Fred was gasping hoarsely, practically strangling himself with urgency. The big moment had definitely arrived-we both realized that-but it was affecting us differently. I was short of breath, too, but not saying a thing-and definitely not making a move. I felt kind of dazed, almost paralyzed.
"Throw it back!" Fred was still saying. "Throw it back!" Who knows how long he had been repeating it? Maybe since the baseball began to arc toward our section, high along the left-field line at Dodger Stadium. Maybe since it landed among our legs and started to rattle around beneath our seats. Maybe since I dived after the ball, delivering a hard body slam-part strategy, part cheap shot-against the lady in stretched-to-capacity double knits who had been talking down to me all evening; she wasn't holier-than-anybody now, groveling in the spilled beer and popcorn, lunging and grappling for the foul ball, too.
Or maybe it only seemed as though Fred had been saying it for so long-"Throw it back! Throw it back!"-because of how long I'd been thinking about it. For years, actually. And for the past 10 or 15 seconds, intensely. Maybe Fred began frantically chanting only after he saw how triumphantly I had leaped to my feet, after he watched me proudly thrust my arm into the air with the ball displayed like a trophy, after he realized, horrified, that I was having serious second thoughts about following through on our long-standing pact-that I didn't want to throw it back.
Would anyone who grew up loving baseball? If Cupid wore a cap and swung a bat, foul balls would be his arrows. Like love, they come shooting out of thin air, unexpected no matter how long you look for them. There's the possibility they will never come your way at all-or the terrifying prospect that you will blow your one great opportunity. And let's not overromanticize this: foul balls, like love, can maim and kill. As a little boy, I used to bring my baseball glove to big-league games, praying for my moment, vicariously living and dying with those who were graced-and disgraced-by a foul ball. And now it had arrived.
"Give it to me," Fred said finally, more gently than I expected and not without understanding-but not about to take no for an answer, either. I offered the ball to him, and in one quick and definitive motion, he snatched it from my hand and launched it on a long return flight. As the baseball sprang perversely back from the stands-even before it dropped onto the field-the thin applause I had received for winning the struggle for it had dramatically transformed and swelled into a roiling thunder of deep offense and furious anger. A foul ball had been thrown back, and all of the faithful in Dodger Stadium who witnessed it instantly recognized the sacrilege. They booed, not at all playfully, and as their outraged voices billowed toward us, I understood something about the risks of disturbing the slumber of culture. I was afraid.
Fred and I mustered up a couple of smiles, but they were the kind that looked as though we were shitting our pants.
"Goddamn you, Vin Scully!" I muttered under my breath-despondent, frustrated, fearful-as the booing continued. "Goddamn you!"
Hating the Dodgers wasn't always as easy as it is today. Thanks to Rupert Murdoch, everybody has gotten hip to Dodger tradition: it's a marketing tool to excavate profits for the most evil man in the world. Twenty-five years ago, however, people actually believed in Dodger Blue. The O'Malleys were regarded as the First Family of the national pastime, Tommy Lasorda was baseball's goodwill ambassador, and Steve Garvey was such an all-American stereotype that a junior high school was named after him.
But Murdoch and the Fox Group haven't suddenly polluted a noble blue bloodline; from the Brooklyn they abandoned to the Los Angeles they invaded through eminent domain, the Dodgers' top priority has always been their bottom line. Dodger Blue has always been about Dodger Green.
"Walter O'Malley was in baseball for only one reason-to make money," Buzzie Bavasi, the former Dodgers general manager, told me last year. "And he was very good at it; he made a lot of money. Whatever happened in the standings, he never had a losing season. Never."
True to that tradition, last year, Peter O'Malley put a price tag on the team that was his family heirloom. Lasorda was accused of becoming general manager by stabbing his supposedly like-a-son protégé Bill Russell in the back. And Garvey? A couple of years ago, he went from U.S. Senate hopeful to infomercial huckster when he fathered children by two women a few months apart.
But the true glory of Dodgers tradition is actually the melodious voice of announcer Vin Scully, who for 50 years has been as poetic as Robert Frost, as socio-economically insightful as John Kenneth Galbraith and, sometimes, as beside himself as Richard Simmons.
And so it was that, years before, while listening to a Dodgers game on the radio, Fred and I heard Scully have a hissy fit when a fan threw back a foul ball.