The Magic at the Dodger Game Wasn’t Only in the Owners’ Box

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Magic Johnson chats with Rachel Robinson, the widow of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, during pregame ceremonies Monday at Dodger Stadium, the first home game since sale of the team. Behind, from left, are Robinson’s daughter Sharon Robinson and grandson Jesse Sims, and Dodgers great Don Newcombe. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor

DODGER STADIUM–This was really something to see. Actually, given the history of this nation and this game, it was downright incredible.

There, in the owners’ seats, there was magic, and more so than the towering new co-owner of the Dodgers.

There he was, seated next to the widow of the man who is credited with breaking baseball’s color barrier, and two seats from the man who deserves much more credit for his part in accomplishing the same feat.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson is part of the group that purchased the beleaguered Dodgers, and Monday night marked their first home game appearance as the team’s new owners.

Yes, Magic Johnson, the spry, sure-handed Lakers star of my teenage years, a legend in Los Angeles sports. Yes, that Magic, as in “Kareem to Magic to Worthy–slam dunk!” in Chick’s immortal parlance.

I am tempted to refer to him as Mr. Johnson, but then that infectious smile takes the stiff formality out of the equation.

By the time Magic stepped up to the microphone behind home plate and bellowed Vin Scully’s trademark “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” I could hardly keep it all in. I welled up.

Growing up, we were regularly taught in school of Jackie Robinson’s achievements. Being of African American heritage and growing up in Robinson’s hometown of Pasadena, I suppose there was always a local connection, the feeling that if someone from my neighborhood could achieve something of such timeless greatness, then there is hope for all of us.

Longtime pals Ed Dominguez of Lancaster and Robert Macias of Palmdale put aside their fan allegiances and share a beer during a night out at the old ball game. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

There was a fantastic, surreal aura about the flurry of activity before the game against the archrival San Francisco Giants. Here was a black man, not an advisor or assistant coach, but the boss, and the new face of the organization. And he was with 89-year-old Rachel Robinson, looking as graceful and effervescent as ever. The phrase, “Jackie would have been proud to see this,” has never been more aptly applied.

Off the field, other members of the new ownership, the Guggenheim Baseball Management Team, were making an impact in their own way. Dodgers team president Stan Kasten skipped the glory of the introductions, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves, and went out the turnstiles to greet incoming fans personally. A nice touch if ever there was one.

The feeling of a new day seemed to be shared by practically everyone in the ballpark. This time last year, we were wallowing in the terrible news of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry having been manifested in the savage beating of a fan. On Monday, supporters of both clubs not only got along, but embraced and celebrated their love of the game.

My childhood memories of Dodger Stadium are illustrated with a pastorally serene place, with lilting organ music providing a poetic soundtrack to the superhuman exploits of my heroes on the field. It may be too early to tell for this season how successful this current crop of Dodgers will be, but they are in first place. How long since we were able to say that?

If they continue to play as they did in their 9-1 win over the Giants, we may very well be having this discussion during the playoffs in October.

As he walked away from the mic on Monday, a voice in the stands called out, “Thank you Magic!”

He pointed in the direction of the sound and mouthed silently, “No, thank you.”

Let me add my vote of gratitude, Mr. Johnson. Thanks.

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