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Dodgers' Gordon gives dreary season some life

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – Annie Pearl Gordon can't talk now, she's getting her hair done, and they say there's a storm coming to central Florida so maybe she won't be able to talk later either.

"If it's bad weather," she says, "I will not pick up the telephone."

She lives in Avon Park, 90 miles east of St. Petersburg, 80 miles south of Orlando, a place where a firm storm tends to leave a town disheveled.

Three hours later, she answers again.

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Dee Gordon legs out a triple against the Reds on June 13.
(US Presswire)

"It's OK," she says, soothingly. "It's done passed already."

Dee got two more hits today, she's told. The people out here in L.A. really seem to like him.

"Mmm-hmmm," she says, like she knew they would.

In fact, and she's still listening, he got a standing ovation the other night for simply leading off third base, when the pitcher almost balked him home. And the plays he's made at shortstop? It's a tough year for the Dodgers, ma'am, but Dee's given spring a little more life.

"Devaris," she says. "I call him Devaris. His given name."

Annie Pearl Gordon just turned 61. She had five children, all grown now. Her oldest, Tom, became a big league pitcher, picked up the nickname "Flash," was an All-Star three times and played 21 seasons. Tom had five children of his own, though not maybe in the manner the church prescribes. His three sons and two daughters came by four mothers, none of whom he married.

Devaris arrived second, to a woman named Devona Strange. Seven years later, Devona was dead, killed, they said, by an ex-boyfriend. That's how Devaris Strange-Gordon – reed thin and shaken – came to Avon Park, to Mrs. Gordon's home, to his grandmother's house.

"Being a child," she says, "you don't know what they expect. He was OK. One thing about me – as a person, as a grandmother, as a friend, as a parent – you just have to talk to them. And pray with them. And encourage them. And ask God to do the rest."

Some 16 years later, Dee Gordon(notes) was big leaguer himself. Primarily a basketball player (who first dunked at age 12) into high school, his father suggested he try baseball.

A shortstop, Dee was selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Seminole Community College. After 374 minor league games and an injury to veteran shortstop Rafael Furcal(notes), standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 150 pounds, he was fitted for a Dodgers uniform. He requested a 42-regular jersey, which dangles from his delicate shoulders as if still on the hanger. For pants, he chose a 32-inch waist, which he cinches tight with a belt, the waistband bunching like a jewelry bag on a drawstring. The uniform is the smallest Dodgers clubhouse manager Mitch Poole has supplied in his 26 years.

Dee is at his locker. A left-handed hitter, he is batting .333 after nine games. He has three stolen bases. He has committed one error, and made a handful of sensational plays. He is, perhaps, as fast as anyone in the game.

At 23, Dee has the face and build of a teenager. He wears his hair in a high-fade flattop, circa Kid 'N Play. His smile is welcoming, his eyes earnest, his story sad but true.

"I knew what was happening," he says of losing his mother, his life changing. "I remember everything."

Annie Pearl Gordon ran a loving home for her children, grandchildren, anyone who needed it. Chores were assigned and carried out. Schooling was important. God came first, so they went to church.

"Two times a week," she says. "And Sunday."

Dee begins a list of children and young adults in Gordon's house as he was growing up – brothers, sisters, a cousin who is like a brother, an uncle – then stops.

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Dee Gordon is greeted by Dodgers teammates after getting his first major league hit on June 7 against the Phillies.

"A bunch," he says.

She traveled with Tom to Philadelphia to witness Dee's first start.

"Awesome, awesome, awesome," she recalls. "I was just looking up and praising God."

And Tom arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday, in time for Father's Day.

Going on 23 years after Tom debuted with the Kansas City Royals, Mrs. Gordon feels she's living it over again, this time beside Tom, it all feeling strange and wonderful and divinely diagrammed.

"It does," she says, "it really does. It was amazing and a blessing when Tom went to the major leagues. And the same thing here."

This is where Dee Gordon comes from. From shock and sadness, from honor and accountability, and love and kindness. How else does 150 pounds carry one to the big leagues, to a place in Maury Wills' bunting drills, to a line on Don Mattingly's lineup card?

"I've never felt overmatched," he says.

And away goes the smile.

He's here, he says, because of "a lot of prayer. A lot of hard work. Dedication. The will to succeed. Just outworked the next man. I love it when guys look at me and say, 'He's a small guy.' "

He adopted Jimmy Rollins(notes) as his idol, along with Ozzie Smith and, as of the moment he met him, Wills.

"All smaller guys," he says.

When the Cincinnati Reds came to town, he went to their clubhouse, knocked on the manager's door and introduced himself to Dusty Baker, who years ago had heard about young Dee from Tom.

"Polite young man," Baker said.

Later, Baker insisted there was enough talent in those 150 pounds to fill a much larger man.

"Baseball's a game where size helps but it's not that important if you have skill," he said. "How many guys would have signed Dustin Pedroia(notes)? Then other guys look like Adonis and can't do nothin'."

Oh, but Annie Pearl Gordon would worry. The size of those other boys. And yet her Devaris would refuse to fall, and stand right back up when he did, and she'd be thankful again.

"That's the way parents are," she says. "Afraid and happy at the same time."

She laughs like she's been through it a thousand times, more than a thousand even, more than her share.

And Dee knows his grandmother probably refused to fall herself, because then who would pick up those who had fallen?

"She was there for me," he says. "You needed her, she was always there. You may not think she had time for everybody, but she did."

That is the thing about storms, too. Most of them do pass.