First published in the Oct. 15 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
I didn’t have a crystal ball to tell me the Dodgers-Giants playoff series would end the day after the Review goes to press, but I did not need any help finding two people whose memories of the Dodgers — in Brooklyn or Los Angeles — are always winners.
“I didn’t know the Dodgers came from Brooklyn or, for that matter, where Brooklyn was,” admitted Steve Fjeldsted, former head librarian at South Pasadena Public Library, who remains a Dodger fan to this day.
His memories are only a game away or, in this case, the next playoff game, as the Dodgers have been trying to defend the World Series title the team won last season. This issue went to print prior to the deciding game in the Dodgers’ playoff series with the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.
Ask my dad at age 95, and his memories of growing up in Brooklyn are still vivid despite the fact the Brooklyn Dodger teams he followed weren’t very good and he left home — and pretty much left the Dodgers behind — when he was drafted in 1944.
Mort Lippman then married the woman who lived across the street from him in Brooklyn (who was, according to my dad, a “quiet” New York Giants fan growing up), went to George Washington University to become a pharmacist and began raising a family outside Washington, D.C. — which was home to the hapless Washington Senators.
But it was impossible to grow up in Brooklyn without knowing about the home team and Ebbets Field.
“Ebbets Field was a raucous place — a lot of yelling, with cowbells ringing every place,” he recently remembered. “It was an old place. You learned where to sit so you didn’t sit behind the pillars that held up the upper deck.
“But it was a warm atmosphere,” my dad continued. “People were very caring, where the adults talked to the kids who probably knew as much baseball as the sports writers who were covering the team.”
The elder Lippman remembers that, as a boy, he was a member of the Knot Hole Club, which was offered through the elementary school, and he could go to 10 games — that works out to a nickel a game — and he was allowed to sit in the grandstands.
“I remember Hilda, who rang the cowbell. Everyone wanted to sit near her,” said dad, whose mother gave him a dime for the roundtrip subway ride, five cents for peanuts and another five cents for a cola drink.
When he wasn’t playing baseball, he was listening to the Dodgers on the small radio in the kitchen, or on the larger cathedral-shaped radio that the family gathered around to listen to the World Series games.
“You could leave your house, walk the entire block and everyone had their windows open, and someone would be listening to the Dodgers,” Dad said. “You’d never miss a pitch.”
And the voice that my dad would hear — besides that of his neighbors — would be legendary Dodgers announcer Red Barber, with his southern drawl.
“He brought things up from his childhood,” Dad said, “and you knew what he meant because he kept things simple. Everyone loved Red Barber.”
I asked my dad who was the greatest Dodger he saw in his youth, and he mentioned outfielder Pete Reiser.
“In his prime, he was as good or better than [New York Yankees outfielder] Mickey Mantle,” he said. “He was everyone’s best Dodger, but he kept getting hurt diving after fly balls.”
My dad’s all-time favorite player was Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, period. His star glowed on throughout my childhood. None of the top pitchers he saw while he was a boy were Dodgers — they were Carl Hubbell and Carl Fitzsimmons of the Giants and Red Ruffing of the Yankees.
“I saw Babe Ruth but by then he was old, fat and bandy legged, whereas Joe DiMaggio was flawless and picture-perfect,” Dad said.
My dad played baseball on an empty lot at the end of his street after school. One day, his mother called him in from the game and there was a stranger in the living room.
The stranger was there to offer him a scholarship to attend the well-known high school for the performing arts. When my dad heard that he’d have to miss playing baseball, he turned the opportunity down. The man turned to his mother and asked if she knew what her son was missing; my dad’s mom said, “If my son says no, then it’s no.”
My dad continued to follow the Dodgers through high school, although by that time he explained “they were second to your mother.”
“Many things have changed for me during my life, but Dodger Stadium remains one of the few constants,” Fjeldsted said. “It’s almost the same and when I go now; it brings back so many memories along with the excitement of the present.”
Fjeldsted grew up in La Crescenta, only about 20 minutes from Dodger Stadium, where it cost $2 when he was a boy to sit in the upper deck. He and his wife, Peggy, live in Eagle Rock.
“When I met Peggy, I thought she was perfect for me except for one thing: she didn’t like baseball,” he said. “Now she loves baseball and knows every team.”
Like my dad, he said he learned simple math from going over the box scores every morning and, like my dad, Fjeldsted also got his baseball growing up listening to the radio to one source — in this case, Vin Scully.
“It wasn’t just his mellifluous vocal tones or his firsthand knowledge of the game. It was mostly his talent of describing the action and the strategies poetically without saying too much,” he said. “I could never get too much of listening to Vin. I once paid to post a message on Dodger Stadium that declared ‘Vin Scully: L.A.’s #1 poet.’”
While living in northern and central California, Fjeldsted said he used a device that pulled in Dodgers radio broadcasts from such cities as Bakersfield, Visalia and Las Vegas. My absolute favorite game at Dodger Stadium was when he and a friend attended Scully’s very last game there in 2016.
Fjeldsted’s favorite Dodger in terms of talent was Sandy Koufax, “who could control the outcome of a game better than anyone I’ve seen.” Fjeldsted, who still plays baseball and wears No. 22 in honor of his hero, also had high praise for Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills and legendary manager Tommy Lasorda, whom he once brought to an author night at the South Pasadena Public Library.
“Tommy signed autographs for the 200 or so folks who stood in line after his talk and he stayed for about an hour and kept talking to us as we cleaned up and put the furniture away,” Fjeldsted recalled.
Willie Mays is the best player he’s ever seen. Fjeldsted said he felt “like a kid all over again” when he got his autograph while attending a banquet in downtown L.A. about 20 years ago. When Fjeldsted is listening, or watching baseball at home, he’s also often texting his friends and sharing thoughts and analysis. During this week’s wild card playoff game, he was texting members of his softball team and several other friends.
Though Fjeldsted is still rooting for the Dodgers, and my dad stopped rooting for Brooklyn when he was 18, they are ironically now rooting for teams in the same Western Division of the National League.
Only, the Dodgers finished second in the regular season, while my dad watched almost every game from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, as the Arizona Diamondbacks finished 54 games behind the Dodgers.