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SCV Dodger Day
When the Mountain People Descend Upon Chavez Ravine
May, 2018 - Issue #164
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

I was an interloper on the field at Dodger Stadium. Sure, I went through the proper motions - stretched my legs a bit, bounced a little on my toes, as I prepared to get down in my crouch behind home plate, my leather glove oiled up and ready to catch some heat.

But I was no Mike Piazza. No, I was another kind of meatball altogether: I was the catcher not for the first action of the game at Dodger Stadium, but for the "ceremonial first pitch" of Santa Clarita Valley Dodger Night, circa 1997.

I didn't catch any heat that night, other than the razzing from my friends after I returned to the stands, post pitch. You see, the SCV Chamber of Commerce president at the time, Tim Burkhardt of Six Flags, tossed the pitch, as Bob Uecker would have said, "Juuuust a little low and outside..."

And I didn't dig it out. In that instant, I lost all of my street cred as a quasi-athlete. I wrote a newspaper column attempting to get a few chuckles out of it, teasing Burkhardt and of course squarely placing all the blame on him for our not-so-perfect exchange. In retrospect, I wasn't really fair to my fellow Tim. I should have dug that one out. It was catch-able.

Yet, it was an experience I'll never forget and I will cherish forever. Because how often do any of us get to take the field before a Major League ball game, much less catch the opening pitch?
"I broke from my crouch. The rest of it is a LITTLE FUZZY, but as I remember it, I made a heroic leaping effort to catch that ball before it could hit the ground."

I was reminded of this experience when I saw that the tickets are on sale for the 41st annual SCV Dodger Day, scheduled 6:10 pm Saturday, May 12, when the Dodgers take on the Cincinnati Reds. (Info and tickets: http://scvdodgerday.com/).

Tickets are discounted and proceeds support local schools and nonprofit groups. Plus, it's a giveaway day: The first 40,000 fans will get a Dodgers 60th anniversary cap. I suggest you get there early, if not for the cap, than for the pregame festivities. One of the cool things about SCV Dodger Day is that groups that sell more than 25 tickets participate in pregame festivities in center field.

Right there. On the field. In Dodger Stadium. It's usually mostly kids and chaperones, and I guarantee you, every kid who gets to go on the field before the game will never forget the experience. That's the real magic of Dodger Day.

It started more than 40 years ago, and I remember in my youth that the event was a highly-anticipated pilgrimage, the brainchild of a PTA mom named Sheila Sales. She devoted her time as a volunteer, working half the year to make this one night happen, with cooperation from the two local chambers of commerce.
The success of the event even got attention from the metro media to the south:

"The trip to Dodger Stadium has become a spring ritual for residents of the Santa Clarita Valley," said the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "Each May, they descend from the mountains in a procession of chartered buses, making the one-hour drive south on Interstate 5 into downtown Los Angeles. Five thousand of them come to watch a week-night baseball game. They sit together in the reserved seats, high above the first-base line."
Yep. That's us. The Mountain People, descending in a horde down into the Big City, sitting in the cheap seats.

This year, you can of course get seats anywhere you want. And the event has morphed a little over the years: It went from being basically a one-woman show to being run by a loosely organized committee, to being the SCV Chamber of Commerce's baby, and then it shifted to the City of Santa Clarita, which oversees the event now in cooperation with local volunteers and groups.

In my days at the community newspaper, I had the opportunity to serve on the committee and participate in the pregame festivities. In 2005, I even got the chance to get my oldest kid on the field, as then-10-year-old Luc got to be one of the nine kids who ran onto the field to get autographs from the Dodgers' starters right before the game. I've got some great pictures of my kid, chatting up Milton Bradley in center field, then sprinting back toward the stands, clutching an autographed baseball.

Great memories. And, let the record reflect, I got a second chance at the opening pitch, one year after my Dodger Stadium debut. The pitcher, again, was the president of the SCV Chamber of Commerce, but this time it was Kim Kurowski.
There we were. A battery consisting of a newspaper editor and the SCV's beloved balloon lady. Opposing batters would cringe in their cleats, yes?

Kim wound up and lobbed one high, with more arc on it than a post-operative Peyton Manning pass.

I broke from my crouch. The rest of it is a little fuzzy, but as I remember it, I made a heroic leaping effort to catch that ball before it could hit the ground.

That's my Dodger Night story, and I'm sticking to it.
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