It’s summertime in Ojai, California.
I can’t remember what day it is, what month, or even what year. Only one detail matters.
It’s summertime in Ojai, California, and the Dodgers game is on.
I’m in my favorite recliner, the one beside Grandma, with the corduroy upholstery that leaves lines on the backs of my legs, and the springs that screech with outrage when you rock back too far.
Dee Gordon singles. Two pitches later he steals second, and the camera zooms in on his face, beaming as he dusts himself off. Grandma turns to me, and remarks “I love that Dee Gordon. He’s just having so much fun out there. Look at his smile!” Throughout his tenure with the Dodgers, any time Dee did anything well - a single, a stolen base, catching a routine fly ball - she’d mention some variation of this, always with an emphasis on his smile, and how much fun he seemed to be having.
She died in September of 2015. When a loved one leaves us, particularly when their death is avoidable, or unexpected, we instinctually begin to ascribe deeper meanings to even our most mundane memories of them.
“Remember how he always drank his coffee from this one blue mug?” we say, cradling an unremarkable Ikea mug in our hands. “Oh, she loved eating rainbow sherbet,” we recall, standing wistfully in the middle of the frozen food aisle.
So it was with Grandma, and Dee.
The two have now become even more entangled in my memories. This week fires have raged throughout Southern California, and yesterday a mandatory evacuation notice was sent out to residents of Ojai. As flames threatened to destroy one of the most beloved places in my world, I got the notification that somehow, some way, Dee Gordon was now a Mariner.
Gordon, himself, is no stranger to tragedy. When he was six his mother was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, and last September he lost his teammate and “brother,” José Fernández in a boating accident. He’s since taken these tragedies and used them to help and inspire others. DDS, his mother’s initials, adorn his cleats and glove, and in Miami he started “Flash of Hope,” a program “designed to help children who have lost a parent from domestic violence.” Once a month, in partnership with the Florida State Attorney’s office, Gordon was paired with a child who also lost a parent. The two spent time together in the clubhouse, and on the field during batting practice. He was the Marlins’ spokesperson for their Domestic Violence Protection Night in 2015, and I hope he’s able to continue these philanthropic efforts in Seattle.
He also famously honored Fernández in one of the most powerful moments in recent baseball history, and later commemorated that moment in a tattoo on his arm.
It’s been two years since my grandmother died. She’s in my mind constantly, but especially when I write. It was something that she loved, too, and the two of us spent hours in those side-by-side recliners, creating stories together on old, yellow legal pads. Memories of her used to be fraught with sadness, regret, anger but, though time may make us fools, it also has a way of gentling our pain. I can’t wait to cheer Dee on, and for that moment when he steals his first base as a Mariner, and the camera zooms in on his face, beaming as he dusts himself off. “I love that Dee Gordon,” I’ll say. “He’s just having so much fun out there. Look at his smile!”