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Tommy Davis Was Her Thank You

Remembrance: Former Dodger's Christmas Eve visit in father's final days is fitting memory for daughter.

June 16, 2002|MARYANN HUDSON HARVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The romantic aura of an emptied baseball stadium is a tender memory.

Sitting next to my dad, I was never in a hurry to leave. We waited out traffic in many of them, at Dodger Stadium, the L.A. Coliseum, in our hometown park in Ontario.

We would watch as the players left the field, as the crowds crammed the tunnels and stairs. I could feel the lights as they shined on the green grass and absorbed into the red dirt.

I would listen to my dad discuss the game, usually with a friend, his transistor radio lodged behind his pen protector in the pocket of his white, short-sleeve shirt; the beige cord dangling from the earplug.

He would say some great things, as when he marveled at the "Moon Shots" of Wally Moon and at the bat of Tommy Davis, and some stupid things, as when he opined that Sandy Koufax's wildness would be his end. I reminded him of that comment many times.

All that noise, all those people, and then, silence. How I loved the certainty of that contrast, the sudden peace; and then the warmth of my father's hand when the usher finally asked us to leave.

I would walk next to him up the stairs, my tiny legs struggling to keep up. Halfway to the car, he would look down and smile. "C'mon baby," my dad would say as he cradled me, "you must be tired."

Decades later, as I walked alone out of stadiums across the country while working for the Dodgers and, subsequently, covering the Dodgers for The Times, I often longed for those tender arms, for that mellow sweetness.

Jack Hudson was proud that his daughter worked for the Dodgers, even though, for me, it was a way to get closer to the game while I worked myself through college. I didn't want to work for the team, I wanted to write about it. My father didn't live long enough to see me do the latter.

About a month before my dad died, I was preparing to leave my office at Dodger Stadium when Tommy Davis stopped by. I knew Tommy because I scheduled the Dodgers' speakers' bureau, a roster of team legends the club paid to make public appearances. "Merry Christmas, Maryann," Tommy said, smiling. "Will you be at your dad's house for the holidays?"

My dad had recently been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and given a few months to live. "Why don't I stop by on Christmas Eve?" Tommy asked.

He lived near my father, in Alta Loma, so I gave him the address and phone number but didn't give it another thought. Players were always saying nice things like that. Their intentions were good.

The phone rang about 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Tommy had gone to the west side of Sixth Street, rather than to the east, but when he got to the door of the wrong house the people who lived there recognized him and asked him in for a drink. "So when I finish talking with these nice people, I'll be right down," he said.

My father sat on a stool at the portable bar at the end of the narrow living room, his slipper-clad feet hugging the rail. He wore his powder-blue pajamas under his navy-blue robe. His eyes, still so sweet, squinted humbly through the falling tears.

Standing in front of him, Tommy Davis was holding court, laughing, talking, moving his hands around, swinging a bat. Many times I have tried to remember what Tommy talked about that night, but the sound of his voice is but a mood, like fog.

In my dad's lap was a plastic dispenser filled with peanuts--a gift, from Tommy. At one point, Dad reached down and touched it. And I remember thinking how appropriate it all seemed. Eating peanuts. Watching Tommy.

Still.

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