy Furcal.
For the Dodgers, it was an afternoon of solid defense, both on the mound and on the field. Three sparkling double plays and some fine catches by the outfield made for a stellar performance.
The second run, which came late in the eighth proved to be crucial. With two outs, a mini-Dodger rally culminated with Andre Ethier's run-scoring single, which proved to be the difference when reliever Takashi Saito allowed the Diamondbacks' only run in the ninth.
Attention was perked momentarily as we wondered if this might be the end of Saito's 14 consecutive game streak. Alas, Saito responded by fanning the last two batters, and thus securing the victory and series win by the same numbers, 2-1.
The most notable pleasant surprise of the afternoon was Hendrickson's solid performance on the mound. Speaking after the game with the same calm and poise he showed on the field, he explained it simply as, “sticking with what works.”
Centerfielder Pierre also stood out for his prosperity at the plate; the only player on either team to register more than one hit all afternoon.
In short, these 2007 Dodgers are looking sharp. It's enough to make any true blue fan giddy with excitement.
In the press box, I was forced to exercise a degree of self-control in my capacity as reporter, since it's the rule that press should not exhibit overt gestures of cheer, such as clapping or spontaneous cries of “COMEONBABY, HIT IT WHERE DA' SUN DON'T SHINE!!!” or some such statement.
I maintained near perfect composure, but for one moment when it was announced that ex-Dodger great Kirk Gibson was in uniform, albeit for the other team as a coach. The crowd erupted with applause, the memory of his homer still dear to heart.
I couldn't help but join in, to which I received several strange looks and one “There's no clapping.” Hey, I'm only human.
There's much to celebrate and look forward to this year. With the Dodgers playing as they are, Vinnie calling the games, Nancy on organ, the sweet southern California sun, Dodger Dogs and memories galore, you can bet there'll be plenty of clapping.