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, bitter 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 easy going. 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, were 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. We were not alone as as it seemed hundreds of cars inched their way up this steep drive as well. It was a slow progression and it 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 and 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 the 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 as the shadows of the early evening were long against the impeccably manicured grass and 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. Vendors were walking 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 stand still. “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 and my heroes were there bigger than life with my favorite taking his position at first base, number six, Steve Garvey. It was perfect!
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 horizon.