October 7, 1977
By Joe Benardello
The schoolyard was buzzing with excitement that October morning, the Valley warm, windy and full of possibility. It was October 7, 1977, and the Dodgers were in the playoffs. I was 10 years old, the age when baseball became less something my father watched and more something I understood in my own way. School was something I did between playing ball.
With the day game approaching, I was prepared to stay close to my beloved Dodgers no matter what the circumstances—or consequences. Even at that age, I had an understanding of the postseason’s magnitude—and just how special your few chances at October are.
With a small AM transistor radio stuck deep in my pocket and an ear piece hidden inside my shirt, I planned to stealthily choose my spots for quick updates, which I would scribble down on a sheet of paper so that my best friend could see the score. It was not the first time I used that strategy. Day games seemed to be more frequent back then, and I never got too far from the sound of Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully.
My friend and I hatched a plan to lobby our 5th grade teacher to use the AV equipment to watch the game. We knew the TV in the back of the room worked because she often had us set it up to play “The Electric Company” on channel 28 when she wanted to sit in the back of the room drinking coffee and reading her Ladies Home Journal. As with most of our plans that involved adults during that time of our lives, the request fell upon deaf ears. Our powers of charm and persuasion were not quite developed and our overwhelming excitement and pleading could not have been seen as a good thing in her elderly eyes. She quickly made clear that there would be no baseball, or even talk of baseball, while class was in session.
Resigned to my fate and yet comforted by the radio hidden in my pocket and pressed against my leg, I was prepared to listen as I could and catch the highlights on the TV news later that night. The clock moved slowly. I was unable to think of anything but baseball as I fidgeted at my desk and sketched small flip books of crushing swings and balls flying over fences in the corners of my notebooks. Recess came and went with a blur, and still the day dragged on like an old dog on a hot day.
Sometime in that void, between the joy of recess and the promise of lunch, a student monitor came into our classroom. These were the days when messages were still largely hand-delivered by the best students of the 6th grade. We stirred in our seats and thought nothing of the note handed to our teacher; things like this were common enough then. As my teacher opened the folded white paper and read it silently, I saw her look in my direction, look down and read again, and look up again directly at me.
My mind raced. What could I have possibly gotten caught for this time? I thought to myself. In an instant everything and anything that I could be guilty of within recent memory flashed in front of me. I was beginning to feel truly panicked—there were more than enough things that I was guilty of to warrant some serious consequences should they hit the light of day. Everything from the radio in my pocket, to spit wads shot from milk straws, to pitching quarters in the boys bathroom at lunch—and that’s just the stuff I feel comfortable telling you about now.
Please don’t let it be me, please don’t, please, please, please, I thought, my mind reaching out for mercy somewhere above. My teacher calmly folded the note and handed it back to the monitor. Without an ounce of emotion in her voice, she said aloud my name. Oh god, it was me.
She told me to collect my belongings, and said that my mother was here and taking me out of school for the rest of the day. Glory hallelujah! I am saved, I am delivered! I thought. I knew in an instant that this was no punishment—this was salvation. My mother, swayed by my love of the Dodgers, was here to bring me home to watch the game. I tried not to gloat and did what I could to maintain my cool as I quickly grabbed my things and floated towards the door.
In the years that have passed, so many days at school, at work, doing the right thing … so many of those days have faded into the black void of memories lost. But that day, when my mother allowed me to play hooky, remains with me always.
I remember my mother’s smile as I broke into a run when I saw her at the office, burying my face into her stomach and wrapping my arms around her so tight…
And my Mom making me a hot waffle sandwich filled with ice cream, possibly the most delicious memory of my youth, and letting me eat in front of the television, something she generally frowns upon to this day…
And the Dodgers losing late and tightness in my chest, the pain and anxiety which I have come to know as “dread” in my adult life…
And the improbable joy of Vic Davalillo, a name that I hold dear to this very day and a reference that I drop to people of my age. When they recognize the name, I realize I may have found a friend…
And the heroics of Manny Mota, on a team full of stars, someone who I loved then for reasons I still don’t know why…
And the clutch play of Bill Russell. I have come to not believe in clutch as a concept, but Bill Russell will always be clutch for me…
And the magic of victory snatched from defeat, though the pain of defeat snatched from victory was a lesson soon to me taught to me by the hated Yankees. But for this day, I was yet unspoiled.
Many days have been lost to the ravages of time, but that day is always my day, an everlasting gift from the love of my mother to the love of this game.
About the author
Joe Benardello lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife and a menagerie of pets. While his work often takes him on the road, he can often be found hanging out in the Dodger Thoughts blog posting under the name Hollywood Joe. He has spent considerable time in India and thinks cricket to be a vastly inferior game to baseball, yet he can’t help but watch cricket every time it comes on the TV.