Chavez Ravine

The sun is finding its place high in the sky and the temperatures are starting to warm the days. The tight grip of winter has relaxed and the once harsh, bitterly cold winds have given way to lazy afternoon breezes that sway the trees and cool the soul. Unlike the extremes of summer and winter, spring is easygoing. The only expectation it has is the appreciation of change. Everywhere you look, life starts to bloom and all is new again. Not only change does this season herald but something much more significant to a 7 year old boy.

Let me take you back 40 years to an early evening drive, riding shotgun in my grandfather’s Rambler, heading north on the Harbor Freeway. It was not a drive I have ever been on in my life and all of the sights and sounds were brand new and exciting to me. Then again, I was seven years old so everything was pretty much brand new to me. I can remember watching the buildings of downtown rise up like monoliths high in the sky, it was awe inspiring. I did not notice or care about the congested traffic or that everyone in their cars around me was wearing the same color.

My grandfather skillfully directed the Rambler through the gridlock and merged off of the freeway onto a road with many lanes, that climbed up a steep mountain. At the end of each of these lanes were little wooden shacks. . It was a slow progression and seemed like it took a millennium to traverse.

When we reached the wooden shack, we were greeted by a pleasant person, dressed in blue, wearing a white brimmed hat reminiscent of the straw hats of the early 1900s. My grandfather handed over some cash and we were directed to move left around a blind bend. The Rambler lurched forward and followed the cones in the direction the man told us. The next moment took my breath away. Around that bend opened a vast expanse of parked cars and in the center of this sea of cars was the most magnificent sight I have ever seen in my young life and I have to say it still ranks up there in my adulthood too. Standing tall against the golden, dusk sky was a grand palace, trimmed in blue, surrounded by green palm trees…Dodger Stadium!

We passed the 76 gas station, my gaze was ever so transfixed in wonder at this majestic cathedral to the grand old game that I never once questioned why there was a gas station in a baseball stadium parking lot. My grandfather turned on the radio and we were greeted by the familiar “Voice of the Dodgers”, Vin Scully, as he peddled the delicacies of Farmer John and company.

After finding our spot, marked by a large white baseball on a pole, we strolled up to the gate. From outside the walls, you can hear the lofting tones of Helen Dell, the Dodgers’ long time organist as she played a familiar tune. Situated in the middle of the entrance area was a man at a blue podium yelling “Programs, get yer programs here”. It was cliche but seven year olds live for cliche. Everyone was dressed in blue at various stages of covering. Once in the gates, I followed my grandfather, looking for our tunnel where we can enter the stadium.

Many people have penned a description of their first experience entering a major league baseball park as walking through a dark tunnel opening up to a brightly lit field of green, surrounded by thousands of seats filled with others also in delightful observance. They would describe the sounds, aromas, and colors to be so vivid it all seemed like a dream. These writers have described the experience as discovering a beautiful oasis in the middle of a concrete and metal desert. I am here to tell you they we were correct and much more. Every color, every sound, every smell seemed to be accentuated as if the senses had been enhanced for this moment. The grass was greener than any I have ever gazed upon, the infield was a perfect unblemished red clay and even the baseballs seem whiter than any I have ever gripped. I could smell the popcorn as if it was popping right next to me and the sound of baseballs hitting off of wood was a sweet sound that has stayed with me ever since. Towering high above were rows upon rows of seats reaching to the highest balconies of this extraordinary theater. The blue wave of the bleacher awning is signature Dodger Stadium as is the orange 76 ball in the backdrop.

Game time drew near, the shadows of the early evening were long against the perfectly manicured grass while a couple of players tossed the ball around in warm up. I did not recognize any of them but it did not matter, they were Dodgers which meant they were heroes to me. Vendors walked up and down the aisles selling anything from mini souvenir bats to chocolate ice milk. Before we took our seats, my grandfather treated me to the greatest and best known of all stadium delights, the Dodger Dog.

We took our seats, on the left field side and I strained to see if I could recognize the players in the dugout. Just then the announcer, John Ramsey, called us to stand for the National Anthem. We turned to the flag and saluted our country with our “LA” baseball caps over our hearts. I waited with the patience of a seven year old for them to announce it. I could not standstill. “Hurry up, hurry up”, I was mumbling, then from the speakers, I heard, “Now taking the field, your Los Angeles Dodgers!” That was the highlight of my night. My beloved Dodgers were taking the field to the roar of the crowd.  Jogging over to first base was the greatest of them all, at least to a 7 year old he was, number six, Steve Garvey, took up his position at first. I sat there mesmerized, eating popcorn with my grandfather, watching my favorite player warm up the infield, and just taking in the excitement of my first Dodger baseball game.  It was a perfect day.

All subsequent journeys to “Chavez Ravine”, throughout my life, have carried a part of that first day with them. Although my frequency to that place is now separated by years instead of days, I still get that feeling of excitement and anticipation when I drive around the bend and see that cherished part of my childhood, standing tall against the golden California sky.

Note: The featured picture is of my youngest son’s first Dodger game. July 3rd, 2018 the Dodgers beat the Pirates that day,  hitting 6 dingers that night. It ended with fireworks. If a more perfect day could be had from my first, it was this day with my wife and boys.

The Game is Over

His name may not be etched on any plaque nor printed in any article. His picture may not be hung on any of the walls or highlighted on any Friday night broadcast but make no mistake, he has left a mark deeper than any engraving and a story more telling than any sportscaster could report.

He has imprinted on this field and in these halls a story of perseverance and of heart, of fortitude and of resolve. Forever these places will tell the silent tale of a young man whose loyalty to his school, devotion to his brothers and love for this game were greater than anything that could be measured by accolades or recognition.

Every tear in his uniform and every gouge in his helmet will be a testament to all who come after that the owner of these items was a young man who played the game from his soul. They will tell of an adventure both of pain and of joy but no one will really know his trials and triumphs. For season upon season, he has had to rise and overcome. He has had to prove to the world that his determination was larger than his stature and his abilities far outweighed his size. No one will really know except those he calls his brothers and any who have faced him, for they too have their own story to tell. They too have had to give of themselves for others and have had to shoulder the hopes and expectations of not just a team or a school but of a community.

He played fearless with pride and grit and these are the threads woven into the fabric of his tale. Like every boy before him and every boy after him, he will leave behind his story, his legacy, his love. It will echo softly in the locker rooms and the classrooms. It will gently resonate across the turf on a cool fall night and quietly remind the world that he once walked these halls, he once wore this uniform and he once lived life for his friends…for this game.

This is my son and he is the best part of MY story. This long and joyous chapter of our lives is now at a close and I was more than privileged to be witness to it, I was honored to be part of it.

Without further ado, please allow me to present for the final time, #47 Jared Lucero, my little boy for whom I could not be more proud. I do so love to watch him play.