A love of baseball: an uncle's enduring gift
It can be a precious gift, presented without announcement, without expectation.
Not sure how much Steve loved baseball compared with how much he loved the Dodgers, loved Vin Scully, loved picturesque Dodger Stadium.
There was no cable in his day, but he listened to every game. At night, his wife, Grace, might sit on the couch and watch "Gunsmoke’’ while he rested in his favorite chair, facing the television but listening with a single earphone attached to his small transistor radio to every pitch Sandy Koufax would seem to magically weave.
His brother was longtime L.A. City Councilman John Ferraro, and sometimes Steve would produce a pair of box seats to Dodger Stadium. Each time he would invite me, it was a mini-event.
Steve was normally reserved, and I’m not sure he ever felt completely comfortable around children. Normally, our drive up the Golden State Freeway from his home in Whittier was marked by long silences.
But that was OK, because we were sharing something unspoken. Nothing was forced but, much like baseball, played out at its own pace.
Steve insisted we always arrive in time for batting practice, and I could not imagine it being any other way. There would be a double bag of peanuts and a Dodger Dog. Steve bought me my own program and taught me how to score.
Sometimes, we’d be a couple rows back from Frank Sinatra, which was swell, but the celebrities to us were on the field. Don Drysdale looking mountainous on the mound, Maury Wills a blur on the bases, Tommy Davis a genius with the bat.
Scully’s voice beamed from thousands of radios and echoed softly throughout the stadium. We never left early. We took it all in. It was hard to get enough. Steve loved Sunday doubleheaders.
I think Steve was proud when later I became a Dodgers beat writer, though, as was his way, he never said a word. Just watched it unfold.
Steve had died by October 2004 when I was sitting in the press box next to beat writer Tony Jackson, now with ESPN.com, as the Dodgers slowly put together one of the most remarkable rallies in their history.
They needed to defeat the rival Giants on the final Saturday of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot and trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the ninth.
But they slowly loaded the bases with one out. A walk forced in one run. Jayson Werth capped an eight-pitch at-bat with a two-run single to tie it. An inning that just built and built.
The sellout crowd had Dodger Stadium vibrating. The intensity swelled with every pitch as the bases were loaded. I turned to Tony and said, "This is why I love baseball."
One pitch later, Steve Finley drilled a grand slam. A truly riveting moment. And as I rose to leave for the clubhouse, I gave a small thank you to my uncle Steve.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Steve Finley. Credit: Los Angeles Times.