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A Patch of Blue

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Photo: Alvin Cormier

It's February, which means it's spring training. Back in the late '70s I was a rabid Dodgers fan who looked forward to February as much as I looked forward to school letting out in June. When the Dodgers emerged from winter and started swinging their bats at training camp in Vero Beach, Florida, anything and everything seemed possible, conquerable. The crushing moments and thwarted ambitions of the previous seasons (in a word, the Yankees) disappeared from live memory and the slate, and scorecard, were clean again. No other feeling like it.

That old excitement was stirring this past Saturday at FanFest at Dodger Stadium. It's an annual pre-season gathering of the faithful, a family day in the regular sense, but also in the biggest, most baseball sense. I had never been but decided to tag along this year with my nephew, a longtime blue-bleeding Dodger follower who came chiefly to get autographs from relief pitcher Kenley Jansen. A big draw at FanFest are the autograph sessions, and I was happy to learn that among the players who would be doing them (pre-purchased at $20 a pop) were former third baseman Ron Cey and catcher Steve Yeager, oldtimers from my particular era of Dodgermania whose stats I once knew like scripture. I wasn't planning on getting an autograph, but it would be good to see them. 2014 had been a tough year on several fronts, and I was looking forward to reconnecting to a sense of hope and change, to memories of victories won. The Dodgers were all that.

I'm not exaggerating: just walking onto the field and looking up at the stadium that surrounds it, having the player's-eye view, was glorious (my nephew said that having FanFest on the field this year, as opposed to the parking lot last year, was an inspired move. I agree.) I've been in the dugout before, but this was a different thrill -- being on the stage as opposed to in the wings. Fans around me seemed similarly, happily dazed; I passed one man laying prostrate on the grass in center field, perhaps overcome. Over near the dugout other FanFest-ers were standing patiently in line to get the chance to run all the bases, or more accurately, walk them. An older man with bright blue facepaint stood on the first-base bag, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, looking very content and not too anxious to get to second.

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On the stage set up in far right field, various Dodger players were interviewed, including Howie Kendrick and Kenley Jansen, Cey and Yeager. Jansen and Kendrick were appealing, and drew lots of applause, but their remarks were relatively brief and dutiful. Cey and Yeager spread out, swapping stories and otherwise luxuriating in a triumphant Dodger past that I was proud to have known firsthand. Vin Scully came out last and did his own reminiscing in that signature voice, sans interviewer -- really, what would have been the point? Throughout the morning, the five Dodger World Series championship banners hung from the eaves of the stadium high above the stage; the last one in the row was hung in 1988, twenty-seven years ago. For a lot of Southern Californians, the drought has long been a way of life. But there's always this year.

It got off to a good start. My nephew, for his part, was ecstatic: Kenley Jansen autographed not just a jersey, but a framed photo. He'd been a little nervous about bringing the photo and breaking the implicit one-autograph-per-customer rule, but it turned out not to be a problem; he even chatted up Jensen where most people, he told me, stayed quiet. Reverent. He took a chance and got more than what he'd come for. I know that feeling. I'm hoping to get it again in '15.

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