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For better, for Worse, for Baseball

It Was a Week That Became Her Personal World Series

March 25, 1998|HEIDI EVANS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Right off the bat, I got grief.

"So this article you're writing," the smart-aleck sitting next to me at dinner says. "It's not really about baseball, is it? It's a 'chick' article in disguise."

It is my first night at the Los Angeles Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp, where 116 aging guys and two women are trying to get acquainted and recapture their lost youth. With or without the pre-dinner cocktails, my fellow campers are juiced for the five days of baseball ahead.

The crack of the bat will be matched only by cracks from the mouth. On and off the field, giving as good as you get becomes the foundation for friendship during an exhilarating and exhausting week.

Like the wisecrack from my dinner mate Rich Toomey, a commercial real estate broker from Jacksonville, Fla. Along with his three jock buddies, he was incredulous that I was going to suit up for infield practice--one leg at a time--the next morning. To prove what a true baseball nut I was, I confided to these guys that my husband, Josh, had agreed to my one condition of getting married: Any children we had would be raised as New York Yankees fans.

The boys went ballistic on Josh. "YOU LET HER HAVE THAT???"

Jaws continued to drop when I told people I came to Dodgertown with my husband. I proudly pointed out Josh--the left-handed Jewish guy wearing No. 32, the one who was daydreaming about Sandy Koufax in right field.

Dave, a weathered old man in the stands who was rooting for me to get a hit, was dumbfounded.

"You are the only gal out there with all these fellas, and you could have the pick of any one of 'em," said Dave, in a deep Southern drawl. "What did you go and bring him for? Hell, that's like bringin' a sandwich to a banquet."

Dave had a point. And Josh now had a nickname--"Sandwich"--a kind of blessing in baseball. My nickname, courtesy of Dodger Manager Bill Russell, was Heidi Fleiss. In your dreams, Bill.

So how did Josh and I come to be at Dodger camp?

Consider it a 20-year anniversary celebration. It was during the 1978 World Series that this guy slid into my life. The series featured my hometown heroes, the legendary New York Yankees, against--you should pardon the expression--the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was 23 years old, a new political aide in the San Francisco mayor's office. After six years out West, I was dying for a conversation with a kindred spirit, a fellow New Yorker.

A few weeks into my job at City Hall, I noticed a brooding and bearded man sitting in the mayor's press office. There was a baseball next to his paper clips, and a scary painting by Austrian Expressionist Oscar Kokoschka behind his desk.

Oh, boy, I thought to myself, I have finally found him. A New York guy with whom I could have a deep and funny and complicated conversation.

"You must be a Yankee fan" was my opener.

"Boy, do you have that wrong," said Dodger Blue Josh Getlin.

As they say, the rest is history. The Yankees went on to beat the Dodgers four games to two, a humiliating defeat for the L.A. guys since they had won the first two games. I felt I had the moral high ground. There was no limit to what this man would have to do for me: laundry, arrange our social calendar, cook. Boy, did I have that wrong.

Josh and I moved in together in 1981. That year, as fate would have it, the Dodgers and the Yankees met again. This time the Dodgers won in six. At least that's what Josh and the newspaper clippings say. I have trouble recalling that Series.

So here we are two decades later, with the usual complaints of the long married--too much time together, not enough time together. I do too much, he does more than most men. But we're still happily in the game.

Our 4-year-old daughter, Alex, is a little confused. Josh did respect the pre-nup: When we sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" Alex does "root, root, root for the Yankees." Yet "Lasorda" was one of her first words, since Josh adorned her room with Dodger baseball cards when she was born. Like a child raised by parents of different religions, Alex will have to make up her own mind when she is older.

*

In all honesty, during the weeks leading up to baseball camp, I pictured myself in Vero Beach lying awake at night, fantasizing about being with other men--men in pinstripes, like Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle if he were alive, Ron Guidry (whose name I was given when I pitched on a women's softball team in my 20s). I thought I would secretly long to be at the Yankees' baseball camp in Tampa.

But I have to admit that within the first hour of arriving at Dodgertown, I was seduced. With kindness and generosity and first-rate instruction. Apart from the good-natured ribbing, I was treated seriously, not as if I were some female freak who had invaded a man's world.

First was hitting instructor Reggie Smith. What a sweetie pie! During the first afternoon practice, he showed me the right way to hold a bat, plant my legs and swing.

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