Friday, October 11, 2013

Rising to the NLCS (The Dodgers and Me)

The only thing standing between the Dodgers and the World Series is the St. Louis Cardinals. The team that’s as good postseason money as anybody with 3 straight NLCS appearances.

But for some reason, I’m pretty confident this Dodgers team’s magical ride won’t end. I feel like it’s 2008 all over again when this was the first trip in 20 years. I wasn’t confident about the 2009 NLCS because I felt like Philly already had our number. This year, I’m feeling much different.

It hit me when Juan Uribe hit that home run in Game 4. I was wearing my Kershaw replica jersey that I kept on from my tutoring gig and I jumped around my living room like I jumped during the two walk-off wins at Dodger Stadium I attended this year. Once again, the excitement around this team is like nothing I’ve seen since 2008.

That 2009 Dodgers team was strange. Manny Ramirez was busy getting busted for PED’s, Orlando Hudson brought his All-Star level bat, glove and energy to the team, Juan Pierre became a fan favorite for filling in for Manny and Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier emerged as team leaders and All-Stars. It was a fun team to watch but when the NLCS came, I was optimistic but a bit nervous considering the Phillies ran the Dodgers out in 2008.

I couldn't find my media credential so I figure I'd settle for the next best thing. The media guide. (Photo by Evan Barnes)
Game 1 was ugly for Clayton Kershaw, who pitched a great four innings before a nightmarish 5th. He was still very young but the Phillies overpowered him. The rest was a mere formality as the Dodgers lost to Philly in five.

In theory, that series (and that postseason) was one of my last highs as a reporter during my days with the LA Sentinel. I had more covering high school sports, of course, but that was the last bit of glory. I attended that first game with my coworker Tamara and due to our credential limit, I was “relegated” to the ALCS where I’d cover Games 4 and 5 while she covered Game 2 of the NLCS (also known as Pedro Martinez' last reminder to Dodger Stadium they shouldn't have traded him).

That was the last time the Dodgers would taste the postseason and the curse of the McCourt divorce, which was announced that series followed soon. 2010 was a nightmare season, 2011 was toxic with the McCourt divorce proceedings but it was saved by Matt Kemp/Kershaw’s incredible performance. 2012 was still treading off those fumes and got worse with Kemp’s injury but ended optimistic with the Boston trade and Magic/Stan Kasten and Co. saving the day by buying the team.

As for me? Some of you know how I struggled in 2010-2013. I quit my newspaper gig in July 2010 and my tutoring center closed in December. Finances got tight and I reached my breaking point in 2011. I had some highs - my relationship, best friends getting married, growing into my voice, learning to be myself, going to NABJ - but it was an uphill battle. If not for tutoring at other Sylvans and great support, it would've been harder.

It was a journey that made me stronger and I appreciated it as such then and now. As the Dodgers got back on track, so did I. As the Dodgers turned around in 2012, my fortunes changed when I came back from NABJ inspired.  

That’s why this push to the NLCS is everything. It’s great for the city, great for a fanbase that had seen the Angels replace them as the model for running an organization and it’s great timing for me personally. 

As the Dodgers got better over the summer, my personal life got better and improved to where I am now. Now as take their first pitch today in the NLCS, I’m celebrating my first feature story in three years, published in the Daily Breeze. Even cooler is that Tamara and I both work in the South Bay where she’s grown not just a writer, but an on-camera reporter who still covers the Dodgers along with high school sports like yours truly.

It's a cliche right now but this Dodgers team is special and fun to watch as a unit, not just as individuals. Hanley Ramirez rediscovered his all-around brilliance. Uribe went from a potential bust to a Gold Glove playoff hero. Adrian Gonzalez’s blue collar soul has carried this team while Matt Kemp battled injuries.  But sometimes sports moves you because you can connect to it on a deeper level. The Dodgers didn’t bring joy in my life to fill a void, they amplified what was already there.

There’s something great in seeing them win, have fun and ride this improbable journey. So that’s why I’m picking them in six. You can call it destiny while I look at the Dodgers’ pitching and timely hitting and see just as potential as the Cardinals balance/October magic. I’m going to enjoy this series and hope it ends the way I imagine.

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