Win it for Carlos

I believe in God.

Yes, I believe in destiny.

I am a growing anomaly in a secular society with an answer for everything that fits in our back pocket.

But I am also a romantic; a man who lives for the underlying story. Tales of synchronicity that cannot be explained.
Improbable and impossible ironies.
Magical moments that raise the hair on your arm.

We live in a world void of magic.
Void of faith.
An age of facts and happenstance.
Chance.
At best, we get serendipity.
Divine intervention? Providence? Don’t even think about it.
Nietzsche was wrong, God isn’t dead.
But we like to pretend He is.

When I was abroad studying in a graduate program, a professor openly mocked the concept of angels and people who believe in them. All of my classmates laughed.

I didn’t.

I believe in angels.
I am from the city of angels.

I once read that “it is right to chide a man for being blind to divine coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.”
The passage struck a chord, so I took it with me.

Thankfully, there is a sport for people like me. A game where rituals and pre-game ceremonies thrive in abundance. A sport where grown men wear dirty socks and grow hideous beards for good luck. Bats are licked, bubbles are blown and coaches are kissed all in the name of superstition.

Baseball.

The game’s best, Clayton Kershaw, is a man of superstition and faith.
Every fifth day Kershaw eats the same meal (cereal, fruit, and a sandwich), warms up with the same amount of pitches (34), walks to the dugout at the same time (8 minutes before first pitch) and uses the same tattered glove he’s owned since he became a Dodger.

He also cites his faith as the most important thing in his life. Kershaw is not alone in his religious convictions. Next time you watch a game, pay close attention. Watch as the hitter steps into the batter’s box and blesses himself with the sign of the cross.
Nothing makes me happier.

The era of advanced statistics and saber metrics in baseball has arrived, but the element of the non-quantifiable will always survive.

My family bleeds Dodger Blue.

Anyone who knows a Polanco knows where his loyalty lies when it comes to the diamond. But our allegiance transcends the sport. It is our passion, our identity. We have a dog named Koufax and worship Vin Scully. When my mother passed away, Steve Garvey called to extend his condolences.

We.

Bleed.

Blue.

The Dodgers’ magical 2017 season continued on Tuesday night with our first berth to the World Series in 29 years. The first since Gibson limped to the box and fist pumped his way around the bases of Blue Heaven on Earth. Our family was elated, exchanging text messages throughout the week to keep in contact with a group spread across the country.

In the midst of the excitement hovered heartache as our minds turned to beloved family members who were no longer with us. Uncles, brothers, sons and mothers who had cheered with us for years. We finally made it, we thought, if only they were here to see. For me, and for most of my family, one name rose above the rest… Carlos.

My Uncle Carlos was different.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia midway through high school, my uncle was frozen in time. He forever lived in the era of Garvey and Lopes, a time when he excelled in sports and got all the girls. The age of Aqua Net, Stacy Q and cruising Whittier Boulevard. A day didn’t pass without him mentioning his Volkswagen bug and the “pretty girl with big boobs” he kissed driving through the hills of Elysian Park. I forgot her name.

He loved Art Laboe, hamburgers, and adored his family. But above all, he worshipped the Dodgers.

For most of my life my uncle’s condition was stable. Often, the only manifestations of his illness were visible through small quirks and hilarious commentaries. A poke to the shoulder here, a strange question there. His memory was surprisingly sharp, but he always mixed up details in the best of ways. In college, I had a girlfriend named Autumn. He would remember small particulars about our relationship, but could never get her name right.

“So, how’s Odom, bro? Does she still work at that pizza place?”

Lamar Odom was the power forward for the Lakers at the time. I would laugh and respond, “She’s great Tio, thanks for asking.”

To me, there was no better company. I loved driving to my grandmother’s house and watching games with my uncle. Out of selfishness, I never called before coming. The best moment was always ringing the bell and watching him run to the door with excitement through the fogged window.

“Aaron! I knew you would come!” he exclaimed as he hugged me, smelling of musky aftershave.

My abuelita would smile as I entered the living room, happy that I came over to spend time with her son. “Tienes hambre mijo?” She would ask in Spanish.
Siempre Abuela.
My grandmother would serve us mounds of hot, delicious food as we cheered for Matt Kemp and laughed at my uncle’s crazy stories.

The last time I saw my uncle was after an evening together at Dodger Stadium. The crowd was unusually large for a midweek game. As the fans roared with each hit, my uncle would stand, cup his hands around his mouth, and yell.

He laughed as he returned to his seat, “Bro,” he said, “you can yell anything you want, no one can hear you!” The next hit he stood up and yelled, “I’m Tony Montana, say hello to my little friend!”

He was a big Pacino fan.

I laughed and joined him, imploring the crowd to “say goodnight to the bad guy,” at the top of my lungs. That was my uncle Carlos. His quirkiness and child-like innocence had a way of injecting you with happiness.

We drove from the stadium to the sounds of eighties disco pop, dancing and happy after a Dodger victory. As my uncle opened the door to leave, he hugged me and said, “you’re a good nephew bro.” Two weeks later I got the worst call of my life and learned of his passing. Our family has never been the same.

We lost our levity.

We lost our lightness.

As the playoffs progressed, mentions of Carlos increased in my family’s group thread.
This one’s for Carlos!
Thinking of Charlie tonight!
We shared photos of my uncle, forever in his Dodger hat.
My aunt found an old picture of him in his little league jersey. I don’t need to tell you what team he was on.

Once the Dodgers clenched the pennant and ticket prices soared, the realization that most of us would be watching from home sunk in.
Fortunately, one member of the Polanco clan, my younger brother Daniel, secured a seat. He would serve as our family representative during the first World Series game played in Chavez Ravine for nearly three decades.

An hour before first pitch, Daniel messaged the group with a selfie from the stadium, wishing we were all there with him. Responses from aunts and uncles poured in.
How many Polanco’s can we fit in one seat!?
Let’s go Blue!
I sent a selfie from Minute Maid Park in Houston. I was in Texas for work and figured the Astros’ home turf would be the second best place to take in the game.
True fan right there!
Be careful Aaron!

My brother followed up by sending three words to the thread…

Oh my God.

What? I thought. Houston fans were mellow in comparison to the more deplorable sections of the Dodger fanbase. As I typed a response, another message from Daniel came through…

Guys! A representative of the Boys and Girls Club just threw out the first pitch. His name is…

CARLOS POLANCO!

Tears immediately filled my eyes as my phone began to vibrate uncontrollably. Streams of messages came in as my family members expressed their dismay.

I let it buzz.

As I sat in Minute Maid Park, surrounded by orange, my mind drifted to memories of my favorite Dodger fan. I heard his laugh and smelled his cheap aftershave. I was in disbelief. What are the odds? I thought. Perhaps my brother was mistaken. Midway through the second inning broadcaster Joe Buck confirmed my brother’s report.

‘Throwing out the first pitch tonight was the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year,

Carlos Polanco.’

My uncle was watching the World Series after all. I cried like a baby. Right there in Minute Maid Park. Tears came and I let them flow.

We can’t lose tonight. I thought. And sure enough, we didn’t. Fueled by an angel’s namesake and a magical red beard, the Dodgers marched to victory in their first World Series game in twenty nine years.

Talk about cosmic poetry.

Now, if Carlos can come back and throw out the first pitch for the rest of the Series, that would be great.

Go Blue!

Win it for Carlos.

 

 

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