Monday, February 16, 2009

"I Brake For Miracles"

Posted in Trolley Dodger Fan magazine, April 1998:

My dad always made us leave early. Every Dodgers game, every Rams game, every Lakers game. But the one I'll never forgive him for is the World Series game we went to ten years ago. I was 11, and my dad's co-worker got us tickets to Game One. I was ecstatic. I was too young to remember the '81 championship season, so this was huge for me. My team in the World Series!

"We have to stay to the end, dad. We have to." He just moaned and groaned about freeway traffic. I just hoped the Dodgers went up by ten runs, so if I did get dragged away, I'd know I wasn't missing anything.

It got to the ninth, and dad and me were still in the park! But the Dodgers were losing, and the great closer Dennis Eckersley was coming in for the favored Athletics. Dad was ready to hit the road. This game was over, and the A's were gonna sweep. Those were his thoughts, not mine. He had me pack up my jacket and my souvenirs, as Eck was warming up. First batter pops out, and we're two outs away from losing. That's when dad started pushing me toward the exit. I was furious, stalling in any way I could. As we headed for the gate, we stopped on the lower level, and saw the second out. "That's it," he told me, and whooshed me away.

Then we were in the parking lot out beyond right field. At this point, I was the one hurrying, as I figured maybe we could at least hear the end of the game in the car. I remember praying to God that the Dodgers just stay alive till we got to the car.

Dad let me in, and I had the radio on instantly. We couldn't believe it. The announcer was saying there was a man on first. Someone reached base off Eck! And even more incredibly, my favorite player, Kirk Gibson, was coming up to pinch hit as the potential winning run! My dad had told me there would be no way Gibson would play, as he'd been injured, almost unable to walk.

We had pulled out of our spot. I thought about jumping out and making a run for it, back into the stadium. But I figured dad wasn't stopping, and I'd only risk missing something if I left the radio at the moment.

And then it happened. A high fly ball to right field! Back by the wall...and dad slammed on the brakes in excitement, as we heard the words "home run." The Dodgers had won! We were so happy, the last thing on my mind was "...and we missed it." I was just glad it happened, and at least I heard it...and was close to the site of the miracle.

But here's the best part: About seven years later, my college roommate lent me a VHS copy of the game. I brought it home at Christmas, and my whole family sat around and watched the game. Now, I'd seen that highlight a thousand times by then, but for some reason, I never noticed it before: My dad and I appear in the climactic moment. It must've been because everyone was making fun of my dad as we watched: "hey, Don, this must be when you left," my uncle teased while we watched the third inning. We were all talking about his "policy" the whole game. My mom added to the kidding as Gibson hit the homer. "Look closely and you'll see Don and Ronnie driving away." We were all rolling on the floor. But her line made me actually look beyond the fence--after all, that was where our car was, beyond right field. It was dark, though...

But then I saw us. Right above the fence, red lights appear. I know I'd noticed them before, but I always thought it was just some random red light. This time, I noticed they were brake lights. Our brake lights! I was young, but I was very aware of my surroundings at that special moment. I remember the row of cars we drove down. There were no other cars moving. Anyone else who left early was long gone. People who made the choice to stay were firmly in their seats for the bottom of the ninth. We were driving away from the stadium, and like I said, my dad hit the breaks as the ball was flying out of the park. And if you look closely, you can see the middle break light above the two regular ones. Dad's car had that feature then, before it was common. I've even checked daytime photos to confirm our position. I know that parking lot quite well, and that was us.

So after all those years, dad was off the hook. He actually got us on TV during the most famous moment in Dodgers history. (The Dodgers, of course, went on to win that World Series.) Ask him about it now and he'll tell you, "We had to get out to the lot so I could get my boy on TV." Yeah right, dad.

--Ronnie Hart, San Clemente, CA, 1998


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