Believe it or not guys, the BASEBALL season is here. As I sit here looking out my front window, which currently consists of a five-foot high snow bank, it seems hard to fathom. But it’s true the MLB season is underway, and I, for one, could not be more excited.
Of course, this year I have even more reasons to be excited. About $235 Million reasons to be more accurate. My Dodgers enter this season with the highest payroll in the history of the game. Does this guarantee a World Series title? Definitely not. But for a kid who has spent most of his life telling people that he “bleeds Dodger blue” while living in Atlantic Canada, it’s hard not to get fired up about this years edition of the Dodgers.
So how does a young lad from the Miramichi fall in love with the Los Angeles Dodgers? Well, this is a story I have told hundreds of times. It has obviously played an integral role in my life and it always will. I have been telling people for more than 20 years that it is my lifelong dream to get to Dodger Stadium. I’m not even kidding when I tell them that. I take pride in claiming that I am Canada’s biggest Dodgers fan. My connection to the Dodgers is even more special to me because when you grow up in the Maritimes, most of your friends are Blue Jays or Red Sox fans. I’ve always loved that I can truly consider them to be “My Dodgers”.
There was never a doubt that sports were going to play a huge role in my life. I was hooked immediately. My parents both came from large families and there was certainly a large contingency of athletes on both sides of the family. Like many kids back then, playing hockey all winter and baseball all summer was part of the norm. But I was also drawn right away to watching sports almost as much as playing. Which is why a conversation with my grandmother, Mona Lange, drastically altered my life as a fan.
You see, when you are really young and you come from such large families it sometimes takes a while before you know the entire family history. In the fall of 1987, when I was 7 years old, Nanny Lange told me about her first husband, Adrian Doucette. She explained to me how she had tragically lost her husband, and my maternal grandfather, in a car accident in 1957. At that age I’m not sure if I could really grasp the weight of what Nanny was telling me about.
I was, however, captivated by her stories about Adrian. Most notably, she told me about what a remarkable ball player he was. Adrian was a dominating pitcher from all accounts. She even told me that the Brooklyn Dodgers had scouted him. Ironically enough, this fact was documented by my grade 12 high school English teacher. In his book, “Miramichi Baseball and Softball”, Doug Underhill penned the following:
“Adrian caught the eye of the Brooklyn Dodgers scout Billy O’Connor and was invited to a Dodger tryout camp in Moncton when he was only 15 years old. Born in 1934 Adrian (Sonny) Doucette began with the Chatham Head Tigers in 1950 and played four years before joining the RCAF in 1954. He once had 19 strikeouts in a game against the RCAF Panthers before joining them. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident at age 23, while serving in France.” –Miramichi Baseball and Softball, p.305
Following Adrian’s death, my amazing grandmother, Mona, then 24, prepared for the difficult journey back to New Brunswick. She made the lengthy flight from France with a heavy broken heart, along with her one-year old son Patrick. She was suddenly a widow and just six days later, on August 31, 1957, she gave birth to my mother Adrienne.
Fast-forward thirty years later, she would be sharing this story with her grandson. Although I never knew Adrian, I felt an incredible connection with him just from listening to Nanny talk about him. And sure, he might not have actually played for the Dodgers, but I didn’t care. I was instantly a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. Little did I know on that day just how much this conversation would mean to me.
The next year was of course the Dodgers miraculous season in which they captured the World Series in a stunning upset over the heavily favored Oakland A’s. Granted, I had to go to bed for school early in those days, so my Dad would tape the games for me on the trusty VCR. Regardless, I watched Gibby’s clutch homer and the game 5 clincher countless times. Most importantly, my love affair with the Dodgers had reached another level altogether.
The only downside to my love affair was that I lived in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. There is a four-hour time difference from my Atlantic Time Zone and the Pacific Time Zone. The only way I ever managed to catch a game in the early days was when I would visit my grandparents. They had one of those satellite dishes that were bigger than some houses. Whenever I would go visit I might get lucky enough to catch the Dodgers on KTLA or perhaps see them playing the Cubs on WGN. Listening to the incomparable Vin Scully was always a treat for us. More importantly I had formed an incredible bond with Nanny with our Dodgers. On some of those visits she would stay up with me to catch the Dodgers play at 11:00 PM our time (Atlantic). We would talk baseball the entire time. Nanny always laughed at my eternal optimism. No matter how bad our team was playing I always held out hope that things were about to turn around. Even in 1992 when the Dodgers lost 99 games, you would still catch me checking the standings on a daily basis. The innocence of youth I guess.
After a few rough years for the boys in blue, fate would smile upon me once again in 1993. Our little town of Newcastle hosted a Sports Exchange with the community of Chambly, Quebec. Basically, Chambly’s Pee Wee Baseball Team came to Miramichi to play against us, the Newcastle Cardinals. We then ventured to Quebec the next week to play them on their field. The difference was, this game, on their field, would be held at the Montreal Expos Olympic Stadium. That night, we would be going to a game at the “Big-O”. Naturally, as Lady Luck would have it, my Los Angeles Dodgers were in town. Unreal!!!!
I can still remember trotting down the left field line towards the Dodgers visitors’ bullpen to warm up. I was trying my best to master my Orel Hershiser delivery. What a surreal experience. Too bad I didn’t have Orel’s stuff. We lost that day. The Dodgers also got beat by the Expos that night. Hardly mattered. I had just played on the same field as the Dodgers for a day. Hard to top that.
Turns out it is REALLY hard to top that. Every Spring I would talk to Nanny about the upcoming Dodgers season and every year I would faithfully say that if things came together that this “could be the year”. As you may or may not know, it has yet to happen since. The Dodgers have had several playoff appearances since 1988, but have not been able to reach the World Series. Ironically, fellow New Brunswicker, Matt Stairs, stymied one of their most recent efforts with a crushing Home Run in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS. A short time ago, I interviewed Stairs and I didn’t mind telling him that he broke my heart that night.
In the Spring of 2009, I would talk to my Nanny about the Dodgers chances one last time. I didn’t realize it then, but my grandmother would be diagnosed with cancer later that summer, and she passed away on December 19, 2009. As you would expect, I miss her for a great deal of reasons. But mostly I miss talking to her about the Dodgers. We could literally spend an hour on the phone and talk about all things sports. She was very keen on just how much sports meant to me and she was particularly proud of just how much the Dodgers meant to me. Most of all, the bond that we formed over those years has allowed me to develop a passion like no other. When I tell people that I “bleed Dodger blue” I feel I am completely justified in saying so. I may have never met Adrian, but I feel like a part of him lives on through me.
Miss You Nanny!
This is Our Year!