If the team makes it to the World Series and gets pushed to seven games along the way, I’ll generally put on about 10 pounds of pure flab. I can picture my doctor shaking his head. Stupid triglycerides. I’d tell him that I don’t have any choice. There are no more superstitious people in the world than baseball fans — unless it’s baseball players — and the team is depending on me to do my part, which is to wear my lucky hat and to eat these snacks in the correct sequence.
Everyone who plays or loves the game believes that they can exert some kind of control over specific games based on the hat they wear, the chair they sit in, or — please, doctor — the kind of food they consume. If everything is just so, the team will win. If one thing is even a tiny fraction off, the team is doomed. Some players won’t shave as long as their team is winning. That’s one reason that teams that make deep runs into the playoffs often look more like an oddly dressed assembly of Civil War generals.
I freely admit that I have not quite been able to get my mojo just exactly right. The Dodgers have been to the World Series the previous two years in a row, but lost both times, to the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in 2018. All that weight gained for nothing. Nothing but heartache, as Deputy Barney Fife would say.
The last time the Dodgers won the World Series, I was in college. It was 1988. Gas was 91 cents per gallon. The rent for my apartment in Boone was $325 per month. It was the year “Die Hard” came out, which you could see in a theater for $3.25.
More importantly, it was the year a guy named Orel Hershiser, who looked more like a college professor of Economics than a Major League pitcher, put a whole team on his back and carried it as far as the ninth inning of the first game of the World Series, when a gimpy Kirk Gibson — who could barely walk to the plate — hit a two-run walk off home run off of Dennis Eckersley, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 win over the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics.
It was Gibson’s only plate appearance in the series, which the Dodgers won four games to one. I was at a faculty party the night the Dodgers clinched it. As a fairly new teaching assistant in the English Department at Appalachian State University, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to hob-nob with professors I had revered for years, chatting amiably about Chaucer, Faulkner, Jacques Derrida, and those damned freshman comma splices.
A few of my peers, souped-up on better cocktails than we were used to, pogoed to the Talking Heads in another room. I found a little black-and-white television in the guest bedroom and kept slipping off to keep tabs on the score. Hershiser pitched a complete game, and the Dodgers were World Champions. I pogoed back into the room where the action was, shouting out, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco!”
“Dodgers win?” asked Kent, the only fellow TA in the department with even a mild interest in the outcome of the game.
“World Champions, son!” I yelled.
“Good then,” he said, which was accompanied by a few indifferent shrugs from colleagues who had no more interest in baseball than in the novels of Danielle Steele or the greatest hits of the Oak Ridge Boys. “Do you still have that bottle of vodka in your car?”
Please understand. I was not a normal kid. By the time I was 10 or 11 years old, I had become obsessed with the Dodgers. I begged my dad to tell me stories of watching Sandy Koufax pitch. I had baseball cards of the whole team, which I would sometimes fan out on the carpet in the positions they played on the field. I memorized their statistics. I knew where they were from.
By the time I got to high school, the Dodgers had become a contender to win a championship, but lost back-to-back World Series to the dreaded New York Yankees, or as I referred to them, “the Evil Empire.” That was the late 1970s. I hated the Yankees like other people hated disco.
My dream finally came true in 1981, when I finally saw the Dodgers win the World Series in a strike-shortened season. I didn’t care if the championship had an asterisk attached to it or not. I wore my shiny blue Dodgers windbreaker everywhere I went that year. I gloated to my friends. I felt fully invested in it.
They didn’t win another one until 1988. They haven’t won another one since. There have been some close calls, some awful seasons, and everything in between. A lot can happen in 31 years, and a lot has — except for the Dodgers winning a World Series.
This season, the team was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, despite winning 106 regular season games, a franchise record. Some fans are blaming the manager, others the players. I think it may be my hat. I’m thinking of trying a new one next season, and maybe switching from Chunky Monkey to frozen yogurt.
If the team doesn’t like it, my doctor will.