I’ve always been told that you’ll see something special every time you go to a baseball game.
My father dispensed that fanciful adage upon me many times while I was young. But it was definitely true on Wednesday as we watched from Infield Reserve Section 6, seats 1 and 2 in Dodger Stadium as Clayton Kershaw no-hit the Colorado Rockies in one of the best pitching performances of the past 20 years.
It was an exciting moment for everyone in attendance. Well, almost everyone. In true Dodger Stadium fashion, I watched as some fans picked up their stuff and headed for the exits in the seventh inning. I’m not sure what’s going on in their lives, but that was a poor choice.
Anyway, what happened Wednesday night was historic. More importantly, it was the fulfillment of a life-long dream for my father.
At least I had already witnessed what was technically a no-hitter. It was a combined no-hitter at the college level, which is like watching “Gravity” on your tablet; you saw it, but you didn’t get to feel the full experience. Worst yet, I forgot to score that game at the University of Central Florida. I score 99 percent of the baseball games I attend but accidentally left my scorebook behind in my dorm that night. That further lessens its legitimacy to me.
But my father, a life-long Yankees fan who later created a life-long Yankees fan, had never seen a no-hitter. And while I estimate that I have seen between 400-500 baseball games in my life, he has attended more than 1,000.
He was born in 1950 and grew up on Long Island, N.Y., in a family that wasn’t fond of baseball. So he would hitch rides to Yankee Stadium with the neighbors or friends’ parents.
When he moved out to California in 1976, he loaded up his van with my mother, a cat, the money in his pocket and all of the beer that van could hold. As the Yankees and the Dodgers would meet three times in the World Series over the next handful of seasons, he grew to hate Blue with a passion while living in Los Angeles. That emotion was something else he passed on to me.
If you haven’t noticed already, I am very easily influenced, especially when it comes to sports.
My parents did their best to make ends meet in the late ’70s and early ’80s. She was a waitress, and he played music in any dive bar in Southern California that could fit a piano. On his off days, Sundays and Mondays, you could find both of them at a baseball game. They went to either Dodger Stadium or Anaheim Stadium when it hosted the correctly named California Angels.
And they scored each game. Or at least they scored each game as well as they could for as long as they could see. You have to be aware that this was well before our current climate, when beer sales weren’t halted in the bottom of the seventh inning.
My father guesses he and my mother attended at least 40 games per season during this time. Then I came along in
1984, seven weeks earlier than expected. But that didn’t stop my parents from acclimating me to Major League Baseball very early on. My dad says I attended my first game about three weeks after my birth. I was small enough for him to hold a beer, score the game, and cradle me with his forearm.
I don’t remember that first one, but many of the games remain vivid and almost all of them spent with my father.
Going to Dodgers games in the early-to-mid 1990s, sitting in the Loge section down the left-field line, receiving behind-the-back passes from Roger, “The Peanut Man.” That’s at least 20 games per year.
Going to Angels games in the late ’90 and into the new millennium while I was in high school, sitting in the upper deck between home plate and third base. Thirty games per year.
When I went off to UCF, I would return to California in the summer, and we would go to Dodgers games every Sunday and sit in the same section from which we watch the game today. You can’t beat it with a ticket price of $15 per person.
My father and I don’t have what I think most would call the typical father-son relationship. We are much less father-son and much more best friends. We are rarely serious. We tease each about anything. And we bond through baseball like nothing else. Our perfect day probably contains tickets to a game, opening a box of baseball cards, and then returning home to watch the Yankees win on TV.
When he dies, my dad has very clear and firm guidelines for what to do with all of his ashes: Scatter them around areas of the new Yankee Stadium. And some of them must make it on to the field. That must happen. If I get arrested in the process, so be it, but every speck of ash better be a part of that stadium, dammit.
We have plenty of baseball games in our future, but he had resigned that he would never see a no-hitter. This is something we talked about often. My father had grown playfully bitter of all of the people who had seen no-hitters, probably because he has not been without his share of close calls.
— He was invited to fly back to New York for Independence Day weekend and had tickets already purchased for him for the Yankees’ July 4, 1983 game versus the Red Sox. Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter. He couldn’t make the trip out for reasons he doesn’t remember.
— He gave away tickets to the Dodgers’ game on July 28, 1991 to his boss. On that afternoon, the Expos’ Dennis Martinez was perfect.
— My dad and I were all set to attend a Dodgers game on July 14, 1995. One problem: July 14 is my mother’s birthday. There’s no way we were making that game. You can guess the rest: Ramon Martinez threw a no-hitter.
— The closest either of us ever came to witnessing an MLB no-no in person occurred on May 24, 1995. Jack McDowell was pitching for the Yankees in Anaheim. By the fifth inning, McDowell had yet to allow a hit, and so my dad and I went into our usual mode of silence. Yes, we are those types of people who don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening. Our only code word for it is “special.” If a guy has a no-hitter in the works, he’s got “something special going on.” A perfect game is “very special.” It’s stupid, I know, but it’s part of our superstitions. More on that in a minute.
McDowell made it to the top of the eighth before Chili Davis reached on a seeing-eye infield single to break it up. Then the roof caved in; McDowell allowed three runs in the eighth, and the Yankees lost, 3-1.
Since then, we haven’t seen a pitcher even make it through the fourth with a no-no. But at every game, without fail, my father would always mention when the opposing pitchers had allowed their first hit. It didn’t matter if it was the top of the first, he still said, “There goes the no-hitter.” It’s like he has to hear himself say the words to make it real. I don’t know whom else he’s talking to; I know full well what a hit looks like, dad.
But he had to say it. Every time.
The fact that he had never seen a no-hitter was going to be at the top of his “Things You Regret” list when it came time for him to rest on his deathbed.
Then came this past Wednesday.
Originally, he was upset when I told him Kershaw would be pitching for the Dodgers. He is certainly amazing to watch, but we do see Kershaw relatively often, and his presence meant that another Dodgers win was pretty much inevitable. That’s the last thing my father wants to see.
Sure enough, it’s already the third inning, and the Dodgers are ahead, 7-0. Looks like we’ve got a throwaway game on our hands.
But we were also well aware that Kershaw had gone nine up, nine down through the first three innings. Dan, one of my dad’s employees whom we brought to the game, was unaware of our code. He wanted so eagerly to talk about what we might be watching. So my father gently told him, “If you want to sit somewhere else and talk about it, go ahead.” Or maybe it wasn’t that gentle.
Once Kershaw made it through five innings, the crowd was immersed, and my father and I had figured out, almost telepathically, what superstitious routine we were going to carry out until the end of the no-hitter or the end of the game, whichever came first.
He would score the top half of the innings. I would score the bottom half.
He had to leave his seat before every inning to go somewhere. Even after the beer stands had closed, he had to get out of his seat and go … somewhere. I don’t know where he went, but he made sure to return before first pitch.
At the top of every inning after the fifth, my father would say, “Let’s get some runs.” That’s what he would like to see the visitors do against the Dodgers, but now that statement was spoken only to continue what had been working for us.
Never mind the fact that Kershaw’s change-up was diving into the dirt like a jack-hammer, his curveball was coming from out of the heavens, and the Rockies’ lineup was extremely shorthanded due to injuries … my father was certain this no-hitter wasn’t going to continue without that same chain of events, repeated over and over and over again.
Now it’s the top of the ninth. Two outs.
The crowd is on its feet and at full volume. I look over at my dad to see if he can at least crack a smile. This is what he’s always wanted. Does he want to hold hands as we take in this moment?
Nope. He looks straight ahead, as stoic as ever. In that last at-bat, the only three people in the stadium are Clayton Kershaw, Corey Dickerson and Tom Murphy.
I take out my phone and start to film just before Kershaw strikes out Dickerson to record his 15th K of the night, and the 12th no-hitter in Los Angeles Dodgers history. I quickly spin the camera around to my father.
I have never seen him more excited. Not when we were present for the Yankees’ World Series-clinching game in San Diego in 1998.
Not when Scott Norwood’s kick went wide right and he jumped for joy out of his chair — and then sat right back down in agony as had undergone hernia surgery just days prior.
Not when Jim Leyritz went deep off of Mark Wohlers in 1996. Not when Derek Fisher nailed that shot with 0.4 seconds left versus the Spurs.
Not when I graduated from college, twice.
He pumped his right fist five times as if he was beating up the railing in front of us. He then looked up and raised his arms to the sky as if he was thanking God. It should be mentioned that he is an atheist.
He then turns to me and screams with glee, “SON OF A BITCH! I’VE FINALLY SEEN ONE!”
He can die a happy man.
We didn’t leave the stadium for another 40 minutes. We couldn’t leave. We had both just scratched a major item off of our bucket lists. We must have said “amazing” 100 times collectively that night. We could find no other words. However, I think “stunned” was thrown in there a good 50-60 times, too. My father has never been nor will never be so pleased for a Dodgers victory
When we arrived home, we had to watch the highlights. And then we watched them again an hour later. My father and I did what we usually do during the months of April through October: We sat at the kitchen table and watched baseball.
We spent hours reminiscing about what we had just seen and that, yes, it did happen. And we were there, soaking in baseball history together, right next to each other just as we have been for 30 years.
That is why you go to baseball games: You never know when something special will happen.