Christmas is but two days away. My sister and her fiancé will start their drive in from Las Vegas this evening and my husband and I will be celebrating with my side of the family tomorrow night. This time of year always beings so many great memories bubbling to the surface – holidays past, time spent with family, childhood fun. Between starting this blog, enjoying all of your blogs and pumping or shaking my fist over the various offseason rumors, baseball is very much on my brain right now and playing an even larger role in those memories than usual. And for me childhood baseball memories mean memories of the Dodgers…
In 1988 my sister got to be the Dodger’s honorary bat girl for a day. To be honest, I actually liked this a lot better than if I was the bat girl myself – I got to tag along and meet everyone with her, but I didn’t have to stand near the plate on the field in front of everyone and have my face on the Jumbotron. I would be okay with it now, but at that age I was painfully shy. This was a very special day and the Dodgers organization were wonderful hosts. In those days, they picked a bat boy and bat girl for every game but you wouldn’t have known it from the amount of individual attention they lavished on my sister, of course, but also on the whole family.
Our guide took us to meet then manager Tommy Lasorda who was warm and friendly and cracked jokes about the players. He asked if there was any player we would specifically like to meet and we both really wanted to meet Orel Hershiser. But that was not to be. Lasorda explained that Hershiser was pitching that game and he really didn’t like to be bothered with anything outside of the game once he got to the field. I remember we were disappointed but also understood. Who wants to bother their favorite pitcher if it might keep him from pitching at his best? Our second choice was Mike Scioscia, another family favorite. My sister and I both have a huge soft spot for catchers. She was a softball catcher. For me it’s more of an admiration for players who both play and manage on the field, combining athletic skills with the strategy side of baseball. Scioscia was an absolute sweetheart. He signed baseballs for both of us, chatted with everyone and even had my sister show him her eight year old’s catcher’s crouch when he found out what position she played. He was a really great guy and I remember thinking that he must have daughters because he knew just how to talk to us not down to us.
After that a young assistant, who I think was a ball boy, who had been standing with Lasorda came back up to us and handed my sister a baseball obviously newly signed by Orel Hershiser. Wow! He had gone to the bullpen to get it for her. In my youth, I was appreciative but the enormity of this gesture didn’t occur to me – this kid, who probably wasn’t that much older than me, had to disturb the Bulldog before a game to get the autographed baseball. I truly appreciate it now. I wonder what he said to him? Did he just hand him the baseball and hope he would sign it? Did he make a joke about demanding fans? Or did he tell him there were two little girls who knew all the Dodgers by name, number and stats, who thought he was just fantastic (my sister even wore his number 55 in softball) and would treasure a signed ball? Whatever he said, it worked and meant a lot to us. Players who are inclined to do such things must do them all the time and probably don’t remember each individual good deed, but I will always remember that and think extra fondly of both Hershiser and the ball boy, wherever he is. This weekend I will have to ask my sister if she remembers this…and if she still has the ball.
Later we got to tour the press box. At the time my sister wanted to be a female Vin Scully when she grew up and I wanted to be a news reporter so it was neat to see all the audio equipment and watch some of the reporters prep for the game. Vin Scully himself was there, but he was well into his game prep and, understandably, could not be disturbed. Still he looked up from his work to smile and wave at us as we toured the booth which was awfully nice. Instead, we met another one of the Dodgers broadcasters. I looked up, and up, and up some more and there was Don Drysdale with a friendly smile, extending his huge hand to envelope first my sister’s and then mine in a welcoming handshake. He would have dwarfed me at my adult height, and I am a tall woman. As a little girl, he seemed like a friendly giant…well he was in his civilian attitude. I know from history that batters who faced him probably would not have described him as friendly on the mound. Don Drysdale would consider an intentional walk a waste of three pitches. If he wants to put you on base, he can hit you with one pitch. I adore this quote, usually attributed to Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon. It’s quintessential baseball in the great “bad” old days. Drysdale was also a lot better at answering a bunch of questions from excited little girls than his reputation might have led you to expect. I actually shed a few tears years later when he died, remembering how kind and hospitable he was.
We had excellent seats that night in the field boxes and I remember enjoying the game but cannot for the life of me recollect any additional details about it. Getting to go behind the scenes and meet some of our favorite players and the people who worked with them, however? Those details I will remember forever.