The 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers: Great, Good and a 40 Year Payoff

Today I celebrate my 49th birthday. I started watching baseball a couple of months shy of my 9th birthday, so that means that close to 40 YEARS of adventure, personal growth, and October heartbreak had to ensue until I could finally experience the dream of “my” baseball team winning the last game of the season, which the Los Angeles Dodgers accomplished on October 27, 2020.

Yes, that momentous occasion took place a full 5 weeks ago. Yes, I had planned on finishing up my first ever “We won the World Series!!” piece much sooner than this, but then I became stuck on how to properly express what this season, this team, and this World Series win truly means to me. I just couldn’t quite figure out it wouldn’t come together.

Then, a realization.

Baseball has been one of the loves of my life, and being a loyal Dodgers fan is literally part of the fabric that makes me me. But year after year since 1981, my baseball fandom has ultimately been defined by a touch of sadness – a longing – and a quiet doubt as to whether there really was something else not just good, but extraordinarily great, waiting around the corner. “Next year” became the annual sentiment, along with tears, and angst that I had become all too familiar with.

I simply didn’t know baseball, and as a result, life, without it.

As a writer, it had become easy, almost like second nature, to narrate stories centered around that angst, tales of just how as fans, the trials and tribulations in our personal lives can often mirror the ups and downs of a baseball season. Could it be that I had become comfortable in the familiarity of that angst? Now that the ultimate dream as a fan had finally happened, I didn’t quite recognize this unfamiliar feeling of being completely, deliriously ecstatic – for this great group of men, for my fellow fans… and for myself.

Related: “The Road to Titletown”

So, in that state of feeling completely out of place in pure happiness, I froze. I mean, I’ve enjoyed the World Series victory and highlights many times over, and have shared in the pure joy and elation of it all with other fans, but the story, this very piece you’re reading, remained but a jumble of words on my iPhone, where I had jotted down some thoughts before and during Game 6 of the World Series.

As I continued to ponder my writers’ block, I remembered one baseball fan’s words which had stuck with me since I read a blog piece she had written about Roy Halliday after his tragic death in November 2017, during which she reflected on how much emotional stock she had put into him and his success while he was playing:

I am sorry to have assigned you so much responsibility. I’m sorry I so often looked to you to correct unrelated courses in my life. I’m sorry that I needed you to be great because I felt like I’d never be good.

It’s unwise to deify athletes. It’s childish, it’s simple, it’s a relic of a time when we didn’t know everything about everyone. It’s unlike me. It’s also the best part of me – that in some little, tiny way I am able to believe in someone. In spite of everything else, there is still a part of me able to think something can be great as well as good.

And so the enormity of the emotional stock I too had placed in this team, in the success of these men, in their happiness, struck me all over again, and I continued to contemplate how I could do this momentous occasion the justice it deserved. How exactly would I now write about simply being nothing but overjoyed? Would that be indulgent and selfish? Do I even deserve to be this happy?

My answers to these questions proved to be very simple:

Simply speaking from the heart should never be considered selfish, and of course, I deserve this. This 40-year journey itself has earned me this right and has brought me to this moment where I can finally fully appreciate the fact that life as a baseball fan, so intertwined with “real” life, really can be great as well as good.

October 19, 1981. I won’t be 10 until December but have already unknowingly started on a lifelong quest, that is, to see the team I root for win the World Series (heck, even seeing my team make it to the Fall Classic would take another 36 years). I’m crying unexpected tears at the sight of Expos’ manager Jim Fanning standing in the dugout watching Dad’s team, the Dodgers, celebrate on the field after winning Game 5 of the NLCS and advancing to the World Series. I’d just started watching baseball this season, and didn’t realize how much I cared until my team lost. I can’t wait to watch the Expos play more games next summer; they’re really good, so I’m sure they’ll win it all soon. 

Pre-game 6 – 2020 World Series – October 27, 2020

As I sit and prepare for what I hope will be the last game of the Dodgers’ 2020 baseball season, I think back on the journey that has brought me here to the brink of finally living that longed for, elusive dream of watching the team I cheer for win it all. It’s been a long road, but one well worth traveling. For as the Dodgers fought and clawed their way to baseball supremacy, my love for the sport of baseball and for them saved my life countless times along the way and made it better than I’d ever imagined it could be.

It’s mid-September 2013 and I’m home getting ready for the workweek when I remember that the team that my childhood hero Tim Wallach coaches for – the Dodgers – has a chance to win their division today. After watching the Expos faithfully for 24 years until their demise in 2004, and never even getting to see them make it to the playoffs, I haven’t had room in my heart for another team, but still watch when I’m not distracted by other life events and always find a team to root for in the playoffs. I don’t use Twitter and have no MLB.tv subscription at this point in my life but I’m still aware of how great of a summer the Dodgers had and would love nothing more than to see Wallach get to the World Series that he never made it to as a player. I try unsuccessfully to find the game on any of the sports channels here in Canada, but I manage to find a radio feed through the MLB app and smile as I hear the audio call of the NL West clinch. On the nightly highlights, I see footage of the team jumping into the Arizona pool, and it makes me laugh. These guys look like a lot of fun; I know who I’ll be rooting for in the 2013 playoffs.

First pitch 

I’m so nervous about tonight’s game that I can’t eat for fear of throwing up. Since that 2013 postseason I have followed the Dodgers religiously, have found what I believe is my true calling as a true Dodgers fan and proud member of its extended community.

Previous postseasons have felt hopeful but this one has felt different since it began, as though this really could be the year they win it all. The 7-game NLCS proved to be among the wildest and most entertaining series I’d seen as a Dodger fan, and just maybe, they will finally do it. I know it’s not wise to let the mind wander to what could happen tonight after 7 heartbreaking Octobers, but still, it wanders.

It’s October 2014 and I’ve enjoyed an incredible 6 months watching Dodgers baseball and fully discovering the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw. He reminds me of Tim Wallach in a lot of ways – well respected, humble leader, good human. After he threw his no-hitter back in June, I didn’t want to miss another minute of the magic, so with my new MLB.tv subscription giving me access to daily baseball, I passed the summer months watching games on my iPad Mini, listening to Vin Scully tell stories and becoming deeply entrenched in the mystic of Dodgers baseball. As I sit and watch them face the dreaded Cardinals in the NLDS, I remain hopeful, but ultimately they just don’t prove to have the manpower necessary to go any further into October. I cry as I always do when the season’s over, but am already looking forward to spring training 2015.

Innings 1-3 

It’s already 1-0 Tampa Bay after a half-inning – not the start I’d hoped for. Rays starter Blake Snell is dealing, striking out far too many Dodgers for my liking. I spent most of the afternoon at a good friend’s house, a place that still feels like home after I had moved out in May 2015 after finally buying my own house. The kids – 7, 4, and 1 in the spring of 2014, call me Aunt Gail and have all grown up seeing me wear my Dodgers attire – shirts, jerseys, and ballcap when I come to visit or watch them play in their own sports leagues. Besides my father, this family knows best how much the Dodgers have grown to mean to me over the years. Back on Christmas 2014, they had gifted me with an Apple TV so I could watch my games through my TV and not just on an iPad Mini screen, and I quickly learned that the Dodgers home whites look even more beautiful on the big screen. Thankfully the boys are wearing those same home whites tonight as it’s looking like they might need that final at-bat to get it done.

October 2015 – My first baseball playoffs in my own house, after another baseball-filled summer. I was originally planning on only watching Kershaw and Greinke starts this season but the next thing I knew, I had seen all 162 games. I’ve become a little more active in the Dodgers Twitter community and feel ease interacting with people I’ve never met in person, which is unprecedented for me. This summer I started to feel a “pull” towards LA, a place I’ve never been, had never even dreamed I’d visit. Dodger Stadium sure looks beautiful on TV – some of the fans on Twitter call it “Blue Heaven On Earth”. I have another good cry when the Dodgers lose a lackluster Game 5 to the Mets in the NLDS. There are always tears on the last day of the season, but maybe next year will be different. There was a passion and drive missing this year, I feel like they’re due for a big change. 

Middle innings 

Dodgers still have done next to nothing at the plate, but the bullpen has been lights out and has kept them in the game. Unlikely heroes Dylan Floro and Alex Wood came in and did their jobs, and Victor Gonzalez just made quick work of the Rays in the top of the 6th inning. Blake Snell hasn’t needed many pitches to silence the Dodgers – he’s been historically good so far – so this isn’t looking good. Maybe the Dodgers will have the opportunity to walk it off in the 9th; Snell can’t stay in for the WHOLE nine innings, right?

October 2016. I’ve just rushed home from a friend’s cottage to watch Kershaw face the Cubs in Game 6 of the NLCS, only to watch them come up short once again. After fulfilling that bucket list dream of getting out to LA and Dodger Stadium in September, where I improbably got to say goodbye to the legendary Vin Scully as well as see them clinch the NL West, I feel as emotionally attached to this team as ever, so this one hurts. The losses are starting to hurt a lot more, and it would have been storybook-like to see them win for Vin. A month earlier, I had re-connected with a dear friend over lunch while he was in town. He’d be diagnosed with cancer within 8 months, but at that moment in time we’re blissfully unaware of the imminent heartache, just two old friends sharing a few laughs and too many drinks while watching a Dodgers game, and tearing up at Vin Scully’s parting words and the passing of time:

“…and when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured it WILL be time for Dodgers baseball”.

Bottom of the 6th

The emotion coming from the dugout this postseason has been like nothing I’ve seen as a fan, but so far tonight they haven’t had much to cheer about. Then, just like that Austin Barnes gets on base, Blake Snell gets pulled, Mookie doubles and comes around to score…and that raucous dugout comes alive again. Here come the Dodgers!

October 2017 – I have made it – I’m in LA and my team is playing in the World Series! I text photos and messages to friends back home from my seat in the Top Deck, where I sit relieved after walking to the stadium in a heatwave, unsure I’d even make it at one point, having become so overwhelmed by the heat that some very kind members of the LAFD had to assist. Like that perfect Sunday afternoon the previous October, I have no idea what the fates will bring, that in another 8 days, the series will end in the greatest disappointment I’ve ever experienced as a fan, but for now, watching Clayton Kershaw throw out the first pitch in the first World Series in LA in 29 years easily becomes the single greatest moment of my life to that point.

In another 12 months, after an improbable recovery from a poor start to the season, the Dodgers would make it back to the Fall Classic, even though I won’t. I would still be disappointed when they lose to the Red Sox in 5 games, but even making it that far will prove to be an accomplishment in itself for them, and the late season run and playoffs was a wild trip as a fan. I would get over the 2018 season quickly, while still truly wondering if the season will ever end in tears of joy.

Bottom of the 8th 

Mookie hits one over the center field fence to put the Dodgers up 3-1, and just like 9-year old me after Rick Monday’s HR in October 1981, I start crying, but this time they are tears of hope and excitement instead of sadness and despair. Could this really happen?!? Years of baseball escape along with those tears – all of the heartache, disappointments, and missed opportunities. They’re so close now. Please Baseball Gods, please let us get what we want this time. Suddenly, my mind flashes to another 3-1 lead the Dodgers had just over a year ago, in Game 5 of the NLDS.

October 9, 2019. How? What? Why was Clayton brought in to get outs in the 8th inning when there were so many other qualified arms in the bullpen? And now this historical season where they broke a franchise win record…it’s just OVER?? It’s a huge collapse, one that hurts physically much in the way it did after that awful WS Game 7 loss in 2017. I cry, but not for as long as I thought I might. After having lost that dear friend to cancer in July, in the process of dealing with my enormous loss, I had realized that grief is but a consequence of loving so deeply, and while I feel deep sadness over the suddenness of this playoff exit, I recognize that the tears feel different this year, aided by a sense of perspective gained by losing someone I love. Dodgers were just lacking something this postseason, that x-factor, so just maybe magic will strike over the winter and they will find it.

Top of the 9th

3 more outs. I can’t watch, but I can’t sit either. I know this is not sudden death, but I just can’t do another Game 7. This is the closest they’ve ever come to winning it all but a couple of Rays swings could change that…and what if this is the closest they will ever come? Even in (and especially due to) the insanity of 2020, they were still clearly the best team all season, but that doesn’t always guarantee a title. I pause the game to take a few moments to re-group.

I fast forward to the live feed, I can’t even sit through each Julio Urias pitch. There’s already one out! In my daydreams, when I’ve allowed myself to dare to let my mind wander, I’m screaming inside Dodger Stadium in my Kershaw jersey for this moment, not yelling at my TV in my pajamas, but right now, none of that matters. The anticipation and excitement are greater than I ever could have imagined. I’m literally shaking.

One more out! Urias is in a groove. After 7 long seasons, suddenly this is all going by too quickly. Urias strikes out Adames on 3 pitches, and the dugout erupts…my Dodgers are finally World Series champions!

At this moment, my journey as a baseball fan has brought me the ultimate happiness, and to exactly where I need to be.

I may never stop smiling.

In the coming hours and days, I hear from many of the special people I’ve met along the way: old friends/colleagues, that 7-year old who is now a teenager, and Dodgers fans from all walks of life who largely have little in common with me other than a burning passion for the Dodgers. I smile at the idea that my team Dodgers Nation – who all love the team as much as I do – are all out there celebrating, just as thrilled as I am. Seven years ago as those Dodgers jumped into the pool in Arizona, we didn’t know of each other’s existence, and I couldn’t have conceived at the time that there were so many new friends out who would end up helping to shape my life as a baseball fan.

I think mostly of Clayton Kershaw, whose happiness I have come to value as much as my own. How, among many other things, he’s become my model of resilience and example of how one can be both a great human being as well as a once in a lifetime talent.

And ultimately, as I have every day for years, I think of the Dodgers. This team that helped change my life over the last 7 years. My journey as a baseball fan serendipitously led me to them, and for that, I’m forever grateful. This organization gave me hope in some dark times, helped me discover a passion for writing and talking about baseball, and taught me that life if I let it, can indeed be a lot like them – great, as well as good.

Very, VERY good.

NEXT: Dodgers Named MLB Organization Of The Year For 2020

Gail Johnson

Biggest Dodgers fan north of the border, living about 3,500 miles from my beloved Boys In Blue, in Moncton, NB, Canada. I think Dodger Stadium is the happiest place on Earth. I'll catch up on my sleep in the off-season.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your joy with us. My dad took me to my first Dodger game as a 7-year-old in 1958. I have followed the Dodgers ever since. I enjoy all aspects of baseball. I suggest reading Tim Rodgers dodgers2080 website. I highly recommend it to tune in on the Future Dodgers.
    I too am still very joyful the Dodgers won. But I still am angry at the commissioner and the Astros and all of their cheating players.

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