Monday, August 5, 2013

July 2- Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s very rare for me to break a promise. Sometimes I may be a little late in delivering, but I always do my best to keep the second party up to date and involved when my life takes an unusual turn to cause setbacks. In the case of visiting my friend Nick Hamilton (@NickHamiltonLA) in Los Angeles for a Dodgers game, I did everything I could to keep my word.

Nick and I met in February of 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona when we were both top-30 finalists for the MLB Fan Cave. He and I grew up abut two hours apart from one another as he was born and raised in the City of Angels and I lived most of my life in the armpit of California known as Bakersfield. One of the biggest things we had in common, outside of being huge baseball fans, was that we both went to college to perfect the art of journalism, a dream that he had started actively pursuing when he was 20-years-old and attending El Camino College in LA. I had moved to the Pacific Northwest when I was 17-years-old but still made my way south to Eugene, Oregon to enroll and attend classes at the University of Oregon where I picked up my two degrees in the field of journalism, a dream I had wanting to fulfill since I was 13. When I first met Nick he was all decked out in Dodgers gear which included a t-shirt and Premier jacket, while I had taken a more nerdish route in wearing a white dress shirt, black vest, tie and my Oakland Athletics home cap. My first words to Nick involved something to the tune of voicing my long-lived angst toward Kirk Gibson and his home run off of Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. He laughed and played along with it. It was definitely the perfect icebreaker.

In the two days that we were together we talked endlessly about the LA sports scene, as Nick can pretty much recite most major events that took place in the city, stretching back for decades. Since we were in separate groups our time spent chatting was relegated to the evenings and in between our cycles of activities. Nonetheless, it was awesome to meet someone I had a lot in common with and would have otherwise been close friends had we grown up together. When the Fan Cave interview process came to an end we made sure to get each others’ contact info and the one promise I made to him was that “no matter who moves on, I want to catch a Dodgers game with you.” It was a promise that he would make sure to hold me to my word.

Well, to make a long story short, I was chosen to go to New York and he wasn’t, a move I really didn’t understand then and still don’t to this day. While I realize that Nick is my friend, one thing that I will vouch until the end of time is that Nick is one of the finest journalists I have ever had the privilege of getting to know and seeing in action. If you get the chance during or after you read this post, please take the time to watch a few of his You Tube videos. The man is not only a fantastic interviewer, but he is relentless when it comes to getting a few moments with the cream of the crop including Robert Griffin III, Al Michaels, Brittney Griner and this collection from the 2012 Harold Pump Awards. Hell, I wish I could get the access that he has. It’s uncanny how hard he works at perfecting his craft, not letting anything get in his way. When I got the boot from the Fan Cave at the end of May, Nick was one of the first people I contacted. We didn’t so much as talk about what had happened in my final days, rather I told him to pick a date at the beginning of July and Dodgers tickets would be on me. Naturally, he was on board.

In the middle of June I started plotting out the West Coast leg of my Major League Baseball stadium road trip, making sure to kick things off in Seattle at Safeco Field with Tom Bentley (@RealTomBentley) as my Athletics were squaring off against his Mariners in a three-game series. When I got back to Portland I looked ahead at each team’s schedule as to figure out how I could maximize my trip with as many games as possible, not to mention be able to spend time with my friends, family and make it to Oakland by July 17th in order to throw out first pitch. As my luck would have it, the Dodgers were playing the New York Mets over the first weekend of July and the Arizona Diamondbacks were playing throughout the week around and on the Fourth of July, before the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres both played a home series right after. It was almost too perfect. When I gave Nick the heads up on when I would be headed down he chose the final game of the series (Sunday) as the Dodgers’ phenom pitcher Clayton Kershaw was taking the mound for the white and blue. I had no complaints with this.

Since I was going to be gone for almost three weeks I made sure to pack as much team gear as I needed to be able to represent the home teams for every stadium I attended. When it came to the Dodgers game that Nick and I were rolling to I couldn’t think of a better hat to wear than this one, the 1999 silver logo with silver bill alternate cap. Believe it or not, the Dodgers did in fact only wear this cap for a speckle of games for one season, which is a pretty bold step considering the fact that they’ve only worn a total of three caps (including this one) since they played their first game at Memorial Coliseum back in 1958. So, do to its rarity, and it being the first time I would wear it, it was a natural choice.

Because I’m apparently borderline psychotic, I made the trek to LA from Eugene the morning of the game. For those of you who don’t know, Eugene is roughly 14 hours away from LA, just as long as there isn’t any traffic. If you’ve ever been to LA, you’d know exactly how funny that statement is. The one thing working in my favor that night was that the game didn’t start until 5:00 PM Pacific due to the fact that it was the game being broadcast for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball (July 1). Even with that, I still made the decision to leave around 11:00 PM the night before. Contrary to what you might believe, it was actually one of the easier drives that I’ve pulled off whenever I make my long pilgrimages to California. Aside from packing nothing but a gallon of water, Clif Bars and a pack of smokes, I timed my drive perfectly so that I would hit the vast wasteland of dried up farmland that stretched from just south of the Bay Area all the way to Bakersfield at the hottest part of the day. One of my techniques for staying awake involves the temperature to top 100 degrees and I continue to drive without the window rolled down and the air conditioning off. Not only does it serve as an endurance test, it helps motivate me to stay on course and get to my destination before I burst into flames. Basically, you would hate to be riding shotgun at that moment.

Around 2 PM I pulled off of I-5 and onto 7th Standard Road to make a stop at my parents’ house to take a much needed shower before I made the final stretch to LA. With about 10 miles to go until I hung a right onto Coffee Road I received a flurry of text messages and tweets from my friends and followers from all over the country. What I had forgotten was that the first-ever All-Star Game Selection Show was taking place for the 2012 All-Star Game and apparently the commercial I’m featured in was aired during a break; kind of my last hurrah from my time at the Fan Cave. Due to the fact that I was driving I waited until the next day to respond to everyone who hit me up.

After a quick shower and wardrobe change I made the push for the last leg of my tour… which I miraculously survived without hitting a wall of traffic. I pulled up to Nick’s house, knocked on the door and was greeted with a friendly hug. Nick was in the middle of getting ready so he took me into his room and showed off all of his LA sports memorabilia he had been collecting since he was a kid. It was pretty much how I imagined it would be, Dodgers, Lakers and USC gear all over the place, mocking me with all of the championships those teams had collected throughout their history. I gave him some grief about the USC stuff, but only because I had to because of my Oregon and UCLA basketball fan ties. He had a pretty good laugh. After he geared up we jumped into my car and headed down Jefferson Street in an attempt to save time in making our way to Chavez Ravine.

On the way we ran into a bit of a skirmish, rather, I ran into a bit of a skirmish. I can’t remember which intersection it was but I had the right of way when a black gentleman decided to make a left-hand turn as I was coming upon the streetlight. Just as I hit the brakes the man in the car slowed down and yelled, “Yah! I know I fucked up!” before hitting his accelerator as I swerved a little bit to avoid a collision. I kept driving. Nick then leaned to me and said, “Yah, it was probably for the best that you kept going.” I laughed for a solid three blocks after he said that. As we continued down Jefferson we both noticed that traffic was starting to build, which was a bit odd for that area on a Sunday. As we got closer we both noticed the slew of limousines and the giant sign on the front of the Shrine Auditorium which read, “2012 BET Awards.” I pulled my traditional smirk face and made my way through the lines, not realizing that the BET Awards would make an appearance later in this story.

I took about 40 minutes in total to get there, on top of the ridiculous jam of cars we had to sift through just to be able to park at Dodger Stadium, but we made it with an hour to spare. Even though it was a nationally televised game neither of us had any clue that it was Japanese Heritage Night at the game. Basically this meant that the game was sold out on account of the Hello Kitty bobbleheads they were giving out at the gate. It was chaos. I hadn’t been to Dodger Stadium since 1998, which I cataloged in my post from June17th, and of all the things that had noticeably changed since my last visit was the abundance of armed guards waiting to pat everyone down as they entered the gates. It was interesting to say the least, but we got through… with our Hello Kitty bobbleheads in tow. We made a quick stop in the team store just at the edge of the left field bleachers before we made our way to our seats which sat just a few rows back on first base side.

The walk through the corridor to our seats was a “comforting” reminder of all the traffic that I had somehow missed on my way to, and driving around LA. For some reason it felt like everyone decided to be in one another’s way all at the same time. After braving the gauntlet of flesh, beer and shirseys we made it to our seats.
I hate beach balls at baseball games.

I have to say, they weren’t that bad. As the game got underway we went back-and-forth on everything that had happened on the season, including my time in the Fan Cave. I did my best to not come off as bitter about it, especially since he was in the running for the same job. So, we stuck to baseball primarily as it was a good happy-medium. Around the third inning the hunger started to build so we headed up to the concession stands at the top of our section. With all of our recently acquired gear under our arms we trekked upward to get our Dodger Dog on, which still blows my mind that you can get a 10-inch hot dog for $5, probably one of the best food-related values of any ballpark. On top of that, Dodger Stadium serves Coca-Cola, not Pepsi, which always constitutes that the largest possible serving of such product is mandatory as well. So needless to say, I was sitting pretty in the snack department. While we were in line a woman came up to me and asked if she could have my Hello Kitty bobblehead to give to her daughter. I was in an especially good mood so I didn’t really see any problem with this. Plus, I really had no use for it and didn’t really want to carry it around anymore. All I asked in return was that she take a photo of Nick and me while we waited for our turn to order.

With our bellies full of ballpark nourishment we kicked back and watched Kershaw deal to the hapless Mets. He went seven solid innings, only allowing one earned run while striking out nine (typical Kershaw). Somewhere around the sixth inning a random bit of news popped up on Nick’s Twitter timeline. I could sense in his face that it was something big. He replied with, “Chris Brown got arrested at the BET Awards for carrying a gun.” For those of you who don’t remember this or why it happened, it all stemmed from an altercation at a nightclub between his and rapper Drake’s entourage. Brown apparently felt the need to go “Plaxico Burress” in case he had another run-in with the kid from Toronto and his crew. Clearly the LAPD were on top of things a wee-bit faster than Brown. Aside from us having a good laugh about the incident, the news gave Nick a bit more material to discuss on his radio show “The Nick Hamilton Experience” the following day.

After the Dodgers finished trouncing the Mets to the tune of 8-3 Nick and I took a few pictures before heading back to the car, only to wait it out a bit until traffic cleared up. From then and on the drive home we talked about what the future held for both of us. I did and still continue to praise Nick for all that he has accomplished and know that he will be a household name in the not too distant future of sport journalism. We both share the same tenacity to make it in our respective fields and I know that one day it will all become a reality for the both us.

Up until this moment I hadn’t chosen any numbers to mark this cap up with as there really wasn’t much that had gone on during the 1999 season to really praise. However, there is one bit of confusion with the statistics for two players that I feel should be mentioned and given more praise than they received. Soooooooo…

#10- Gary Sheffield is arguably one of the greatest players in MLB history; however, steroid speculation over the last bit of his career has clouded much of his legacy. In my book though, ability and talent reign supreme.

Sheffield’s Major League potential was seen at a very early age (11) when he and other former Major Leaguers, including Derek Bell, were members of the Belmont Height Little League All-Stars team who made it to the final of the Little League World Series in 1979, only to lose in the final game to Taiwan by the score of 4-3. That year Sheffield set the all-time doubles record in the LLWS before it was finally broken in 2012.

Sheffield, the nephew of Dwight Gooden, tore it up through high school, batting .500 with 15 home runs in 62 at-bats in 1983, the year he won the Gatorade National Player of the Year award. In 1986 he was selected sixth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the draft and continued his mashing pace all the way through the minors. The first time I ever saw him play was in 1987 when I was four-years-old and he was with the Class-A Stockton Ports of the California League. That season he hit .277 with 17 home runs.

He made his MLB debut on September 3, 1988 and recorded his first Major League hit on September 9th, a home run off of Seattle Mariners pitcher Mark Langston. Sheffield’s time in Milwaukee came to a close right before the start of the 1992 season as he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Ricky Bones, Jose Valentin and Matt Mieske. That season he came two home runs and nine RBI shy of winning the National League Triple Crown while batting .330, becoming the only member of the Padres not named Tony Gwynn to win a batting title. Gwynn has eight of the nine. Sheffield finished in third place for the NL MVP and made his first All-Star Game appearance that season as well; however, the following season he was dealt to the 1993 expansion Florida Marlins along with Rich Rodriguez for Andres Berumen, Jose Martinez and a kid named Trevor Hoffman.

At first Sheffield didn’t want to play with the Marlins; however, after the ’93 season the team signed him to a four-year deal making him the highest-paid third baseman in the Majors… only to move him into the outfield midway through the 1994 season. During his time in Florida Sheffield hit 112 home runs, including 42 in 1996 and even won a World Series ring in 1997. But despite being a fan favorite and a two-time All-Star with the team, he was shipped out to the Dodgers right before the 1998 trade deadline along with Bobby Bonilla, Manuel Barrios, Jim Eisenreich and Charles Johnson for Todd Zeile and Mike Piazza because the Marlins “couldn’t afford” to give him a contract extension, plus the Dodgers then-owners, News Corp., were trying to secure a TV deal which involved getting rid of Piazza. In short, the business side of baseball is really f---ing stupid sometimes.

But alas, we’ve reached the point about this cap. In 3½ seasons with the Dodgers, he hit 129 home runs and drove in 367 runs. He made three All-Star games while playing with the Dodgers and had become one of the best outfielders in the game. Collectively his time in LA was the best of his career, and in 1999 he went .301/24/101, yet didn’t even cause a blip on the NL MVP radar. The following year he did when he went .325 with 43 home runs (most of his career in a season) and 109 RBI and finished ninth in the NL MVP vote. But even after a great run in LA the Dodgers shipped him off to the Atlanta Braves due to his constant bickering about the management. Sheffield lasted two seasons in Atlanta before signing as a free agent with the New York Yankees only to be traded to the Detroit Tigers after three years and then signed as a free agent by the Mets after a two-year stint in Detroit. Sheffield retired in 2011, finishing his career with a .292 average, 2689 hits, 509 home runs and 1976 RBI. He also hit the 250,000th regular season home run in MLN history on September 8, 2008 off of Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics. Not exactly a milestone I prefer to remember. He made nine All-Star games in total and won five Silver Slugger awards. His NL batting title in 1992 was the only one of his career in which he also won Comeback Player of the Year to boot. What exactly he came back from is a mystery to me.

#23- Eric Karros was drafted by the Dodgers in the 6th round of the 1988 Amateur Draft. He made his Major League debut as a pinch runner on September 1, 1991 against the Chicago Cubs. He made his first start, at first base, on September 4, 1991 against the St. Louis Cardinals, when he was 0-3 with two strikeouts. Karros recorded his first Major League hit as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Cincinnati Reds Ted Power on September 16, 1991. The hit was a two-RBI double to left field. In 14 appearances during the 1991 season, he only had the one hit in 14 at-bats.

In his first at-bat of the 1992 season, on April 9th against the Padres, Karros hit a two-run home run to deep left field off of Craig Lefferts for his first career home run. He became a full-time starter for the Dodgers that season, appearing in 149 games and hitting 20 home runs while driving in 88 runs. He was named the 1992 NL Rookie of the Year, the first of five straight that the Dodgers would win from 1992-1996. Karros put up consistent numbers throughout his career with the Dodgers, with a batting average just under .270 and an average of almost 25 home runs a year. 1999 was his best year with the Dodgers, a batting average of .304 with 34 home runs and 112 RBI. His 270 home runs as a Dodger remains the third most in Dodgers history.

Like Sheffield, Karros was hosed on any votes for the NL MVP that season despite the fact that both of them put up better numbers than most of the guys in the top-25. Apparently a 77-85 record that season under then first-year manager Davey Johnson would halt such accomplishments.

No comments:

Post a Comment