So I’m already breaking the holiday cease-fire, but I’ve been struck by inspiration, in the form of a 20-year-old t-shirt. Oh, and booze. Plenty of that, too. (Caution: may contain actual feelings and little sarcasm. Proceed at own risk.)
This, friends, is what awaited me, hung on the back of a closet door, as I visited the parents for the holidays. This is the actual t-shirt that changed my life in 1987 or so. For you see, unlike many of you I am not a native Left Coaster, and I did not grow up with any sort of Dodger family tradition, as I imagine so many of you have.
No, I grew up in New Jersey in the 80s, and when I became aware of baseball, the Yankees were completely and totally unwatchable, Don Mattingly aside. Think Ed Whitson, Alvaro Espinoza, and Mike Pagliarulo, and you’ll know what I mean. The Mets? Well, the Mets were good, but I just had no connection with them.
So there I was, a baseball fan, with no team. But when I was 6 years old, I was able to sign up for tee-ball. And as luck would have it, I was assigned to the “Dodgers” – by which I mean, my royal blue screen-printed shirt just happened to say “Dodgers” on it. (Sidenote: what’s with all the kids leagues now having legit, MLB-replica uniforms? At 26, I shouldn’t sound like a grumpy old man just yet. But still. Back in my day, we had screen-printed t-shirts, mesh caps, and that’s how we liked it! P.S., stay off my lawn.) In my second year, once again – a Dodger.
Of course, my second year just so happened to be 1988. Which, as you may remember, was a relatively decent year for the Dodgers, as far as seasons go. Being a 7 year old, wearing the same shirt as the team that just won it all – and really, not knowing any better, for in retrospect I suppose I was just being what I despise the most (a frontrunner) – I was hooked. Somehow I ended up with an Orel Hershiser poster on my wall, and that was that. I vividly remember the next year, 1989, reading the sports page on the living room floor and running up to my dad being all excited that the Dodgers had moved up from 5th to 4th place near the end of the year. At which point I imagine my dad laughed at me, because, well, I know I would have. I also avidly remember collecting Dodger baseball cards – sure, there were the Hershisers, Scioscias (pre-illness), and Hatchers, but I mainly remember the Jeff Hamiltons, Mike Davises, Tracy Woodsons, and Brian Traxlers. (Geez, did that 89-90 group suck.)
Finally, three years later, the Dodgers called up another kid from the East, also named Mike, who also had a last name which started with a P and ended with “is Italian”, and was all but unwanted at first until he had to force his way onto teams (hey, I know that feeling! ow, my pride!). For an 11-year-old, that’s pretty much the pinnacle of life. And there you go. Dodger fan for good.
So there you have it – not that you asked for it. It’s amazing to me that something that means so much to me (mostly likely, far too much) was brought about largely by a blue t-shirt that could have just as easily read Cubs, Mets, or Braves. Or, god help us all, a black one reading Giants.
Just think – I could be writing Kirt Manwaring’s Tragic Illness right now. The horror… the horror.
We now return to our regularly scheduled holiday hangover.