By Natalia Molina
During Game 6 of this year’s World Series, a man held up a sign. On top, it read, “1988: Father and son at World Series.” On the bottom, “2017: Father, son and grandson at World Series.”
I could relate. I was there with my big brother David, our respective spouses, and David’s son — my nephew (and godson) Justin. We had brought Justin to his first game — Opening Day 1995 — when he was only five months old.
I’m sure our family story will resonate with others who see the Dodgers as part of their family history. But as a Latina who grew up in Echo Park, home to Dodger Stadium, there are other dimensions to my family’s story and our love of the Dodgers, or as we called them, Los Doyers.
My father is from Cananea in Sonora, Mexico, but let’s start with my maternal grandmother, Natalia Barraza, from the town of Acaponeta in the state of Nayarit. She opened the Nayarit restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, one mile from Dodger Stadium, in 1951. Throughout the ’60s and early ’70s (when my mom sold it), the Dodgers, as well as Latino players from visiting teams, like Juan Marichal and the Aloú brothers, would come to the restaurant.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love the Dodgers. EVERYONE in my neighborhood was a fan and the stadium was accessible, geographically and economically. You could actually watch the Dodgers on TV then — unlike now, due to a four-year impasse between SportsNet LA and cable and satellite providers — so we never missed a game.
Which is why Dodger Stadium has always been my True North. Growing up, when I told people where I was from in Los Angeles, they would sometimes look askance, saying, “I took a wrong turn going to Dodger Stadium once and ended up in a bad neighborhood.”
“Yup,” I told them, “that was my neighborhood!”
But those of us who grew up in “the Park” took pride in our working-class neighborhood, home to a large Mexican community as well as Chinese immigrants, Vietnamese refugees, Filipino nationals and working-class whites. We were all one big Dodgers family. We walked to games together, arriving early to watch batting practice and gather autographs from the players.
In the 1970s, we revered the famous infield: Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell. But getting to meet Latino ballplayers, when so much of Latino culture was otherwise denigrated, was the icing on the cake. Pedro Guerrero, Manny Mota, Davey Lopes — OK, Lopes is actually of Portuguese descent, but we didn’t care.
We would speak to them in Spanish and they would generously reply. In the years that followed, the Dodgers acquired more Latino ballplayers — Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro and Ramón Martínez, Ismael Valdez, Raúl Mondesí and Adrián Beltré. Speaking of Ramón, David and I were there to witness his 1995 no-hitter against the Florida Marlins.
Many of the players were quite young, far from their homes and families, and spoke only or mainly Spanish at first. We spoke Spanish to them, too, and we always saw the diversity that they brought to the team as an asset — unlike some teammates in the early days who questioned their “agenda.” Because Latino players made Echo Park feel special, we wanted to make them feel at home.
¡puro pinches doyers!
So, when my brother David called me in San Diego the morning of Game 6 to tell me that ticket prices on SeatGeek.com had dropped to a point where I might not have to spend my teenager’s entire college fund, it was a no-brainer. I couldn’t not go. After all, I told my nephew Justin, I still remember exactly where I was when Kirk Gibson hit that epic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
“I still remember where I was, too, and I wasn’t even born yet,” Justin replied in earnest.
It may sound like a strange response, but I get it. We have passed down Dodger memories through our DNA.
The day started at El Compadre Mexican restaurant on West Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park. According to Jaime Jarrín, one of the three Latino broadcasters to receive the Ford C. Frick Award and who has called Dodgers games in Spanish since 1959, Latinos constitute about 40 percent of stadium-goers. But when you’re at El Compadre, it feels like 100 percent.
People waiting formed a receiving line, giving fist bumps and high fives to anyone walking down the street, accompanied by shouts of “Go Dodgers!” and “PPD” — ¡Puro Pinches Doyers!
Inside, people swapped stories about how they got their tickets. Most fell into one of two camps. Either they had spent a lot on SeatGeek.com, arguing that they had waited their entire lives to see this moment. Or they said a loved one with season tickets had forgone the small fortune they could have gained by scalping them so that their son, daughter, godchild, niece or nephew could experience magic time at Dodger Stadium.
From there, we set off to the stadium on foot. Not only did we want to avoid postgame gridlock, but it was more fun. Everyone we walked with had a story to swap, like the Latino father taking his 3-year-old son, dressed in a Dodger uniform emblazoned with Kershaw’s 22. I told him how we used to bring Justin at that age.
“You gotta raise them right!” he said as he fist-bumped me.
Our seats out in the loge section were perfect — no surprise, given that there is no bad seat at the stadium. We were surrounded by dyed-in-the-Dodgers’-blue-wool fans, many Latinos wearing jerseys with their favorite players’ names and numbers on them: Valenzuela’s 34, Puig’s 66, González’s 23.
We struck up a conversation — if you can call yelling at the top of your lungs a conversation — with the Latino family from Alhambra in front of us who have had their season tickets for 15 years. When Latino Dodger fans introduce themselves to one another, it’s akin to a blue-blood genealogy — you state your neighborhood, give your family history of coming to the stadium, and you introduce the other family members with you.
We instantly bonded with the family from Alhambra and, for the rest of the game, we high-fived every time the Dodgers got on base and after every strikeout, and hugged after every run. In the ninth inning, their grandma, wearing a classic 1970s shiny Dodger blue jacket, moved from her seat because she wanted to be with her family when they won.
When closer Kenley Jansen struck out the last batter and earned a rare two-inning save, the stadium filled with Randy Newman’s 1983 classic, I Love L.A. I sang along because I do love L.A., and love the Dodgers, and love my family — and at times like this, they all bleed together.
With tickets ranging from $1,000 to $40,000 each, we watched Game 7 from home. I was back in San Diego, decked out my Dodgers gear, texting with David and Justin from the time we got up. It was Justin’s 23rd birthday and Dodger Stadium was hosting a World Series Game 7 for the first time ever. I asked Justin what a win would mean and he was verklempt.
“I just have no words,” he answered.
David and Justin would watch the game at El Compadre with their Dodgers family, people they have known for years and people they just met. Of course, we now know we were on the wrong side of history; the first-ever championship for the Astros was a painful loss for us.
After the game, Justin and David again had no words, but I remembered something David told me over beer before Game 6: “Growing up, even when things weren’t going well, we always had the Dodgers. They were always there for us.”
And like familia, we are now there for them — and each other. And we will be there for them next season, hopefully with a happier result.
Natalia Molina is a Professor of History at University of California San Diego. She is currently writing a book entitled The Importance of Place and Place-makers in the Life of a Los Angeles Community: What Gentrification Erases from Echo Park.
Featured Image: Natalia Molina