It’s Time for Dodger Baseball

04-11-2016, Dodger Stadium, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Gil Cedillo attend Vin Scully Avenue Dedication.  1000 Elysian Park Avenue is now 1000 Vin Scully Avenue.

L-R: Vin Scully, Sandra Hunt, Mayor Eric Garcetti
Eric Garcetti/Creative Commons
04-11-2016, Dodger Stadium, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Gil Cedillo attend Vin Scully Avenue Dedication. 1000 Elysian Park Avenue is now 1000 Vin Scully Avenue. L-R: Vin Scully, Sandra Hunt, Mayor Eric Garcetti

 

Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.

That voice rang through my childhood home for all of my 18 years there. My dad would be in the kitchen cooking. My mom would be reading a book. My brother would be out with friends or making music. I would be running around doing something stupid. And that golden voice would be the fifth presence in the Kizu household. We didn’t usually sit down at the dinner table to eat together. The act slowly dissipated as my brother and I got older, but it would always be OK because, oftentimes, we would instead go to sit with that fifth, welcomed presence.

I expect the same to be true for hundreds of thousands of households across Los Angeles and probably for thousands who had to move away. All in their own way and under their own significance and meaning, they would welcome that fourth voice, that fifth presence, that sixth being. Through transistor radios under pillows in Brooklyn to box televisions in the living rooms of Los Angeles to car radios on the packed freeways of La La Land to flat-screen televisions in just about every room of the City of Angels, his voice has been the team’s identity, the sport’s identity and the city’s identity. But even in that grand scope, he’s been an individual we all could call a friend.

He could encapsulate everything that made the sport the best in the nation, that made it America’s pastime. But he could also be our source of calm reassurance during some of the world’s darker days. He could represent the 8-year-old kid in all of us who lived for those backyard catches with Dad. But he could also be the shining light of an entire city. For many, including myself, he’s been the greatest storyteller of the past three generations.

His voice is a comforting crisp, warming our chilliest evenings and cooling our dripping afternoons. He speaks in effortless rhythmic poetics, creating often soft but sometimes soaring symphonies to the beat of the bat. He is the master of improv, and his brain is a library of the smallest, strangest and most esoteric of facts about not only the game but life itself. At once, he’s both a voice in the clouds above the mountains overlooking Chavez Ravine and a voice in the seat right next to us as we eat our Dodger Dogs or in the chair across the living room as the family comes together. His 67-year career has brought us more than 9,000 stories of team versus team with double or triple that number of smaller, eclectic stories tracking the intricacies of every human being involved in an out, inning, game and season. He’s the grandest of storytellers, on perhaps one of the grandest of stages, but reverberating on the most personal of levels. This made him family to Los Angeles. This made him family to me.

I didn’t have too regular of a grandparent-presence throughout much of my life. When I got to the age when memory would actually stick, I had one grandparent. Grandpa was there, but he lived in Minnesota. Whenever my family visited, I would always feel a singular warmth in his presence, whether through listening to his stories, watching him dance and sing with his children or sitting with him and others to watch a Twins game. He had a passion for baseball unmatched in the family. But I only saw him for one week a year. I cherished that tradition of a week, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing during the other 51.Scully3_Floatjon_cc

It was that voice that filled them. Whereas some kids visited their grandpa’s house on weekends, sitting and listening to stories from him with the Dodgers game in the background, I visited the television, sitting and listening to stories from the very voice of those Dodgers games. He didn’t replace Grandpa, but he filled in when needed for the past 20 years. He told me stories I would’ve never believed.

I remember a game in 2006 against the Padres. It was in the heart of my years of loving baseball. We were down 9-5 in the bottom of the ninth. I whispered to my brother, “They’re going back-to-back-to-back-to-back.” A fool’s wish, a requirement of nonsensical thinking when you’re down by that much that late.

Jeff Kent, my favorite player at the time, was up first. After taking a ball, Kent whacked a middle-low fastball, and that voice sounded out: “And a drive to center, going back is Cameron, to the track, at the wall and gone!”

J.D. Drew stepped up: “And another drive to deep right center, and that is gone! Woah, was that hit!”

Russell Martin dug into the batter’s box: “A drive to left center by Martin. That ball is carrying into the seats! Three straight home runs!”

Marlon Anderson geared up: “And another drive into high right center. At the wall, running and watching it go out! Believe it or not! Four consecutive home runs, and the Dodgers have tied it up again.” We went into extra innings.

Typical of the Dodgers over the past 20 years, they looked poised to blow it after letting in a run in the top of the 10th. A historic feat fizzling.

The bottom of the 10th came and we got a runner on. The next batter? Newly acquired shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Four pitches of velcroing and unvelcroing his batting gloves led to the moment I’ll never forget, to a moment that wouldn’t have been the same without that voice: “And a high fly ball to left field. It is a-way out and gone! The Dodgers win it 11-10.” He chuckles. “Unbelievable.”

He told me so many other unthinkable stories of the game, stories that could only come from this game. From Alex Cora’s 18-pitch battle that resulted in a home run in 2004 to the first of what will probably be a few no-hitters from Clayton Kershaw a decade later, he showed me the magic of the game, why this game is unlike any other.

And he’s been doing that for fans for 67 years. When he first came on in 1950, he continued to guide the game through a historic turn with Jackie Robinson and those brave successors. In 1965, he went silent after Sandy Koufax finished his perfect game, allowing the crowd’s roar to speak for itself. In 1990, as the Cardinals’ Pedro Guerrero grounded into a double play to give Fernando Valenzuela his no hitter, he exclaimed, “If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky!”

Two years prior, he spoke the words that no one will ever forget. In game one of the 1988 World Series against the Athletics, the Dodgers found themselves down 4-3. With a runner at first and two outs, Tommy Lasorda called on Kirk Gibson to pinch hit. Gibson was plagued by terrible knees, something that would make him not quite the same in his remaining seven years. Hobbling to a full count, Gibson stepped in against Dennis Eckersley and a moment later: “High fly ball into right field, she is gone!” As Gibson limped around the bases pumping his fist twice, that voice went quiet. Everything was quiet. Gibson stepped on home plate to win the Dodgers the game, and the rest of the team avoided a normal walk-off celebration, opting to gingerly congratulate the 31-year-old veteran with the glorious mustache.

Just over a full minute of silence before his most famous words: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” No one has and no one ever will come up with words quite like he did, tell stories quite like he did.
Clocks turned to 2016, and I had fallen out of love with baseball. I would see if we made it to the playoffs and would inevitably be unsurprised that the Cardinals knocked us out. Outside of that, I wasn’t too involved and hadn’t been for about three years. I tested my hand with the Lakers only to stop caring once Kobe Bryant got injured. I ventured into soccer but was more enamored with the video game than the actual sport. I played Fantasy Football to fit in but stopped checking my roster after a couple weeks. Sports began to fade from my life as movies took over. I was writing scripts in my free time and film reviews for this very newspaper. I was visiting the theater tens and tens of times a year.

And then summer hit. Halfway done with college and beginning my first internship. Hold on. Wasn’t I just in high school a little bit ago? Didn’t I just become a teenager or have my first girlfriend? Wasn’t it yesterday when I was playing Pokémon and believing in Santa Claus? Time smacked me across the face. I was losing to it.

My summer days were eight hours at the office and then seven hours at home. For the first time, I felt the exhaustion of adult life. I was stripped of my youth. So I had an instinctual, very human reaction and fought Time in anyway I could. I got a little help.

My brother, working his first full-time job, had gotten back into the Dodgers before I returned for summer. Without enough energy to do anything after getting home from work, I fell into the routine of watching the games. Sure enough, that voice yanked that love for the game out of the black hole I thought I left it in. In a blink, I was watching nightly. I returned for more stories.

Grandpa passed away July 22 of this year. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a big hit. Too beautiful a consciousness gone from this world. I struggled seeing my mom struggle. My emotions were swept up in trying to be her rock, sitting with her as she looked through pictures, hugging her tight when she felt overwhelmed by her own emotions. Alongside my dad and brother, my mom is the most important person to me, so I needed to make sure she was as OK as could be. But without realizing, I wasn’t grieving.Scully_Craig Y Fujii _cc

Then, on Sept. 24, I suddenly realized that I was going to lose my other grandpa. Watching his goodbye speech from Sept. 23, I lost it as he opened with, “Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.” I sat in my chair and cried. I cried for 20 years of being invited to night after night of baseball magic by that very phrase. I cried for the countless times I fell asleep to his voice with the TV on. I cried for those many times that his soothing presence helped me escape bouts of terrible anxiety. I cried for the 51 weeks of every year that he stood in as my grandpa. I cried for two grandpas.

The Dodgers had a record 28 players on the disabled list this year. I remember proclaiming that the season was a wash. We were a few games back, but with Kershaw out for months, we couldn’t make a run. It was too improbable.

Fast forward past one of the best records since the All-Star break, past games upon games of 5-plus run comebacks, past the developing season of a sure-fire Rookie of the Year in Corey Seager and past one of the best bullpens in baseball, and we come to Sept. 25, seven games ahead of the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

I watched anxiously that day as the Dodgers fought the Rockies. After scoring 14 runs the night before, we struggled to get just two, leaving runner after runner in scoring position. It seemed like, in his last call of a Dodgers home game, we would blow it. Our reliable closer came on with the game tied, getting two outs before giving up a homerun. Were we really going to blow it?

The bottom of the ninth. One went down. A good battle before the second went down. One out left to save us from ourselves. That rookie stepped up. A few pitches pass and: “A high drive into deep right field, Seager has done it again!” Game tied 3-3. Another story developing from and for that voice.

We breezed through them in the top of the 10th. Coming to our half, the Giants came to their last at bats down in San Diego. The magic number was at one, so either a Dodgers win or a Giants loss would clinch us another playoff berth. That voice started to call both games simultaneously, preparing to celebrate once San Francisco lost.

But our game wasn’t done yet. Two outs flew by and Charlie Culberson stepped to the plate. A man we never would have met had it not been for the more than two dozen players who went down this year. An improbable find. 0-1 count and then: “Swung on, a high fly ball to deep left field, the Dodger bench empties. Would you believe a home run? And the Dodgers have clinched the division and will celebrate on schedule.” We weren’t supposed to be here. We weren’t supposed to make it back to the playoffs again. It was too improbable.

But as that voice has come to know and tell us over 67 years, the Dodgers can pull off the impossible. The Dodgers celebrated their walk-off before all turning to him and tipping their caps. He took a stadium microphone and asked the crowd to listen along to an old recording of him singing Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” for his wife. In that moment, a team came together, a game came together, a city came together and every single person whom he impacted in one way or another — probably millions and millions across nearly seven decades both still with us and gone — all smiled ear to ear. A big family saying goodbye.

A week later, he traveled to San Francisco and called his last game. Of course, we lost. The score was 7-1, but it wasn’t a sad loss. Eighty years earlier to the exact date, an 8-year-old Vin Scully walked by a Chinese laundromat and in the window was a line score for game two of the 1936 World Series. The Giants were losing to the Yankees 18-4. Scully reacted to the smashing, thinking to himself, “Oh the poor Giants!” That was the moment when he fell in love with baseball, and that was the moment when, believe it or not, he became a Giants fan. That’s right. Before the Dodgers, he was a Giants fan. So ending his broadcasting career by losing to the team that brought him to this game, well, is a bit romantic, isn’t it?

In the top of the ninth as the Dodgers went down, he quoted Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” My heart melted. He signed off with: “I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.” I started crying again because that was it. That was the end. I felt devastated, but he was happy. He was at peace. All ends are made better with peace. So I couldn’t help but smile. And if he didn’t make me cry enough, he left us with this message:

“You know, friends, so many people have wished me congratulations on a 67-year career in baseball, and they’ve wished me a wonderful retirement with my family. And now, all I can do is tell you what I wish for you. May God give you for every storm, a rainbow. For every tear, a smile. For every care, a promise. And a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share. For every sigh, a sweet song. And an answer for each prayer. You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me. And I’ll miss our time together, more than I can say. But you know what? There will be a new day and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball. So this is Vin Scully wishing you a very pleasant good afternoon wherever you may be.”

Let me tell you this Vin. You’ve done it for millions, but each and every single relationship you created by just talking to us about the game of baseball reaches beyond this world, including for me. For 67 years, you’ve defeated Time, living as an 8-year-old enamored with the roars of the crowd. And for 67 years, you’ve helped all us all do the impossible — defeat Time — and, even if just for a moment, live as 8-year-olds ourselves, enamored with the sound of your voice. Thank you Vin, wherever you may be.

Contact Kyle Kizu at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.