Anticipation

an·tic·i·pa·tion
anˌtisəˈpāSH(ə)n/
the action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction

I have been a baseball fan since the Expos lost the NLCS to the Dodgers in October 1981, when I felt so bad for nice guy Expos manager Jim Fanning that I bawled my little 9-year old eyes out.  It’s always been that way for me – loving and admiring the play and mastery on the field, yet being most drawn to the emotional side of the game, to the people who play/manage/live the game day to day.

While the sport’s involvement in my own day to day life has ebbed and flowed over the last 36 (!!!) years, I’m grateful it has brought me to my current state of full-on emotionally invested, diehard, watch-every-game, hardcore Los Angeles Dodgers fan…never more excited for a season to begin.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the anticipation leading up to this season seems so much greater than in years past. Some of these reasons include wanting to continue the magic of last season, spring training being longer this year making the wait longer, and feeling closer to the action because of the friendships and connections I’ve made with other Dodgers fans online who share my passion for this team.

And these are all true.  But there is more.  Something is different.

I previously didn’t have any experience with knowing what is feels like to follow a championship team, one in its prime as it feels like the Dodgers are.  Baseball was a lifeline of sorts for me during my sometimes turbulent teenage years, but I never really knew what it was like to watch a really, really good organization take the field and go about its business.  As a young Expos fan, I hung on every run, every game, every great play that Tim Wallach made at the Hot Corner like it was going to save my life, but there was always that underlying feeling of “when are the wheels going to fall off?”, and they inevitably did, each and every year.

Then, when I re-discovered my great love of the game in early 2014, even those first two NL West winning Dodgers seasons were permeated with what I like to refer to as “wishful optimism”, filling the wide open space between Kershaw/Greinke starts and whatever might happen in between.  Who’s fighting in the clubhouse now?  What does Don Mattingly really mean by that?  Why is Carl Crawford even on this team?  Who is Red Patterson?  Will the Dodgers ever score a run with the bases loaded?  I remained hopeful throughout both seasons, because frankly this team was still playing lights out compared to anything I had ever seen out of my once-beloved Expos, but it still felt like being in a constant state of holding one’s breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then, Dave Roberts was hired, and the glorious 2016 season unfolded in all of its unpredictable ways.

Which leads us to here, to the 2017 campaign about to get under way and this unfamiliar feeling of anticipation mixed with excitement.  Gone is the underlying dread of past seasons, knowing that even when things go slightly off the rails as they inevitably will, the management and character of this team will right the ship, and regardless of the final outcome, we are going to be treated to one special year.

For this lifelong baseball fan, finally, the optimism doesn’t feel at all wishful – it just feels real, and very, very good.

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A Season in the Sun

(Note:  This article originally ran at Think Blue LA on October 19, 2015: http://www.thinkbluela.com/2015/10/a-season-in-the-sun/.  It was the first time I had ever written anything, and also the first time I had spoken publicly about my issues with mental health. I remain grateful that I did.)

 

A Season in the Sun

In my first baseball memory, I am being carried to the living room in my childhood home.  It’s October 21, 1980, Game 6 of the 1980 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Kansas City Royals, and my father has just woken me up to watch the 9th inning.  Since I was 8 years old at the time, I only remember only 2 things about that night: feeling very happy in those special moments I was spending with Dad, and Tug McGraw throwing his glove in the air after striking out the final batter.  Although I don’t recall how often I watched games, or how exactly it all started, I had apparently shown some interest in baseball that summer, and because of that, Dad wanted me to see the final pitch of the season.  I’m grateful he did, as it both started my lifelong affair with the sport of baseball, and unknowingly, started preparing me at an early age for the lack of sleep and late night adventures that would one day become part of my life as a Dodgers fan living in a time zone far, far away from her team.

It took me a very long time to get to this point, as although I was very much a diehard, dedicated, devoted Expos fan throughout the 80’s and followed the team loyally until their demise, baseball and I went our separate ways for a time.

I would always make a point of watching baseball during the playoffs and inevitably find a story/player/team that interested me (I was still a fan, deep down), but life had other things planned for me over the years, and none of these involved pursuing my love of the sport that had been a lifeline of sorts for me during the 80’s.  When the internet age came upon us and information became easier and easier to find, I was able to continue my interest in following the career of the athlete/coach I have admired for the past 34 years, current Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach.  But despite this connection I felt I would always have to the sport, baseball and I didn’t find each other again until the spring of 2014, when I re-discovered my childhood love of the game.

At the time, late March 2014, I was a lost soul going through a difficult time personally.  I had struggled with depression for most of my adult life but up until this point, it had never affected my ability to function at my job, but now it was.  I was finally getting help, but the illness would take me away full-time job for two months. It would get worse before it got better. I craved the ability to focus, needed routine, comfort, and something to look forward to, while I slowly moved forward with the end goal of finally getting my depression under control.   Baseball, and specifically the Dodgers, became that routine, comfort and hope I needed, just at the right time.  I still remember turning the TV on that Saturday morning in late March, and discovering that the Dodgers were beginning their season in Australia.  Needing something to focus on and enjoy, I decided quickly that with the time off work that I had never had before, and needing to keep my mind busy, I would throw myself into the baseball season right from the beginning.  I had enjoyed watching the team during the 2013 playoffs, mainly because I wanted to see Wallach finally get to the World Series, but I had no idea at the time how quickly enamored with this team I would become.

I may never have fallen for this team if it hadn’t been for Clayton Kershaw and his magnificence that season.   Throughout April, I followed closely through MLB Network coverage, and would luck out here and there with a Dodgers games on regular television. As I started  to feel that childhood baseball excitement return, just after Josh Beckett threw his no-hitter in Philadelphia on May 25 on a bright and sunny day, I felt hopeful and on the mend, and signed up for a full MLB TV subscription.  Now, all games were available to me, and I was hooked.  I also started following other Dodgers fans/writers/bloggers on Twitter and discovered there were a lot of funny, passionate people out there who loved baseball even more than I did.

I returned to work on June 2 and from that point on, Kershaw went 19-2, and I was also feeling much more like myself, at home and at work.  I like to think we both made big comebacks that year.  Kershaw’s June 18 no-hitter was the beginning of my devotion to late-night watching, as there was no way I was missing a pitch of the game that would become one of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history.  I turned the TV off at 3:30am my time knowing I wouldn’t take a chance of missing any of his remaining starts.  All of a sudden, I felt that personal connection to the game that I had experienced as a teenager.

Previously, living in an all-Blue Jays market (and also very inconveniently 3,500 miles away from Dodger Stadium), I may have gone an entire season and only been able to catch 2 or 3 Dodgers games on television, so I had really only heard and read about this Clayton Kershaw guy and his mastery.  I had seen him pitch in the 2013 playoffs and knew he was good, but now that I was seeing the Dodgers up close on a regular basis, I had a closer look at the way his presence and leadership was affecting the team, and I finally understood what all of the fuss was about.

Like Wallach when I was growing up, I quickly came to admire Kershaw’s leadership style, professionalism, and drive to play well, and most importantly, how great of a teammate he seemed to be.  The 2014 season with Kershaw’s mastery was a true joy to watch, even though it ended in heartbreaking fashion in St Louis.  Throughout the winter I looked forward to spring training, and a new beginning.  During the off-season, after receiving an invite from Ron, I joined the Think Blue LA forum and met some very friendly people who were as passionate about the game as I was.  I took care of some health issues over the winter and with a new perspective on life, couldn’t wait for the new season to get started.

I saw a quote recently that spoke to me: “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire”.  For me, at this point in my life at least, this team, this year, did that.  Partly because of the way the 2014 season ended, I felt like this team with its two future Hall of Fame pitchers on its staff just deserved to win, and by the end of the excellent spring training the team had, I was heavily invested, and ready to go with my full MLB TV subscription.   We had a record snowfall last winter in this part of Canada, so in more ways than one, spring couldn’t come soon enough.

Now that the 2015 season is over and I have close to 200 games under my belt, I even question myself on why exactly I watched every.single.game the Dodgers played this year.  Although I’m no longer concerned about what other people think about what I choose to do, I’m sure some may speculate as to why I would knowingly deprive myself of sleep (and often, my sanity) to watch all of these games.  The answers are simple: because I wanted to, and because I could.

I didn’t start out this year planning on watching every game.  Work is as busy as ever, and with my depression under control, I keep busy with my job, my new house, playing on a co-ed softball team, and spending time with friends.  To lead a productive life, I figured, I am going to need to sleep at night on a regular basis.  I’m certainly not getting any younger.  So initially I was only going to stay up late for weekend games.  And Kershaw’s starts of course.  And then I figured I couldn’t miss any Greinke starts either, and then maybe I would just watch this one home game, even though it’s late, because it’s REALLY important that they win. It then quickly became obvious that this year’s team was capable of mounting late-inning comebacks, so I didn’t want to miss it any of those either.  And there was no reason to miss any road games – they don’t end as late.   The next thing I knew, we were almost at the All-Star Break and I had seen every game, so figured there was no going back now.  There would be lots of time to catch up on my sleep in the off-season.

I’m grateful that I am at a point in my life where circumstances allow me to even do something like this.  Everything that I have experienced, and all of the people in my life, have led me to where I am today, and I no longer dwell on what I don’t have like my younger self did, instead focusing on what I do have.  Marriage and children is not in the cards for everyone, but I possess a very long list of people and things that I am grateful for, knowing full well that there are many people in the world who can’t say the same.  I just got to spend the last 7 months doing something I love – living and breathing Dodgers baseball, and for that I consider myself very fortunate.  While my life is decidedly different in a lot of ways than those of most of my friends, the real ones understand my passion and accept it as part of who I am.  For me, in a lot of ways, following the team also helped me to cure the loneliness I may have otherwise felt on the nights and weekends where friends were busy with their own families and doing things that they themselves were passionate about.  Baseball and the Dodgers have simply become a very important part of this point in my life.

I like to think that, regardless of what life has managed to throw at me over the years, I have remained a loyal person, which has served me well as a Dodgers fan.  I’ve always believe that any real “fan” has to be, but that it’s still possible to be both loyal and slightly pessimist/cynical at times.  We’re only human after all, these are the Dodgers, and it is a long season.  There certainly were some ups and downs this year, but I didn’t feel panicked, only slightly concerned at times.  In fact, this season helped me stay level-headed as I realized that some weeks, whether the team had won or not was really my biggest concern in life.  Anyone who can say that and mean it is living the dream, as they say.

I have always enjoyed the “human” side of the game as much as the action on the field, and to me, it was obvious right away as the season started that the Dodgers had a much more balanced clubhouse with their stable, veteran leadership.  I admire the poise of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, the absolute class and professionalism of Clayton Kershaw, along with the personality and intelligence of AJ Ellis, and hope someday I can learn to carry myself that way in my day to day life.

As in life, each baseball season holds many storylines, ups, and downs.  Here are my personal highlights and lowlights of the 2015 regular season:

Highs:

  • Greinke and Kershaw. I appreciated and savoured every moment of each of their starts this year, knowing full well that I was witnessing history with one of the, if not the, greatest 1-2 performances I will see in my lifetime.  (Or more like 1 and 1A?)
  • The season of Andre Ethier. I had a dream during spring training, during all of the trade talks, that he would come up big for the team this year, and that there was a reason he wasn’t traded. I’m glad I was right.
  • Kenley Jansen returning from the DL in fine form.
  • The Rally Banana. I admit it – I was swept up into Kike-mania from the start.
  • Chris Hatcher’s mid-season comeback.
  • Trading for Chase Utley (I stand behind this statement)
  • Corey Seager’s September allowing us a very pleasant glimpse into the future.
  • The fun of riding the Dodgers roller coaster with the “Dodger Fam” on Twitter – at time both hilarious and comforting. Any game I watched on “tape delay” wasn’t nearly as entertaining.
  • The pennant clinching game against the Giants on September 29. Complete strangers, fellow Dodger fans, sent links through Twitter to the postgame celebrations to allow this far away fan to enjoy the moment even more.

Lows:

  • The 2nd half of both Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal. Truly hard to watch.
  • McCarthy and Ryu’s season-ending injuries. It’s hard not to think about what might have been with this rotation.
  • All things Puig
  • The Juan Uribe trade
  • Mat Latos
  • Hamstrings

As the years continue on, I will remain a Dodgers fan for life, even while coaches and players I admire move on, which they inevitably will.   I also realize that the stars may not always be aligned the way they were this year, allowing me to watch so many games.  Priorities, even for someone like me with no children of my own, will continue to change, life circumstances may change, or I may just want to catch up on my sleep.  But for the last 7 months, with life the way it is right now, I’m grateful that I was able to do what I did.

I am already contemplating that for next season, I will just stay up late for weekend games.  And Kershaw’s starts.  And Greinke’s starts if he returns.  And road games, of course, since the games aren’t as late.  Oh, and home games too – don’t want to miss a minute of Vin Scully’s last year in the broadcast booth.

After all, there will be lots of time to catch up on my sleep in the off-season – after the Dodgers win the World Series.

Hope Springs Eternal

On this official first day of spring, I feel the need to write about the winter and how for the first time in a very long time, it didn’t feel like I “just” survived it. I almost feel like I came through it with flying colors, as opposed to past winters where it was often a struggle to get through the work week.  The sun feels warmer today, and the days are starting to feel longer, and once again, hope springs eternal in the heart of this Dodgers fan.  In subtler ways, though, this year just feels a little different…and so do I.

You see, I spent a lot of time and energy this off-season working on eliminating negativity from my life.  After letting the wrong people occupy space in my brain for far longer than they deserved to be there, I set out in the new year with the mindset that the only thing that will make the world a better place is my own reaction and contribution to it, and am finally making strides in living that belief each day. I figure the world can be a dark enough place on its own and my complaining or adding unnecessary negativity is not going to make it any better.

If you’re looking for that one person to change your life, look in the mirror”.

After staying up late to watch Game 7 of the World Series, hoping the season didn’t have to ever end, and taking what seemed like months to get over the heartbreaking end to the season, the long Canadian winter stretched ahead of me.  But instead of falling into my usual self-imposed hibernation, I started to allow myself to be grateful for the great season that was, and all it allowed me to do and experience.

When I wrote about my September trip out to Dodger Stadium in early December, just before my 45th birthday (which for some reason felt more like a mid-life crisis than earlier birthdays had), the enormity of what had taken place came back to me, again, filling me again with gratitude in the realization that no matter what happens next, and if I never get back to Dodger Stadium again, I will always have the 2016 season and its special ending to carry with me.  Then, the Dodgers did what many thought wouldn’t happen – signed many of the great parts of this team – Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, and in what felt like special gifts for me – Rich Hill and Chase Utley. 

Over the winter, slowly but surely, I took the time to get myself back into “shape” just like so many member of my beloved Dodgers.  By focusing on just feeling better one day at a time, I made some minor but very effective changes to my diet, drank a lot more water, started going to bed early (this will only last until Opening Day, of course), and got rid of some very heavy emotional baggage that I had been carrying around with me for far too long. Simple optimism and happiness sure feels good, and this is what I now choose to share with the world.  I am ready for a new season to begin.

We could all find reasons (excuses?) for not feeling happy and fulfilled every minute of every day.  Did my life play out like I had imagined it would?  No, of course not (whose does?) but that doesn’t mean I can’t embrace and enjoy what I have.  Writing that story of my trip last fall helped me appreciate how so many things could have happened differently to prevent me from living the life I now lead as a proud Dodgers fan, and put my mindset back into perspective.  By then realizing finally that only I am responsible for my own happiness, I took important steps towards doing what makes me happy, and I was finally able to enjoy a winter while still missing the baseball season, by taking the time I needed to get into shape emotionally.

I will not let what I want rob me of what I have. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. It’s not happy people who are grateful. It’s grateful people who are happy.

Now, when people ask me how the Dodgers season looks, I just smile and believe it when I say “They’re in pretty good shape – it’s a deep, talented roster, and they’re resilient. I’m not worried”.  Optimism and gratitude abound, an and off the field.

Plus, I already know that a season of Dodgers baseball with its inevitable ups and downs is much more fun to watch with a positive mindset.  If I can stay optimistic throughout a season like 2016 with all of its injury induced adversity, I figure I am in it for the long haul, and this year, the optimism is even more exciting than in past years because I get to share it with people who share my passion for this team.  Because of this fun journey I am taking as a Dodgers fan living so far away, I now know dozens of great people, some of whom I have been fortunate enough to have met in person and would surely be friends with “in real life” if we lived closer geographically.

It may sound cliche, but I enter this baseball season in the “best shape of my life”.  I have a feeling that this will be a very special year…regardless of what happens on the field.

This year just feels different, and so do I.