For over two months now, I have been dealing with something of an addiction. For that long, my team, the Dodgers, have been on the kind of streak that is usually reserved for badly contrived baseball novels. Starting on June 22, at which point the team was a dreadful 12 games under .500, the Dodgers have been winning almost eighty percent of their games. This historic run is now 10 weeks long, having lasting over 60 games, which is more than a third of a full season. Some of the games have been routs, and more than a few have been thrilling come-from-behind wins, but a lot of them have been well-pitched games with just enough offense to prevail.
The streak has vaulted the team to first place in its division and now has it vying for the best record in baseball, which would then give it the home-field advantage in the playoffs (but not the World Series, since the winner of the annual All-Star Game—the American League this year—decides that issue).
Now, about that addiction I mentioned. It’s to the Dodgers. I can’t get enough of them. Of course, I’m watching all of the games (courtesy of the MLB package that I subscribe to), but that’s just the start of it. I’m also reading all the print stuff I can find on them (and there’s a lot, since in addition to winning, they have an exciting rookie named Yasiel Puig, a refugee from Cuba who finally escaped from the island on his fourth try, and another rookie named Hyun-Jin Ryo, a sensation from Korea, where he won all kinds of pitching awards before joining the Dodgers this year, and Clayton Kershaw, who is generally regarded as the best pitcher in the game right now). And I have my satellite radio tuned to all the sports talk stations and all the blogs that cover the team bookmarked on my computer.
In short, I am consumed by this ball team that I’ve been a fan of for most of my life, which, when you’re as old as I am, is a long time.
As addictions go, this being the only one I’ve ever experienced first-hand, it isn’t a bad one to have. I mean, I am still functioning at my day job, have pretty much been in a permanent good mood (which, when your nickname is “Grumpy Ed,” is something of an accomplishment in and of itself), and no one seems to mind that all of my casual conversations these days are singularly focused on my team’s exploits. (Or, if they do, they are polite enough to let me go on until I run out of breath.)
But, honestly, I need a treatment program. I mean, there are other things in life, aren’t there? How did I get locked into the fortunes of a bunch of grown men who play a boys’ game and make millions of bucks while they’re doing it? How does anyone fall prey to an addiction?
It started with an innocent childhood experience. It was 1955, I was all of nine years old, and the team I had been rooting for since I was five finally beat the hated Yankees and won the World Series. The “high” I experienced from that victory was unlike anything I had ever known, especially since my younger brother, a devoted Yankee fan, had been gloating constantly about how the Dodgers were only the second best team in baseball since they couldn’t beat the Yankees.
The years that immediately followed were painful. First the Dodgers lost yet another World Series to the Yankees in 1956; then they had a down year in ’57, which ended with the announcement that they were leaving Brooklyn and moving all the way across the country to Los Angeles.
What was a young fan to do? My hometown heroes were suddenly going to be so far away. I wouldn’t even be able to follow them in the morning newspapers, since their games would be ending well after the final edition was printed. At best I might get a score of the game on the morning sports reports on TV.
It was kind of like being in forced withdrawal. But I followed my team as best I could and got rewarded in ’59 when they went back to the Series and won it again, this time beating the White Sox. The years that followed featured the great Sandy Koufax teams (more highs), the great Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey teams (more highs) and the great Valenzuela-Hershiser teams (more highs).
Then came the dreaded down years of Fox and the McCourts, which seemed to last an eternity and were punctuated by five more World Series wins by the Yankees and even two by the arch-rival Giants.
So I was an addict in need of a fix when the new owners (led by Magic Johnson) bought the team last year. At first things didn’t seem all that different. The team was still lousy, mediocre at best. And this season started with more of the same, standing in last place in their division with a 30-42 record on June 21.
And then they started winning – a lot. By the All-Star game in mid-July, they had won 17 of 22 games to reach the .500 mark. But that was just the start. Following the all-star break, they went 10 and 2 to finish July and then started August by winning 15 of 16. On August 18, they had moved from 9 and a half games out of first place to 8 and a half games in front, and old-timers were comparing them to the 1914 Boston Braves who won 70 of 89 games to charge to the pennant.
My addiction is a disease; I frankly admit it. And I know I am bound to suffer severe withdrawal, either when the Dodgers are bumped out of the playoffs (again breaking my heart) or when the last pitch has been thrown in late October and baseball gives way to those other sports.
But for now, I’m hooked. Oh, and did I mention Vin Scully?