On May 28, 1957, a day that will live in infamy, Major League Baseball’s owners allowed the Brooklyn Dodgers to move to Los Angeles (now the home of fans who arrive late and, if their team is behind, leave early). As a child I had listened to Brooklyn Dodger games on a small portable radio, late at night and under the covers, lest my parents discover I was not asleep. Many a weekend was spent on the subway to Ebbets Field.
So when Major League Baseball let the Dodgers run to Los Angeles, I swore off baseball. Forever.
Over three decades elapsed before I moved to Washington and met the most extraordinary Charles Krauthammer, who decided to put an end to my boycott. As a birthday present he invited me to join him at a Washington Nationals game at which, to my astonishment, the giant scoreboard at one point lit up with “Happy Birthday, Irwin.”
That alone would not have returned me to the ranks of baseball fans. It was Charles’ enormous knowledge of the game, his pleasure in sharing that knowledge with me, and the grace with which he received fans who greeted him, often pressing little notes on policy issues on him, which he passed to me to hold on to until he dropped me off at home after the game.
We developed a ritual. I would meet Charles at the Fox News studio at 7:00 p.m., after his broadcast. He would drive us to the stadium (a drive that came as close to the Daytona 500 as can be imagined) just in time for the end of the top of the first inning, which usually ran for quite a while as the visiting team piled up lots of runs on the then-hapless Nats. They were so inept they lost over 100 games in 2008 and 2009.
In 2010, Charles shared with his readers what he called “the joy of losing.”
“I go for relief. For the fun, for the craft … and for the sweet easy cheer at Nationals Park. … I’ve never been to a park where the people are more relaxed, tolerant, and appreciative of any small, even moral, victory.”
Charles might have added that he went for the availability of junk food and the camaraderie of the famous friends who repaired to his seat for easy, interesting conversation during rain delays.
Charles also once wrote that he did not believe in God, but feared him mightily. I have no doubt that God allowed Charles to recover from his astonishment at their meeting, and then provided him with either a bird’s-eye view of the recent triumphs by the Nats or the largest, flattest television set the world down here has never seen. (Unlimited supplies of junk food should be available up there, since its alleged life-shortening features are irrelevant.)
Charles worried that if the Nats became contenders they would give him hope, and then break his heart. “Where does one then go for respite?” he asked.
Well, Charles’ beloved Nats are now in the World Series, waiting to take on either the Yankees or the Houston Astros (the Yankees are the one team so identified with their home city that it needs no mentioning.) I haven’t missed a game of the playoffs. But I was a bit too embarrassed to explain to fellow viewers why I was wearing a baseball cap – the Nats cap signed by Stephen Strasburg that Charles gave me shortly before he left to take his sky-high seat above the stadium.
I can only hope that Charles is enjoying a well-deserved respite from his hyper-active life, even though he has the new burden of rooting for a team with a realistic prospect of victory, and therefore the power to disappoint.