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« Clobberin' Time | Main | Don't you just love baseball? »

July 21, 2005

The Best Day

It was appropriate that the Dodgers would thump the Phillies 10-2 on July 20th. They thumped the Phils 35 years ago on the same day ... the best day I ever had as a baseball fan.

Back in those days, straight A students could earn tickets to three Dodger games a season. If you pulled down really good grades and were a big Dodger fan, it was the perfect deal for you.

It sure was for me. I remember scanning the list of games, looking for dates that would work for my Dad's schedule. He sold insurance and had an office on Wilshire Boulevard near Crenshaw. We lived in Monrovia. I was only 15 ... no driver's license yet ... so I needed day games that my Dad could make.

I spotted one for Monday, July 20th against the Phillies. It was a late afternoon game ... not many of those ... which meant if I caught a bus in Monrovia to downtown LA, my Dad could meet me there and take me to the game.

It would also be a good payback for my Dad. He was a big sports fan, and every December, he'd take me to some special game for my birthday ... UCLA basketball with Lew Alcindor, a Rams game against Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, a special trip to San Diego to see the Chargers. This time, I earned the tickets by getting A's (tops in my Dad's book) ... I figured out a way to get him out of work early ... and I lined up my own ride to LA. Perfect!

I hopped the RTD bus early in the afternoon, and met him near Philippe's where we had a couple of French-dipped beef sandwiches for lunch. I remember him warning me about the hot mustard, and me, like all I-know-what-I'm-doing 15-year-olds, slapping too much on my sandwich. He just smiled and I never let on how I'd set my mouth on fire.

After lunch, we headed up to Dodger Stadium. My free tickets put us high above first base in the reserved section. It was sunny and not too hot. The Dodgers had a good team in 1970, but Cincinnati's Big Red Machine had built a huge lead early. By July 20th, there wasn?t much to play for except a good record and a raise next season. This day was a chance to see Dodger righthander Bill Singer, who'd missed two months with hepatitis, go after his fourth straight win.

Singer struck out the first batter he faced, but hit the second, then put him on second when he threw away a pickoff try. My Dad and I, and everyone else in the stands, could see a bad inning brewing. But Singer got the next batter on a fly ball, then struck out cleanup hitter Deron Johnson to end the inning.

When Johnson went down, my Dad slapped me on the back a chortled "No-hitter! No-hitter!" and laughed and laughed. He was good for silly jokes all the time, and we both laughed ... although I did think it would be cool if it turned out to be true.

Singer breezed through the next few innings. I don't remember many specifics, just out after out. I do remember Dodger first baseman Wes Parker, who was having the best year of his career, picking up a double in the 5th inning. That's when two guys carried a hand-painted banner through the bleachers that read like those paper slips you find in a new pair of pants - "Second Base Inspected By No. 28."

The Dodgers scored two runs in the 5th, and now led 5-0. Singer was cutting through the Phillies like a pair of scissors. He'd hit a batter in the 1st and made an error in the 7th, but he hadn't walked anyone ... and even more importantly, my Dad's joking prediction still held. Singer hadn't given up a hit.

I remember my Dad and I teasing a "phamily of Phillie phans" sitting behind us. They'd been traveling across the country, watching the Phils play in different cities. Today, they were watching them get mowed down by Singer.

By the time the 9th arrived, it was almost six o'clock, and the late afternoon shadows had stretched across the mound. The outfield was still in bright sunshine, and Singer was still in command.

My memory of the 9th isn't clear. I've checked a box score, so I know the first out of the 9th came on a grounder and the second was a line drive to center.

But I remember the last out, and what it DOESN'T say in the box score. The Phillies' Byron Browne was the batter, and the crowd was standing and yelling on every pitch. Browne hit a sky-high pop-up. Jeff Torborg, who'd caught Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965 and would later catch a Nolan Ryan no-hitter in 1973, drifted over toward the Phillies' dugout to catch it. He was looking straight up as he moved, and never glanced at his feet. There was a bat in the on-deck circle, and Torborg was stepping closer and closer to it as he tracked the pop-up. Just when it looked he'd slip on that bat, Torborg - his eyes to the sky - stepped around it, and caught the ball to end the no-hitter.

The crowd was pretty small that day ... only around 13,000 ... but the few fans who were there let out a tremendous cheer that thundered through my ears. I still remember how amazed I was that so few people could make so much noise. I remember my Dad had a big grin on his face, and he clapped and clapped and laughed and clapped some more.

About two months later, my Dad had surgery for colon cancer. He was back in for more surgery about a month later, and began a round of fairly primitive chemotherapy that worked for a little while, then stopped working.

My Dad and I went to only one Dodger game during the 1971 season. No bus for me this time. I was driving now, in fact the only driver in the family, and I drove my Dad to the ballpark. I don't remember anything about that game, except the long, slow walk with him from the parking lot to the stands. About a month after the World Series, my Dad died.

That memory is blurry. The better one, my best one, is from the year before, with my Dad chortling about a "No-hitter! No-hitter!" ... and the two of us watching it come true.

Posted by Nick Roman at 5:16 PM

Comments

That was a wonderful piece, Nick. A great memory of a great day.

Thank you.

Posted by: Andrew Torres on July 22, 2005 7:10 AM

During your years of being a baseball fan can you tell me how long
have you seen a game meaning how many innings you have watched on TV.

Posted by: Jon Winchell on March 15, 2006 6:46 AM

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