Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Binoculars and Adventures in the Left Field Pavilion
The memories of the event have faded. Was it 73 or 74? Did it happen on the first pitch of the game? Was Don Sutton on the mound or was it Doug Rau? As the years go by, the story gets bigger, the facts are murkier. The laughs louder. Here is what I remember.
I was in Junior High School. My brother, Taylor, was probably entering his senior year of high school. We spent three summers attending probably 20 Dodger games in the Left Field Pavilion. We’d leave in the early afternoon and he’d drive the beat up VW bug that had was probably the ugliest car in town. Sometimes we’d cram several of his High School friends (Craig, Kevin, Brent) in that car and I’d sit in the far back compartment of the bug, since I was probably 4 inches shy of being 5 feet tall and as limber as a slinky unwrapped on a Christmas morning. Claustrophobia was not an issue for me.
Sometimes our fellow Strat-O-Matic buddy, Mike Smith, would come along too. (Mike later obtained fame as a star prep football,basketball and volleyball star at our alma mater, Hacienda Hts., Los Altos High. He also starred at BYU, 1st Team all American for three years, and 13th overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft by the hated Celtics. He now announces for the Clippers). That in itself is another story to be told at another date. I just need to reach out to him for his permission.
Taylor would park that VW at the softball field next to the Police Academy that has since been paved over for additional Dodger Stadium parking. I remember sometimes he’d park up the hill, depending on whether we needed to push start the VW. We’d walk to the ticket booth and purchase Pavilion seats for dirt cheap. I seem to remember that a child’s ticket cost $1.75.
We’d first scan the Pavilion for batting practice home run balls and could find them if we were quick enough to be the first to arrive. Pavilion seating was festival seating back then. First come first served. I look at YouTube videos of regulars that attend games there now and its sad to see people chained to assigned seats, but I guess it was only a matter of time before that happened. And come to think of it, back then, the popular games that would sell out would require you to sit at an assigned seat.
So on this particular day, we brought some binoculars that my dad had purchased. Now these binoculars were really cool for the early 70’s. They had a zoom lever to the right, and you could get a real close up on the action at the plate, even from the Left Field Pavilion. The problem was that once the ball was hit, it was almost impossible to track it. That fact was going to prove costly on this particular day, August 27, 1974. Yes, thanks to the miracle of baseball-reference.com, I found the box score. It wasn’t difficult. (Link: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN197408270.shtml )
So here are the true facts. Doug Rau was on the mound. It wasn’t the first pitch or first batter of the game. Don Kessinger batted first and he singled. Jose Cardenal, with the massive 'fro, was batting second in the lineup. My brother and I had settled gown and were watching the action with binocs. Cardenal really lays into a pitch. I mean it was belted. I drop the binoculars and try to track the flight of the ball. “Hey, there it is, its coming our way,” I thought. I grabbed my mitt. Got it about half way on. Reached out for it to my left. It hits the tip of my webbing, glances off and someone else snags it. “Man! Are you kidding me! I had that thing!” Kevin, one our VW riding buddies said to me, “How did you miss it, it was right at you?”
So we watched the remaining 54 outs in misery. How do you enjoy a game after that? I remember the Dodgers rallying and scoring a ton of runs, (final score was LA 12, Chicago 5), and thinking about the how I had dropped my possible once in a lifetime chance. I simply couldn’t allow my 13 year old mind to enjoy that game.
I have since had a chance at redemption, it only took 27 years. I caught a foul ball on the loge level in 2001. Barehanded in fact. And I snagged a foul ball at Vero Beach Spring Training game in 1998 or 1999, but I didn’t catch that one. I picked it up on the aisle and it was, after all, an exhibition game. But never have I had another chance to catch a home run.
There’s a guy that currently sits in the Left Field Pavilion that I really respect. He films himself catching batting practice home runs and then he posts them on YouTube. His YouTube moniker is Dodgerfilms. He actually filmed himself catching an live homer hit by Andrew McCutchen last season, and he was featured on ESPN. It’s quite amazing that he could track the flight of the ball, fiim it and catch it. That takes skill and a lot of practice.
So anyway, that's my sad story., and you'd think that would be the end of it. Well, think again. Let's fast forward to August, 2000. I receive a birthday package in the mail from my brother, Inside was what appears to be a game used signed baseball. There's a note from Taylor that reads, "Try not to drop this one."
I didn't. I can tell you this, I have NEVER taken a set of binoculars to a game since.