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THE GUY CHRONICLES

Dogs and Ducklings on a Home-Run Birthday

April 11, 2001|Chris Erskine

So here we are back at Chavez Ravine, the little girl and her friends following me into Dodger Stadium like eight little ducklings--following me, their Pied Piper of baseball. Happy birthday, kid. The place is yours.

First, an apology. To those people behind us in Row I, who put up with this birthday bash for almost three hours, the screaming, the jumping up and down, the confusion. The ketchup.

Oh, my God, the ketchup. At Dodger Stadium, fourth-graders wear ketchup like war paint. Somebody's shoes were ruined. And some nice outfits, too. For that, we apologize.

Also, we'd like to apologize to the people in line behind us at the express snack counter, where we lingered like your Aunt Esther picking out a nice piece of liver, stopping to admire each and every item on display.

"Everybody gets a dog and a drink!" I repeat over and over.

"Can we get pizza?"

"Can we get fries?"

"Dog and a drink," I say.

"Peanuts?"

"Dog and a drink," I say.

When we go to pay, the eight ducklings line up behind two different cash registers in the express line, creating the kind of pandemonium you see at the stock exchange when the Dow drops 800 points. Money flies. Elbows are thrown. Several people nearly faint.

"I need my Coke! I need my Coke!" one kid cries.

"Go get your Coke," I say.

"That'll be $31," someone shouts from one register.

"We need to add a Coke," I tell him.

"Who does?"

"We do," I say.

"That'll be $27.50," someone shouts from the other register.

I need the change from one register to pay at the other one, which creates further confusion and an odd sort of math you usually encounter only in drug deals or dice games.

To simplify matters, I pay in blood--which the Dodgers accept now, with photo ID--then point the girls toward the condiment line.

"Oops," one of the girls says, accidentally getting ketchup on her food instead of herself.

"Let's go!" I say and lead the eight ducklings to our seats.

Back in Row H, they slurp their Dodger Dogs and spill their soft drinks, harass the souvenir vendors and scream at the nuts guy.

"Can we go to the bathroom?"

"No," I say hoping to contain this birthday catastrophe to aisle 15.

"Please?"

"Yeah, all right," I finally say.

The Dodgers are no help. Every time I get the girls to sit down, the Dodgers hit another homer. The Dodgers? Yes, the Dodgers.

"How many is that?" people keep asking as another Dodger circles the bases.

"I don't know."

"Six?"

"Seems like more," someone else says.

They are all the sweeter, these homers, coming against San Francisco, that perfumed city to the north, whose best baseball player wears one of Carol Channing's old earrings.

"Who's that?" the girls ask when everyone boos Barry Bonds.

"Barry Bonds," I say.

"Who's he?"

"He's a Giant," I say.

"Why's he wearing an earring?"

"It goes with his necklace," I explain.

It is a spectacular night here in the ravine. The stadium light seems to give the girls added energy, feed them some version of vitamin D that makes them stronger, taller, more alert.

The girls appear to miss nothing that goes on here, except, of course, the game itself, which they find to be a bit of a nuisance.

In the seventh inning, beach balls are bounding down the aisles and foul balls are whizzing past my head.

"Watch out for foul balls," I constantly warn them.

"What's a foul ball?" one of them asks.

Behind us, a family asks to take the girls' picture, which makes me think that the family is going to sue me or something and that a picture of the ducklings, in various stages of ketchup, would strengthen their case.

I order the girls to sit in their seats and behave, only to have the Dodger second baseman pound another hanging curve ball into the outfield seats, sending the ducklings on another duckling rampage.

Rock music blares. Strobe lights reflect in the girls' dilated eyes. At this point, stun guns couldn't quiet them. Even if I'd remembered to bring one.

"Go, Sheffield!" the girls scream.

"Go, Hiatt!" they scream.

"Who's Hiatt?" the little girl asks.

"I don't know."

"Go, Hiatt!" screams the little girl.

By the time it is over, the Dodgers have scored 10 runs, one for each candle on the little girl's cake.

She and the other ducklings celebrate by dancing in their seats and flirting with the lucky little boy in the row behind us.

On this night, life is good at Dodger Stadium, where it is April still and hope grows with every screaming fastball by the rookie pitcher. Every Dodger Dog. Every souvenir. Every burp.

"Strike three!" yells the ump as Bonds is caught looking.

"Sweet!" yells a fan two rows down.

Happy birthday, kid.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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