The Beating Blue Heart of Los Angeles
I remember the moment I fell in love with baseball. Picture this: Dodger Stadium. Top Deck. The grass on the field bright as an emerald, the dirt still a rich caramel from its pre-game wet down. Both are dotted with brilliant white uniforms. The sky is a blazing, cloudless, true Blue Heaven.
I stand at a drink rail next to my friend, mesmerized by the glory of the view. Then! The crack of a bat! The visiting team hits a hard fly ball to right. The crowd hushes, slightly breathless. The stranger on the other side of me goes still, his beer paused halfway to his mouth. An outfielder I only know by name from Vin Scully broadcasts nabs it on the warning track and the crowed cheers. The man next to me says “Alright!” and drinks his drink.
It’s nothing, really. A routine fly ball in early innings. Something that happens every game at least a handful of times. But somehow, that’s what does it. Next to me, my friend smiles. She knows exactly how I feel.
I don’t remember who the Dodgers faced that day. Don’t remember what plays happened or who won. I just remember that feeling. Like I’d come home somehow, like I was meant to live and die on every pitch, like there was an entire world welcoming me in.
Suddenly, the Dodger hats across the city seemed to jump out at me. If I saw someone wearing a Dodger cap while waiting in line at the bank, at the grocery, at the bar, I knew I had something to talk about with them. And I usually did. We talked Kiké and Kersh and Kemp and later Beaty and Verdugo and Smith. Sometimes we didn’t speak the same languages, but we always spoke baseball.
At Dodger Stadium, I saw my city on display. 56,000 Angelenos from every walk of life, from celebrities to the folks in the cheap seats like me. We celebrated, we jeered, we breathed as one. We became a part of something so much larger than ourselves.
If baseball is a religion, surely Dodger Stadium is one of its grandest cathedrals.
I think often about that first sight from the Top Deck – the colors, the sounds. The feeling. I’d been to other baseball parks, seen other major league games. I liked listening to games on the radio and especially liked Vin Scully.
I’d always liked baseball, but I didn’t truly love it until that moment.
Dodger Stadium in COVID Times
Much later, on November 1st, 2020, I stood in that same exact spot in Dodger Stadium, this time wearing a mask across my face. Six days prior, the Dodgers won the World Series, yet here in Chavez Ravine, you could hardly tell. The bases were gone, the batter’s box covered with a rough-looking tarp, and the cardboard cutouts were sagging and rather sad.
Yet when I turned around to look at that Top Deck plaza, I saw dozens of voting stations, election workers, and voters all buzzing around, with more waiting to come in outside. Many of them wore Dodger masks, blue LA caps, t-shits with World Champions already emblazoned on them. A nervous energy ran through the crowd. This election meant something to each and every one of them.
It’s hard to describe what I felt that day myself. Faith that change would come. Fear that it wouldn’t. Excitement to be in the stadium. Pride in the team, in the players. Disappointment for the entire season to have passed us fans by. Worry about my struggling business. Hope for my new future working in baseball. And under it all, a twisting fear of getting sick. Of what this election could mean for my already suffering country.
I remember how empty the parking lot was and cracking jokes with my roommate about how at least they weren’t charging $20 a car to get in. As we drove away, worried about election news and what might be ahead for our country, I found myself oddly comforted by the site of the scoreboards and palm trees. Whatever may come, baseball still happens. And the Dodgers were World Series Champions.
Another Side of Chavez Ravine
Almost a month later, I was back, but under very different circumstances. Over half the people at my roommate’s workplace tested positive for COVID-19. A few of them fell extremely sick. My roommate was only going into the office twice a week and taking extreme care, but there was always a chance she could have picked it up despite all of her caution. If she did, there’s almost zero chance she didn’t pass it on to me and my now weakened immune system.
My world had become so small, so careful, and so insular. Except for my roommate, all of my social interactions were online. Yet still I was exposed.
So I signed up for a test and drove back to Dodger Stadium.
Head leaned against the driver’s window, I stared at the rippling roof from afar, remembering the last game I attended. 2019. Dodgers versus Rockies. Last game of the regular season. Ryu hit his home run and I either hugged or high-fived just about every person within reach out in the LFP. Now the most casual interaction on the part of a stranger might cost me tens of thousands of dollars in medical care, maybe even my life.
The stadium began to disappear behind the palm tree-dotted hill as I wound my way through the parking lot. I tried to keep my thoughts on the Dodgers. On the upcoming season, on whether or not Justin Turner would still be a Dodger. Would they extend Seager? Would they take the NL West title again or would the Padres unseat them? What was Chico up to these days?
I focused on the Dodgers, because if I thought about anything else, I felt like I’d lose it.
Looking back on that day, on the people I know who died or came close to death because of this virus, I don’t know if I was overreacting or not. What I am clear on is how oddly reassuring it was to be at Dodger Stadium. To see the occasional Dodger sticker or license plate on other cars, a Dodgers cap on someone directing traffic through the site. These small reminders of baseball felt like talismans against panic.
“Go Dodgers!” said the woman who handed me my testing kit, gesturing to my hat. “We get a lotta fans here,” she said, her eyes smiling at me from above her mask. It was a thin moment of connection, but one that reminded me of better times. Of what might be waiting for us all on the other side.
The test came back negative.
The Beats Change Tempo
March 24th, 2021. I’m back in the parking lot, weaving my way though another labyrinth of cones, this time in almost full view of Dodger Stadium. From this angle, I can see the new renovations are done and somehow they look like they’ve been a part of it all along. As I weave closer and closer, I can’t help but feel a cautious but persistent hope.
I’m getting my first vaccination. And if all went well, within a month and a half, I’ll be back in Dodger Stadium. Yeah, I’ll miss the home Opening Day, and yeah, I’ll still have to be careful around other people, but it feels as if the end of the pandemic in sight.
I look at Dodger Stadium and think of the new friends I’ve made this year on Twitter. Of how a handful of complete strangers have carved out this small place in my heart without ever having seen each other face to face. I think about what it will mean to meet them for a beer, for a snack, for a handshake and a hug.
As I get closer to the injection line, my thoughts fade away from baseball to my family back in Tennessee. To my 92-year-old grandmother. To my nieces. To my mom and dad and sister. My cousins and their kids, including the new wee ones, all of whom have made it through, though not without some illnesses. But they are all alive and relatively healthy now. It’s more than I feel like I deserve. And I’d be seeing them soon.
I think of the LA friends who live mere blocks away whom I haven’t seen in over a year. Of the absence of laughter and the hugs and the sheer joy of togetherness. I think of making up for lost time, the missed birthdays and weddings and baby showers. I think of the giant parties we used to throw and the plans already in place for when we all have our vaccinations. And it’s all a little bit overwhelming.
When the nurse comes to give me my shot, she pauses, then asks me if I’m ok. My voice cracking when I say “yes” is my first indication that I’ve been silently crying. I smile at her to reassure her that I’m ok. I don’t think about how she can’t see it through my mask, but I can tell by her eyes that she’s smiling back underneath hers.
My vision goes blurry with tears when she hands me my vaccine card. I clutch it tightly for almost the entire waiting period before texting my mother the good news.
As I drive away from Dodger Stadium, weaving once more through cones and passing Elysian Park, I feel true, real hope for the first time in a long time.
The Heart of Los Angeles
If there was ever proof needed that Dodger Stadium was the beating blue heart of Los Angeles, this pandemic has given it. When she could’t open her gates to fans, she found other ways to help her city. I’m so thankful that on some of my best and worst days this past year, Dodger Stadium was there to see me through. But forgive me for saying that I never want to feel those emotions in Chavez Ravine ever again. Though I am grateful, that’s not what Dodger Stadium was built for.
It won’t be long before I’m back inside the stadium once more. After my second shot, I’ll be back. I’ll be in the Left Field Pavilion, yelling about noodle arms and Taco Tuesday. I’ll sit in Loge and watch a mother see her son on a major league field for the first time. And you know I’ll be in that new bullpen bar, staring at the visiting reliever as he warms up, glaring so hard that despite the mirrored glass there’s no way they won’t know and feel intimidated.
I can’t wait until the only terror I feel in Dodger Stadium is a Padres long ball heading towards the gap. A wild pitch skipping away with runners on. A full count once more fouled away. The only sadness is a blown lead, a bloop single that spoils a no-hitter, a dry spell at the plate for one of my favorite players.
I can’t wait for my nieces to visit, to show them the Top Deck, see if it catches them around the heart the way it did for me. To show them the new renovations and say things like “I remember when this was just a crappy bathroom and the concession stand here never had a line.”
But most of all, I can’t wait to hear Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” blasting around Dodger Stadium and to sing along with thousands of other Angelenos who feel the same way.