Dodg(er)ing Bullets ... and Learning Baseball

My grandpa used to throw things at me. Pillows, shoes, books. Whatever happened to be within reach. I suppose it was my own fault. I walked in front of the TV when the Dodgers were on.

But, I've been told, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger ... or smarter.

That was the summer of 1985, and at the ripe old age of 4, I was wise beyond my years.

Most little girls at four are looking for their dollies when a baseball game came on TV, but instead I was looking for "the one in the blue hat."

His name was Mariano Duncan, and he was my hero. Literally.

I figured out that if I looked for him that I wouldn't get knocked out by a flying object every time I needed to walk in front of the TV to go to the bathroom.

I even saw him once on TV.

I hollered at my sister to "Sarah, look! It's Mariano Duncan!"

She came charging in from the other room and when she asked which one he was, I pointed at one of the five players on the screen and said, "The one right there, in the blue hat."

"Oh," she said, and went back to whatever it was that she was doing.

For the next several seasons, I sat starry-eyed watching the Dodgers, hoping that I would catch another glimpse of the illusive one in the blue hat.

Soon I was picking the mind of someone who, to my knowledge, has more insight and a greater love for the game of baseball than I could ever imagine to have in three lifetimes.

In watching for Mariano Duncan over the following seasons, Grandpa taught me to keep score, how to open my hips when I swing, and most importantly, to keep my elbow up when I throw.

I remember the day in my parent's living room, when I learned the proper pitching motion with an aluminum foil pitching rubber and ball.

In 1988, the Dodgers made my mom cry.

In 2004, I understood why.

This relationship that I began in 1985 with these lovable bums has been a love-hate situation with constant room to grow.

They are the reason for almost every family vacation, more jello-kneed moments than I care to admit, and many, many tears -- both good and bad.

Grandpa sparked my interest in the game, but Mr. Duncan kept it alive.

I learned the art of baseball watching him. My mom and dad met Mariano when they were at spring training last year.

Mom called me to tell me shortly after she talked with him and I cried.

I was simply elated to find that he was back in the Dodger system, and I still am.

I had the opportunity last weekend to let Mariano know how he made my childhood less dangerous.

I was reduced to a misty-eyed pile of jell-o when he threw me a baseball with his signature on it.

I can only imagine the embarrassment of my friend as he watched me giggle like a 12 year old with a crush.

All in all, I guess I can't really complain about being pelted by flying objects at such a young age.

Some of the greatest relationships I have were those formed while watching a ball game.

Thanks to my grandpa, and a bit of influence from the man in the blue hat, I have turned what could have been potentially hazardous to my health into a passion, and a career.

And you can bet I'll throw things at my kids if they are foolish enough to walk in front of the TV when the Dodgers are playing ... unless they are looking for the "one in the blue hat".