Don was a huge baseball fan. He played as a kid. He played as an adult. During college, and when we lived in the Washington, DC area, he was a Baltimore Orioles fan. About 20 years ago, I gave him a Christmas gift – a “once in a lifetime” week at Orioles Fantasy Camp in Florida, where he and his friend JG would get to play 2 games a day against former pros. Little did I know that “once in a lifetime” would turn into them attending 9 years in a row! By that time, we had moved to Los Angeles, and he had already begun to transfer his loyalties to our local Boys in Blue.
We’ve had season tickets to Dodger Stadium for probably the past 18 years (I’ve lost track). But not just any season tickets. The last 8 – 9 years or so, Don purchased tickets in the Dugout Club, the premier seats in the stadium. From our seats right behind the Dodger on-deck circle, you could tell how many at-bats Matt Kemp had by counting the wads of discarded pink bubble gum behind home plate. You could feel the breeze from Andre Ethier’s practice swings. Right next to the owner’s box, we have seen countless kids, baseballs in hand, approach Tommy Lasorda for an autograph.
I’m (almost) as big a Dodger fan as Don was. (I once sent Nomar Garciaparra a new sweatband because, from my vantage point in our seats, his looked tattered and worn out.) I probably went with Don to 25 of our 40 games last season. Don often shared his games and his passion with his other favorite Dodger fans: Dave, Brian, Michael, and Ron.
The thought of baseball season without Don is unfathomable to me. Monday was Opening Day, and Kershaw not only hit his first career home run, but threw a shutout as well. Don would’ve smiled. I have decided not to purchase the same seats this year, but I’ve had friends offer me a few of their tickets to the Dugout Club this season. I thought I’d be ready to go by maybe the end of April. That seemed far enough away to feel comfortable.
However, our friend Bob called on Monday night with the kind offer of two tickets for Tuesday’s game against the Giants. I told him I’d let him know. I really wasn’t sure if I was ready to be at the stadium yet, to sit so close to where Don and I had shared so many summer evenings and Dodger Dogs. I called my friend Angela, an avid Dodger fan, and she was available to go. I decided to take the tickets, because then I wouldn’t really have time to think about it.
We arrived at the Dugout Club and were greeted by Rich the bartender with a hug and free drinks. (He and Betty were Don’s personal favorites.) We toasted Don with our gin and tonics. After eating salad, salmon, pasta, roasted turkey (yes, the food is a huge perk in the Dugout Club), and of course Dodger Dogs, we found our seats, sandwiched between Rob Reiner and one of the owners of the Giants.
It was a beautiful evening. We were amazed by the new hi-definition scoreboards. (Angela and I were even on Dodger Vision for a few seconds.) We chatted with the people around us, and ate cookies that looked like baseballs. During the Seventh Inning Stretch, we swayed and sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. It really was nice to be there where everything felt so familiar.
Our weekly trips to Dodger Stadium in the summer were such a big part of life for Don and me. We would wear our Dodger shirts when the air was warm; our Dodger jackets when the air was cool; and sit under our Dodger blankets when the evenings turned cold. We’d watch people trickle into the owner’s box. We’d share a bag of peanuts. We would talk about which player was on a streak and who was in a slump.
During the past three summers when Don was going through either chemo, radiation, or both, Dodger Stadium truly became one of the places where he felt happiest. For a few hours he could forget about everything else. The discomfort and pain would subside for a bit, or at least that’s what he’d tell me.
I’d like to be able to say that it’s a happy place for me. I’m hoping it will be. Right now it’s bittersweet to be there. But I know it would make him happy that I’m still going; that I’m still cheering on our Boys in Blue.