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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

For Dodgers fan Dan Clements, a World Series title is in the cards

When Dan Clements visits his dad's grave, he leaves Dodgers baseball cards, not flowers. It's what Ralph Clements would've wanted. And hey, whatever works.

September 28, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dan Clements with his wife Mary Ann Clements place a baseball card of Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, taped to a flower vase, on the grave of his father Ralph F. Clements, Jr., at the Forest Lawn cemetery.
Dan Clements with his wife Mary Ann Clements place a baseball card of Dodgers… (Patrick T. Fallon/ For the…)

Dan Clements reached into his bag for a roll of a blue duct tape. Dodger blue.

Then he pulled out a pack of baseball cards, so shiny that the glare blinded you for a moment. He flipped through the cards, one Dodgers star after another. He had room for only one card, so it needed to be just right.

Mike Piazza? Never won a postseason game with the Dodgers.

Eric Karros? Same thing.

Jackie Robinson? On the one hand, who can go wrong with Jackie Robinson? On the other hand, he never knew of something called a "postseason." In his day, the Dodgers would win the National League and advance directly to the World Series. So Robinson went back into the pack.

Fernando Valenzuela? This would be the card.

"Pitching," Clements said, "is what wins in the World Series."

Clements tore off two pieces of duct tape, one for the top of the Valenzuela card, the other for the bottom. He affixed the card to a vase, then tenderly and lovingly lifted the vase into the air, and toward his father.

His father's final resting place is here, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills. For the playoffs, the Ralph Clements memorial plaque will be graced with the Fernando Valenzuela baseball card.

As the Dodgers head into the playoffs, a city heads there with them.

These are our hopes, born from a distinguished legacy that has given way to a quarter-century of frustration. These are our dreams, from the fans who listened to Vin Scully on a transistor radio to the ones who send out his quips on Twitter.

"The players," Scully said, "they don't relate to the past."

It's not their fault. Yasiel Puig was not alive when Kirk Gibson homered. Clayton Kershaw was 6 months old.

No one on the Dodgers' roster was alive when Wally Moon hit moon shots at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, when Sandy Koufax completed his perfect game at 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, when the long-running quartet of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey made its debut.

These are the blue bonds that bind generations, from the mother who lighted a match at the Roy Campanella tribute game at the Coliseum, to the kid who sat in the top deck with a scorebook in his lap, pretending to announce the game and wishing he could grow up to be Scully. I was that kid, and that was my mom.

The headlines go to the investments the teams make, millions upon millions in player salaries. None of that would be possible without the investments the fans make — not only in dollars, but in faith and loyalty.

There is only one way for a team to truly repay its fans. That is with a parade, and the Dodgers are 11 victories from staging one.

Dare to dream.

"Oh, it's marvelous," Scully said. "It's the best feeling in the world if you love baseball.

"I was a fan once. I grew up in New York, as a rabid fan, so I think I can relate to the emotional part of it. They're patient, but they argue among themselves. They get into fierce debates sometimes. To finally win — to finally reach that goal — it's a most satisfying feature."

There are 3 million fan stories in this big city. Dan Clements shared one.

He is 58. He lives in Sherman Oaks. He grew up at Dodger Stadium with his father, and with Koufax and Don Drysdale.

Ralph Clements did not have a lot of money in those days. As the decades passed, he did well in finance, and in real estate. He bought season tickets at Dodger Stadium — Aisle 121, Row C, Seats 1-3. Dan had three boys; Ralph took his grandsons to the games.

On Memorial Day, Dan Clements went to visit his father at Forest Lawn. His father had been gone for five years. Ralph's favorite player was Orel Hershiser, so Dan brought along a Hershiser card.

"Flowers for graves was foreign to him," said Dan's wife, Mary Ann. "Baseball was his way of connecting with his dad."

Dan taped the Hershiser card to a vase and hoisted it high. The season was not even 2 months old and the Dodgers were seven games out of first place, with the most expensive collection of players in baseball history. It wouldn't hurt to ask his father if he could help.

"He lived and died with the Dodgers," Dan said. "We said a little prayer."

Two hours later, Mary Ann got a text message, with an offer of tickets for the Dodgers game the following night.

The Dodgers won that night. Dan and Mary Ann got Magic Johnson T-shirts, the ones they wore to Forest Lawn when they went back to put up the Valenzuela card last week.

There is some kind of magic in the air. Dare to dream.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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