Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brooklyn Comes to Honolulu

As a boy growing up in Honolulu, I loved the Brooklyn Dodgers.  I cheered when they won and suffered when they lost.  Here’s what an observer would have seen on one special occasion for me:

An eleven-year-old in his Hawaiian shirt waits, the excitement and fear mixed in equal doses.  He has followed the Brooklyn Dodgers since he could remember, listening on the radio for the announcer to describe the next homer from Duke Snider, the pitch from Preacher Roe or the base stolen by Jackie Robinson.  Now these same Dodgers are arriving at his Honolulu airport as part of a 1956 tour to Japan.  As they get off the plane and receive leis, he waits in the terminal, fidgeting.  He holds a small notepad.  As the crowd approaches, he wants desperately to get autographs, but his natural shyness holds him back.  The excitement and fear battle.  Finally, he approaches a man and holds out his pad and pen.

“I ain’t no player, kid,” the man says.

The boy gulps, almost turns away, but now is committed.  He’s engulfed by the crowd of men, and ball players willingly sign his pad.

Jackie Robinson, Roy Campenella and Don Newcombe.  The boy has no recognition of their struggle.  Campenella looks like a Hawaiian to the boy, who has grown up among Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese.  It won’t be until five years later that he first travels to the South, riding on a bus in Atlanta, curious as to why the black people gravitate to the back of the bus.

Don Drysdale.  Not a known name in 1956, but in the process of becoming.

Pee Wee Reese.  Pee Wee gets his picture taken with a group of hula girls.  The boy watches his agile movements, the sound images from the radio replaying–a dash to cut off a hard grounder, the rifle shot to first.

Bob Aspromonte.  One game and one at bat for Brooklyn in 1956.

The manager Walt Alston.

Bert Hamric.  Two games and one at bat for Brooklyn in 1955.

The boy has no clue who is famous and who is not.  They are all Brooklyn Dodgers.  Sounds and images from the radio, not real people.  The faces are a blur.  He gets as many signatures as he can from anyone he can find.  The shyness is gone.  He has a mission.

Clem Labine, Randy Jackson.  Fred Kipp, a name that is not remembered.

After it is all over and they have left, the boy looks at his notepad and sighs.  He has captured some of them, but has not got his favorite, Duke Snider.  He has no idea what Duke even looks like.

A gentle breeze fills the warm night air.  He clutches the pad to his chest.  He has seen his Dodgers.

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