October 21, 2006

BART Conversation Yields LA Sports History Trove

In my twenty-plus years of researching all I can about baseball, I've amassed a fair amount of knowledge on the subject, and I'm occasionally trotted out to spar with other trivia junkies to see who can know the most obscure items. While that's fun, it's a rarity when I can find somebody else as passionate about the sport, who also knows their history and is happy to talk about it. This afternoon, on our way home from the Cal football game, we struck up a conversation with couple from the San Joaquin Valley, and got to hear first-hand stories about the LA Dodgers from decades long gone by.

Not devout Cal fans, the couple had rightfully anticipated today's contest to be a good one, and had driven the two-plus hours to the BART station to catch the game. They regaled us with stories about how they traveled to see the Reds take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and the Giants at the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium earlier this year. But the best parts came when the husband told me he had grown up an LA Dodgers fan in the Walter Alston era, abandoning his fandom when Tommy Lasorda took over the managerial position.

Cautiously, I asked him if he had ever seen pitching legends Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale take the mound. He had - and said he had seen one of Koufax's then-record four no-hitters. We talked about speedster Maury Wills coming up in the 1959 season, along with pitcher Roger Craig, who later gained notoriety for losing 20-plus games for the expansion New York Mets in the early 1960s, and eventually becoming the Giants manager in the 1980s. Each of his memories would spark more questions from me - as he remembered Steve Garvey clubbing 5 doubles in a game, and St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial setting the National League record for career doubles, forcing the game to be abruptly stopped to recognize the feat. I wanted to know which catcher took over following Roy Campanella's car accident, and what had sparked Juan Marichal's famous beating of Johnny Roseboro after a high and tight pitch.

Our conversation was cut short by our needing to exit the BART, find our car, and head home, but it came too soon. It's not often that I can benefit from knowing the ins and outs of sports and find someone who can not only add stories, but appreciate the conversation. He seemed excited that some under-30 kid would have taken the time to know about the baseball of his childhood, which had long since faded to memories by the time I was born. I left, wishing them well, happy, almost as pleased with our exchange as I was the Cal football game, and I hope that our conversation similarly brightened his day.

A good friend of mine recently teased that I focus too much on the world of sports, and that I've made a jump to try and act like a jock, when I so clearly am a nerd. But there's so much more than just the final scores and the physical rough and tough. In sports, especially baseball, there is history and tradition, and a commonality between random people that is special. You can love sports for the sweat and the physicality. I love sports for the challenge, the energy, the statistics and the meaning of it all - not just for today, but forever.

Listening to ''No More Tears'', by DJ Tiesto (Play Count: 6)