Not to digress from baseball for too long, but I recently came across an article that labeled the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys as “America’s Team”—and I agreed for all the wrong reasons. The Dallas Cowboys do represent a side of America, but not precisely one that we should be proud of. No disrespect to the great people of Texas, but the Cowboys are precisely a representation of what America looks like from the outside looking in. Delusional, over-the-top, can’t win a big game to save their life showboats. They’re the home of the world’s largest TV and a 6-10 record.
It’s hard to see what makes the Cowboys so deserving of the title. In fact, not living in Cowboy-land, I find it hard to recollect a conversation about them that even relates to football. The conversation is never about what they do on the field, but is so focused on the grandeur of the sidelines. The Cowboys are the clichés that people see when they look at America. The focus is built on the flashy, talented, but misguided wide receiver in Terrell Owens of 2007, or the strained relationship with his All-American quarterback, Tony Romo. Tony Romo’s girlfriend (whoever it is, when you read this), Jerry Jones, the Texas oil man, satisfying his need for bigger and better things by building the Cowboys Stadium, the largest domed arena in the world, home of the largest HD screen, a screen so large, it directly interferes with the game. They are a team of caricatures and represent a cartoon America.
For a little background, I’m a 24-year-old college student in Southern California, and have been a fan of the hometown Dodgers for the last 15 years. Going into the 2011 season, there are moderate expectations to respond to the Giants’ World Series win last October. If you were to ask me who My America’s team is, it’s without a doubt, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The history of the Dodgers shows a connection to the multicultural roots of our national melting pot. They broke the color barrier with Jackie Robinson, but it’s more than just that. Dodger blue is a place where Sandy Koufax can find a balance of his religion and his duty. Dodger blue is where a Mexican teenager can become Fernandomania! Dodger blue is where Hideo Nomo’s rookie season bridged the gap between East and West. Dodger blue is where Orel Hershiser’s bulldog, blue-collar work ethic can make an everyman into a World Series MVP. Dodger blue is where, just when you think they can’t, a man with two bad legs from Michigan pulls through in the bottom of the ninth. That is what America is all about; many people coming together underneath one banner, the best of the world putting their effort to build a unified place in history.
This, unfortunately, is not where the metaphor ends. Being a college student, it’s hard to turn in any direction and not receive some bad news. The economy is so bad you won’t be able to get a job, there are wars going on across the globe and we’re spread too thin, there is “terror” around every corner. Being born in 1987, I was one year old when the Dodgers had won their last World Series, and have lived with the mediocrity of the Dodger Blues ever since. The problem has always been too large, and much like America, the small fixes are just band-aids on an open jugular—with the most recent being a retreat to familiarity, like putting a Bush back in the White House, Joe Torre was hired to mixed results. They’ve been just “good enough” for too long, and like America, we need a new identity.
With the McCourt’s ugly divorce being headline news in the sports section, there is an obvious lack of direction of the team. There is political strife in America, much like there is in the Dodger front office. However, with a new spring training and a new season ahead, there is hope. The hope rests on the shoulders of a new generation: Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, and Clayton Kershaw. The youthful core is there to build around to win a championship. Talented, hungry, and done waiting their turn, there is hope that they are to be the heroes for those born in 2011.
Enter Andre Ethier. An NL All-Star this last season, the bi-racial heartthrob was leading the National League in home runs, RBI and batting average in 2010 before his pinky injury. Then comes Matt Kemp, the powerful 26-year-old CF. He ended the 2010 season with five home runs in five games, showing off the youthful swagger by topping off the season with the streak. First baseman James Loney returns to the lineup after a down season, however he has given the Dodger fan base plenty of chances to remember why Baseball America labeled him the best pure hitter of his draft year. Then there is the pitching core: Chad Billingsley, an Ohio born RHP, All-Star in 2009, he appears to be the incumbent ace in the rotation. Clayton Kershaw, a Texas born LHP, a former USA Today high school player of the year, and a YouTube sensation for throwing one of the nastiest curveballs I’ve ever seen. These pitchers represent Middle America, what they lack in flamboyant personality, they make up with a combined 1,248 strikeouts in their young careers. Last but not least comes Jonathan Broxton, a 26-year-old closer for the Dodgers. A paragon of “throw the ball as hard as possible” style pitching, he broke a 103 MPH fireball against the Padres in 2009. Although coming off a bad season in 2010, Broxton is reminiscent of Eric “Game Over” Gagne, a dominating figure who was unfortunately linked to the steroids scandal of baseball. They have personality but more importantly, they have upside.
It is time to leave the Andruw Jones’ and the Manny Ramirez-es behind and to build the new identity. It is time for the youth to turn promise into production, to step up and become the new legends of Chavez Ravine. When one comes to see a game at Dodger Stadium, the first thing they notice are the vintage giant posters that cover the outsides of Dodger Stadium, immortalizing the past heroes that donned the Dodger Blue. They are sun-faded and vintage photographs, at first reminding the fans of their original personalities, but also reminders of their talent. They are images of a unique era in Dodger baseball; however, one must remember that they are only reminders. Koufax will not step out of the poster and pitch tomorrow. Much like America, it is time for the new generation of leaders to rise and make the Dodgers no longer a place where great things used to happen, but a place in which they still do.