It’s spring. 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 only reminders of it are the lazy afternoon breezes that sway the trees and cool the soul. Unlike the extremes of summer or winter, spring is easy going. It doesn’t require anything; no bundling, no air conditioning nothing but 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.
I remember an early evening drive, riding shotgun in my grandfather’s car heading North on the Harbor/Pasadena Freeway. The monoliths of downtown grow larger and larger as we creep closer and closer to our destination. As the red lights of stopping cars become more frequent and the horizon more obscured by the various shaped structures I am aware we are getting closer. Eyeing the other travelers in their vehicles, there is evidence we all are heading to the same place with the same goal in mind.
My grandfather skillfully merges onto the off-ramp and takes a straight road up what looks like a steep mountain. We are not alone as it seems hundreds of cars have the same idea and we wait in line to get to one of the many structures erected at the end of each lane of the drive. We pull up to be greeted by a pleasant person, dressed in blue, wearing a white brimmed hat reminiscent of the straw hats of the early 1900s.
My grandfather hands over some cash to the person and we are directed to move forward. He drives away following a left turn around a bend and as it opens up to a vast expanse of parked cars I am greeted to the most magnificent sight I have ever seen in my young life. Standing tall against the golden sky of dusk sits a grand palace, trimmed in blue and surrounded by palm trees…Dodger Stadium!
My grandfather follows the directions of the parking attendants as we pass the 76 station, my gaze still fixed in wonder at this majestic cathedral to the grand old game. He turns on the radio and we are greeted by the familiar Voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, has he peddles the delicacies of Farmer John and company.
After finding our spot and noting our location, marked by a large white baseball on a pole, we stroll up to the gate. From outside the walls you can hear the lofting tones of Helen Dell, the Dodgers’ long time organist as she plays a familiar tune. Situated in the middle of the entrance area is a man at a blue podium yelling “Programs, get yer programs here”. Everyone is dressed in blue at various stages of covering. Once in the stadium I follow my grandfather as he walks the outside perimeter looking for the right place to enter.
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 beautiful field of green surrounded by thousands of seats filled with spectators in delightful observance. They say the sounds, aromas and colors are so vivid it all seems like a dream. These writers have described it as seeming incomprehensible that such an oasis could exist in the middle of a concrete metal city. I am here to tell you they we were correct and much more. Every color seems to be accentuated as if the senses have been enhanced for this moment. Even the baseballs seem whiter than any I have ever gripped.
The inside of the stadium is as spectacular as the outside. Towering high above are rows upon rows of seats reaching to the highest balconies of this extraordinary theater. The blue wave of the bleacher awnings is signature Dodger Stadium as is the orange 76 ball in the backdrop. The shadows of the early evening are long against the impeccably manicured Bermuda grass as a couple of players toss the ball around. I don’t recognize any of them. Vendors are walking up and down the aisles selling anything from mini souvenir bats to chocolate ice milk. Before we take our seats my grandfather treats me to the greatest and best known of all stadium delights, the Dodger Dog.
We take our seats, on the left field side and I strain to see if I can recognize any of my heroes in Dodger white and blue. Just then the announcer, John Ramsey, calls us to stand for the National Anthem. We turn to the flag and salute our country with our “LA” baseball caps over our hearts but I have to admit that was not the highlight of the game. For me the highlight of the night was watching the team take the field, to the roar of the crowd, and number six taking his place at first, bigger than life. It was perfect!
All subsequent journeys to Chavez Ravine, throughout my life, carry a part of that first day. Although my travels to that place are now separated by years, not 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 California horizon.