The most influential player in baseball history grew up here, Jackie Robinson learned his craft on the sands of Pasadena just down the road from Chavez Ravine.
His childhood home has been demolished, but you can still admire the plaque at his Pepper Street address.
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The most influential pitcher in baseball history took the mound, Fernando Valenzuela came from the small Mexican village of Etchohuaquila to throw a ball, stare at the sky, and help mend the broken bond between the city’s large Latino community and its baseball team. fix it.
Valenzuela has long since retired, but you can still see him in the announce booth at Dodger Stadium, see his impact on the team’s Latino fan base, and hear him live like Fernandomania forever.
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One of the greatest moments in baseball history happened here, Kirk Gibson’s pitch against Dennis Eckersley who is still alive in 1988 and goes through the veins of the blue crowd that will believe forever. impossible and impossible.
The ball is gone, but the seating in the right field pavilion where it landed has been painted blue and has Gibson’s No. 23 is decorated.
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When Major League Baseball decided to return its All-Star game to Dodger Stadium after a 42-year absence, the local feeling of gratitude can be summed up in five words.
What took you so long?
With deep roots and a rich history and a boundless passion for a game that’s worn out in other parts of the country, Southern California is America’s greatest baseball neighborhood.
The All-Star Game shouldn’t just be here this year. It should be here every year. It needs permanent residence on Vin Scully Avenue, the geographic heart of a diverse community that loves the mind more than the game and plays the game without equal.
The All-Star Game belongs in a place where there’s a youth baseball game almost every day somewhere, a place where high schools have produced 16 Hall of Famers, a place that houses the nation’s most prolific college baseball program, a place that sells out. the most major league tickets to see the biggest big league stars.
“You see it every day, Southern California has the best baseball in the world,” said Tom Dill, who coached for 30 years at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High School, which produced a major league MVP (Giancarlo Stanton), a Cy Young. Award winner (Jack McDowell) and first overall draft pick (Tim Foli).
When Notre Dame opened its new stadium in 2014, it was more than just a plinth, a table and a dinner table. The item cost $3 million, Pete Rose was in the stands, and Neil Diamond was on the floor singing “Sweet Caroline.”
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The weather is perfect, the Latin roots are strong, and, from Boyle Heights to Ventura to San Juan Capistrano, the game has been passed down as a legacy.
The Los Angeles Angels are often cited as the first stable professional team here, as they began play in the Pacific Coast League at Washington Park in South Los Angeles in 1903. did American baseball, the local love of the sport was fueled by the great barrio baseball played in East Los Angeles, in leagues eventually led by legendary teams like Carmelita Chorizeros.
“The audience isn’t just sitting there, they’re actually in it. This city is connected to every area.”
– Dennis Gilbert, Dodgers fan best known from his seat behind home plate
“Baseball’s popularity here is directly related to the Latino fan base,” said Richard Santillán, one of the founders of the Latino Baseball History Project at Cal State San Bernardino. “The Latino passion for sports has helped grow the game here. It has been an integral part of the struggle for civil rights, and an important tool in promoting social equality.”
So, when the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn in 1958, all parts of the sprawling city had basically been playing and watching and cheering for more than half a century of high-level baseball. With Hall of Fame broadcasters Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrín then enthusiastically fueling the passion in English and Spanish, devotion to the sport reached a level unmatched in any other American metropolis.
“When it comes to baseball, everywhere you go here, there’s so much education, so much focus, so much knowledge,” Dill said.
And so much pure tough love.
Where are the nearly 7 million – 7 million! – Tickets sold to major league games in an average summer?
In 2019, the last year attendance figures were unaffected by the pandemic, the Dodgers continued to lead the league with 3,974,309 fans, while the Angels were fifth with 3,023,010 fans.
Although Dodger Stadium is the league’s largest, it has sold a million more tickets than the two stadiums in New York. That is more than 2 million tickets sold for two stadiums in Chicago.
Excluding the empty stadium summer of 2020, the Dodgers have won the league for eight straight years.
“And the fans aren’t just sitting there, they’re actually in it,” said Dennis Gilbert, the dark-haired, bespectacled man who has become the Dodgers’ best-known fan from his seat behind home plate. “This city is hanging on every field.”
Baseball is huge here, fans like Gilbert are truly part of the game. A former insurance agent and executive, Gilbert has led numerous baseball philanthropic efforts including overseeing a scout charity, building a junior college field, and working with numerous inner-city initiatives.
“The game works so well in this town because it doesn’t care about anything else but can you play?” said Gilbert. “Race and background are not important. If you can play, you will get a chance.”
Fans fill the seats, cheer for the players, and spend heavily on their memorabilia.
Last season, led by the best-selling Mookie Betts, Southern California players accounted for five of the 10 best-selling jerseys in baseball. And none of them was great Mike Trout.
This season, four locals – Betts, Trout, Trea Turner and Shohei Ohtani – were voted by the fans to the inaugural All-Star game. That’s twice as many SoCal starts as New York starts, even though the Yankees and Mets are having a better combined season.
Dig deeper and the numbers are even more local. The game will feature All-Stars from five Southern California high schools.
“You coach here long enough and you realize, almost every game, you can compete against someone you’re going to see on TV one day,” Dill said.
It starts long before middle school. Just ask James Szatkowski. He is a 57-year-old retired warehouse manager from Ventura who is as popular as any Hollywood A-lister.
Szatkowski is an amateur league umpire, and a good one at that, and there are so many games in multiple age groups played consistently throughout Southern California that he could work multiple games every day for the rest of his career.
“Honestly, it never ends, it’s constant, I can work anywhere every night, the weather is so good, the interest is so high, there’s so much baseball everywhere,” he said.
Szatkowski worked seven games in one day. He worked 15 games in a long week. He’s worked 5-year, 35-year games and everything in between. He is so beat and tired that he fell asleep on the drive home. He has 50 referee shirts and 50 pairs of referee pants and wears them all. Contact him first. His calendar is filling up fast.
“I refuse as much as I accept,” he said. “I am in pain. I am injured. It never ends.”
Although the best youth leagues eventually gave way to travel teams that became the focal point for many players hoping to get professional attention, high school baseball is still a force in Southern California with a legacy unmatched anywhere.
Did you know Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith not only went to high school here, but they attended it same school, Locke High? Walter Johnson also went to high school here. So were George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Gary Carter, Ralph Kiner, Arky Vaughan, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Sparky Anderson, Bob Lemon and Trevor Hoffman.
“You see it every day, Southern California has the best baseball in the world.”
– Sherman Oaks Notre Dame coach Tom Dill
You know what all players have in common? Scuba diving. They are Hall of Famers, 16 in all from Southern California.
Studio City Harvard-Westlake produced three major league pitchers all drafted in the first round in a three-year span – Max Fried, Jack Flaherty and Lucas Giolito.
El Toro produced two third basemen who each won a Gold Glove for their respective leagues in back-to-back years – Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman.
Then there was the 2017 draft, where the locals were the first and second picks, Royce Lewis of San Juan Capistrano JSerra and Hunter Greene of Notre Dame.
Not only are the local high school players the best in the country, so are the teams. Since 2012, USA Baseball has sponsored the National High School Invitational featuring 16 of the nation’s top teams. In nine seasons of the tournament, Southern California teams have won seven times.
Then there’s college baseball, where USC has won twice as many College World Championships — 12 — as anyone else. While the Trojans haven’t won since 1998, four different schools from the area have won championships in the last 30 years – USC, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and Pepperdine.
At that point, unless you drive 200 miles between Starkville, Miss., and Oxford, Miss. don’t count, no other neighborhood has had more than one champion.
Baseball is forever at the heart of this city, its beat, and even its voice.
Preached by the greatest broadcaster in sports history, Scully spent 67 seasons rhapsodizing about the Dodgers with words celebrated around the world.
He’s long since retired, but there’s a video in which Scully delivers his final message to Dodgers fans … singing to them.
He said those fans were, “the wind beneath my wings.”
His sport has been in the wind under the wings of this city for a long time.
Yeah, All-Star Game, what took you so long?
Welcome to Baseball USA.