I’m a native New Yorker. A sports junkie. I grew up worshipping the New York Yankees of the 50s and 60s. The Bronx Bombers. Mickey Mantle. Whitey Ford. World Series champs year after year. We took their winning for granted. Came to expect it. When the Yankees didn’t win, it was an aberration.
Sure, ok, we were spoiled and conceited, and we knew the rest of the country hated us and our team, but we just… didn’t care. By the time Derek Jeter starting winning championships, I was already a fading fan. And now, with “The Cap”‘s 2014 retirement, I hardly recognize the Yanks. Who are those bums?
I live in LA now. I have for 32 years. Right near Dodger Stadium in Echo Park. I don’t venture into the Stadium very often to see games, but I drive by it every day on my way to work at USC, curving along Stadium Way to the 110 south, through beautiful Elysian Park, one of LA’s most under-used treasures.
I’m torn though… following the box scores in the sports pages every day, of both the Yankees and the Dodgers. How could I still root for both teams? I don’t know, but somehow I do it. Root for them both. Childhood attachments are strong, and I guess you can take the boy out of New Yawk, but you can’t take New Yawk out of the man.
Then I went to a game in Dodger Stadium last year. August 1, 2013. It was Mariano’s Rivera’s final appearance in front of Dodger fans, and they gave the great but modest pitcher his due, a high-spirited pre-game ceremony and send off with Magic Johnson, Donnie Baseball, and the works.
But when Rivera came in to relieve late in the game, something remarkable happened. Not in the game, or to Rivera, but… to me. Somewhere around the end the 9th inning and another of Mighty Mo’s immaculate performances, I suddenly discovered that… I was no longer rooting for the Yankees, but rather for the former “Brooklyn Bums”, who hightailed it out of Ebbets Field in Flatbush in the mid 50s. I was rooting for Puig, the sensational Cuban rookie, along with Gonzales and Ramirez, the injured Matt Kemp, temporarily “cheerleader in charge”, and the invincible Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball. I was shocked with the recognition that I was no longer a Yankee fan. I was a Dodger fan. Not actually a “traitor”, but a hard-earned “convert”.
And so it was. I had become a LA sports fan. Not only of the Dodgers, with the biggest payroll in sports, but of course, of the Celtic-beating Lakers, the aspiring Clippers, and on my home turf, the USC football team, home of Pete Carroll, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and even the tarnished Reggie Bush. National college champions. Heisman Trophy winners. It felt just like being an old Yankee fan. Arrogance and all.
But yesterday, October 4, 2014, I think it all finally caught up with me. And… more importantly, with the City of Los Angeles, to boot. You know the crime of hubris, right? Excessive pride? Lack of humility? Downright arrogance? In Greek times, mortals were guilty of it. And the Gods punished them with shame, defeat, and humiliation. In modern times, it is often thought of as the pride that comes right before the fall. You might say Hitler suffered from hubris… claiming a race of German supermen, yet losing the 2nd World War, and ending up in a Berlin bunker committing suicide. Or even George W. Bush, posing under a controversial “Mission Accomplished” banner strung from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, anchored off the San Diego shore in 2003, proclaiming victory in Iraq over a decade before the quagmire still drags on. His punishment? The fall of the American Empire? Who knows? Only history will judge.
But back to sports and October 4, 2014. It was supposed to be a great day for the City of Los Angeles. Another step towards LA’s first ever “Freeway Series” between the Dodgers and baseball’s Angels of Anaheim. The LA Times’ Bills (Plaschke and Dwyre) were writing about it. All of us were buzzing about it. Dodger Stadium was overflowing with 54,000 plus, Angels Stadium with 40,000 and more. Yet just two days before, it had already begun. The sports Gods’ punishment of LA for its hubris. Not only had the Angels lost the opener of their playoff series to the upstart Kansas City Royals in extra innings, but the inconceivable had happened in Chavez Ravine: the shell-shocking shellacking of two (soon, three)-time Cy young winner, Clayton Kershaw, at the hands of the tough-minded and persistent St. Louis Cardinals.
It had to be an act of God to knock Kershaw out of the game in the 7th inning after giving up four consecutive singles with a 6-2 lead, and once again bending to the indomitable will of Matt Carpenter, who cleared the bases with a tremendous double with bases loaded to give the Cardinals a 7-6 lead. It was like a slow, painful death by water torture. One mistake, one drip, one punishing hit, at a time. We all hung our heads in shame as our super hero, the invincible Kershaw, took the long, slow walk to the dugout, his own head hanging in defeat and unforgettable disgrace.
The punishment continued on Friday, the 3rd, when the Angles lost their 2nd extra inning game to the Royals in the 11th inning. This from the winning-est team in baseball, home of Mike Trout, the new face of baseball, and Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols. Yep, they lost. Snazzily. And a few days later…. it was a sweep… for the Royals. The Angels are once again playoff history, consigned to another winter of dreaming about “what could have been”.
Which brings us back to yesterday, October 4th, where Zack Grienke, the Dodgers “other” Cy Young winner, now their number 2 pitcher, is rolling along, mowing down the Cardinals through seven scoreless innings. The Dodgers are up 2-0, Adrian Gonzales delivering yet another hard scrabble RBI. When all of a sudden, out of the sweltering California blue, the meddling Gods show up again. In the 8th inning. Along with the tough-minded Mr. Carpenter, who again smacks a gigantic 2 run home run off the ineffective and shaggy JP Howell. Nooo!
Not again. C’mon! What did we Angelenos do to warrant such brutality and punishment? What about our long-awaited Freeway Series, Zeus? Give us a break. We repent. We’re sorry we disseminate mind-numbing and titillating Spidermen and Titanic blockbusters all over the planet. We’re sorry we create and produce and distribute sex and drugs and rock and roll and Sodom and Gomorrah all over the world. We’re sorry. We repent.
It’s the bottom of the 8th. Matt Kemp leads off, facing the Cardinal’s top set up reliever, Pat Neshak.. It’s a 2-1 count. Long-suffering Kemp, once considered one of the top two players in the National League, but having had his body abandon him to injury and recovery these last two years, waits for the pitch. Neshak delivers. And in that moment, I think the Gods smile on Kemp. They have empathy for him. Perhaps he’s suffered long enough. He swings. Connects and crushes the ball over the fence. Home run. He rounds the bases and… roars.
The Dodgers take the lead 3-2. It’s a miracle. It’s… redemption. It’s… relief. You can feel everyone in the Stadium, everyone in the entire City, sigh a huge breath of relief…. amidst the ecstatic cheers for Kemp, who roars around the bases with testosterone and triumph… into a dugout full of swarming teammates… and bubbles. Only in LA!
Kenley Jensen, LA’s terrific closer, holds on to the lead, the Dodgers win the game and tie the series, 1-1. It’s not over until it’s over.
The the two arch rivals do battle again in St. Louis on Monday…. when, after Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches a whale of a game, the Cardinals clobber some unknown Dodger reliever name Scott Elbert and win the game, taking the lead 2 games to one. Finally, just a day later, the Mighty Kershaw loses again. Just as incredulously, and just as dramatically. Perhaps even more painfully. Again getting shellacked in the 7th inning, after breezing through the first six. Only the Baseball Gods could have written such a script. Shame. Punishment. Hubris.
The Dodgers lose the series 3-1 and join the Angels in their early winter retirements. The City of LA is crushed, demoralized, and left with the bitter taste of defeat, as its two “Mighty Caseys have struck out.”
Meanwhile, the college football Gods weren’t any kinder to #16 USC or #8 UCLA on the 4th of October. With the second, third, fourth, and sixth teams of the country’s Top 10 getting beat earlier in the week and day, we proud and hungry NFL-less football fans were ready to mark the ascension of both universities to the ranks of the AP’s Top 10. But… it was not to be. The over-hyped Bruins got eked out by the Utah Utes 30-28 on a late game field goal, and the hubris-bearing Trojans, with their six billion dollar fundraising campaign, the largest in the history of academia, got beat 38-34 on a game-ending Hail Mary pass by the Arizona Sun Devil’s underdog and backup quarterback, Mike Bercovici.
You know the sports Gods were chuckling to themselves. Maybe even gloating. Hasta la vista, sports-loving Angelenos.
“There’s always next year,” as sports fans around the world like to say.
“Maybe,” I mutter to myself, “after a little lesson in… humility.”
As a one-time Yankee fan, I know what I’m tawking about…….
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