On Tuesday, the World Series, a.k.a. “The Fall Classic,” began here in Los Angeles for the first time since 1988. If you are reading this outside of Southern California, I can promise you the City of Angels has never been more excited about its Dodgers.
This has been quite a season for the Blue, filled with a giant run of wins over the summer followed by an Aug/Sept near collapse almost reminiscent of the 1995 Angels. But out of nowhere came new stars Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger, the likely National League Rookie of the Year. Yasiel Puig, who’s suffered bouts of both erratic play and behavior over the last four seasons, has settled into the role of occasional hero brimming with a confidence he’s finally earned. Justin Turner, once considered a second-rate utility player for the Mets, has earned everyday play in the last two seasons as a Dodger and this year, provided clutch hitting and already playoff and World Series heroics. The Dodger bullpen has exceeded expectations, and ace Clayton Kershaw pitched another Cy Young Award worthy season. Bottom line: The 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers are what Joe Biden would call “a big fucking deal.” And though a fan of both the Angels and Dodgers, I am all in with #ThisTeam (a popular hashtag trending in Southern California).
The Dodgers will be facing a huge challenge in the Houston Astros, who just a few short years ago switched to the National League from their American League – their home since the team’s inception in 1962 – and have, in just a few seasons, gone from nowhere to one of the best teams in baseball.
As I began to think over the weekend about the coming World Series battle, something stuck me – not only will this be my first World Series without my dad, but also that if he were still alive … he would be rooting for the Astros!
Mike Flora, who passed away on May 31, never took to the Dodgers. Despite growing up in the San Fernando Valley during prime years of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, my dad never really liked to get all wound up in a “favorite team” (though he did make an exception for the Angels). My dad preferred to root for particular players he found to be “scrappy,” even if they played for a team he didn’t like. Perfect examples of this were the Giant’s Robby Thompson (‘80s era) and the Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia. He also loved big, long ball hitters who he used to say’ “can change the game with one swing.” I’m sure my dad would be enjoying the rookie season of the Yankee’s giant outfielder Aaron Judge for example, who is likely to earn American League Rookie of the Year honors. I can hear him now, as I arrive for a visit, “Hey, T – did you see Judge last night? The guy is an animal!”
That’s why I know he would be rooting for the Astros. Sure, the Dodgers have their own scrappers and big hitters. But they would never stack up to my father’s beloved Jose Altuve, the Astro’s star second baseman who, despite his diminutive stature, is a wonder to watch play baseball. Such great hustle. He would talk about Altuve so often it almost had me worried about my own standing in the family! There is no doubt he would have come into the office on the Monday following Game 2 of the ALCS talking about Altuve’s bottom of the ninth trip all the way from 1st base to a dramatic slide at home plate to win it for the Astros. He would show equal glee over the fact that his favorite younger player, Carlos Correa, hit the game winning double that knocked in Altuve.
It’s the players. He loved it that Carlos Beltran (who, in his prime, you bet my dad reminded me could “change the game with one swing”) returned to the Astros roster after years elsewhere, or watching Josh Reddick (who bombed as a ½ year Dodger) or George Spring make diving outfield catches. Possibly up there with Correa and Altuve in my dad’s estimation was Brian McCann behind the plate. He would be thrilled to have seen McCann out of a Yankees uniform knocking shots over the right field wall and knocking guys over guarding home plate.
And then there’s Verlander. Justin Verlander, a.k.a. “Mr. Kate Upton” to non-sports fans, was traded by the Tigers to the Astros in literally the LAST HOUR of the fall trade deadline, and has since built a 9-0 record with Houston. Now, the thing you have to know about my dad is… he had a strange love of Detroit Tigers star players. I think it’s in part a “Magnum P.I. thing,” given our mutual love of this historic T.V. character’s fanhood of the Tigers. It may also be how much he loved Detroit’s Sweet Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammel’s years in Detroit. But he would love knowing Verlander was “on the bump” for the Astros in Wednesday’s Game 2.
The Astros are a fun team to watch, and I suppose will be an easy team to root for among millions of Americans who would rather not root for an L.A. team. And let’s be honest – the Astros are this year’s New Orleans Saints of 2006. Who isn’t going to root for the team from the big city still pulling its way out of hurricane wreckage? Well… me and millions of Dodgers fans. That’s who! But it isn’t malicious. I wouldn’t say most are “against” the Astros like we would have been historically “against” the Yankees had they prevailed in the ALCS.
I miss my dad every day. It would be a lie to say a few tears weren’t shed as I wrote this. I’ve watched or talked about every world series of my life with my dad, and this year the Dodgers are in it no less! Perhaps he would have even lined up with the Astros in part for the fun of being on opposite sides. Instead, I’m left with manufactured memories of he and I talking throughout the series, throwing a little shade at one another about our respective teams. This year, he would have been with the “Stros.” I know it in my gut and for the reasons I mentioned. I would rather have him back, but I could have lived with it. I guess I will …. and of course, those manufactured memories.