LOS ANGELES – On another night, maybe. At the end of an ordinary day, maybe.
But not on Monday, not when they all wore No. 42, not when people were being carried from the streets.
Sixty-six years from the day Jackie Robinson stood out there for the first time, about 3,000 miles from the kind of thing that's not supposed to happen here, or anywhere, Dodger Stadium had its purpose. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, at each other's throats a few days before, let it go. Not for forever, probably. But for long enough to be reasonable, to be respectful, to see the world as somewhat larger than a stupid act followed by another.
A wise baseball man looked back on Zack Greinke's fastball, on Carlos Quentin's reaction, on the whole messy show, and muttered, "Disgraceful," excluding no one.
That's where it's lived since Thursday night, when grown men rolled around in the grass and threatened each other in the hallway and promised to finish it some other day.
Just not Monday. Not after a radiant Rachel Robinson walked in on Magic Johnson's arm. Not after what she'd seen too often on too many baseball fields. And not after what they'd all seen all day long, not after it had wrung them all out.
Just play the game. Watch the game. Go home and live a little better tomorrow. It can't be harder than that.
"Jackie was a strong, strong man," Matt Kemp was saying Monday afternoon. "He knew how to turn the other cheek. He knew how to walk away, unlike myself at times."
That's a reasonable, respectful place to leave it, too. Greinke is in Los Angeles, recovering from surgery. Quentin is in San Diego, serving his eight-game suspension, soon on his way to Lake Elsinore.
The rest of them gathered at the end of a very long day. Joe Torre had called both managers. Today, let it be about the game, he'd asked Bud Black and Don Mattingly. There'd been enough talk about blood feuds and payback. "We'll see, bitch," a seething Kemp had promised Quentin, and nobody really wanted to see at all.
"For me, I'm not even worried about that situation," Kemp said. "What happened, happened. All the Robinsons are going to be here today. With what's going on, there's more important things than retaliation."
Like taking a long, slow breath. Like sorting the real from the unfathomably, horrifically real. So Rachel Robinson and Don Newcombe remind the world how far we've come, and a moment in Boston reminds us how far we have to go, and a ballgame floats by in the middle of it, just insignificant enough to be OK if the ballgame would just let it be.
"Just keep in perspective where we are today," Torre told Mattingly.
He meant for the good in the day, and the terrible in the day, and he had the same message for Black.
"To Joe's point," Black said, "I think he just wanted to let both teams know this is baseball. This is still what this is about."
The Dodgers asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims in Boston. (In the middle innings, adding to the tension, an unattended backpack moved LAPD officers to evacuate a section of the ballpark near the right-field foul pole. The backpack contained nothing threatening and people slowly returned to their seats.) The Dodgers celebrated their Jackie, the way only they can. And with perhaps a bit of a cringe, they lined the field and turned on the lights and let the people in and invited the Dodgers and Padres to play ball. Let it go well. Let them settle this some other night, if at all. The result: Padres 6, Dodgers 3, incident free.
Newcombe, once Robinson's roommate, honors Kemp with his friendship. Kemp spent the day with Sharon, Jackie's daughter, at a school, where they educated the children on just what happened 66 years ago, long before their parents were born. A few days before, a fuming and panting Kemp was dragged from the field. Maybe justified, maybe not, he'd forgotten his composure and heard about it from his grandmother and his mother.
There are standards, human standards. On the worst days, we wonder where the casualty count stops. On the best, Jackie. They collide, unavoidably, in a place here, where it's sad and it's hollow and it's inconsolable, even all those miles away. And then it's resilient, because it has to be, because the alternative is worse. They don't belong on the same field, the real world and baseball. Some days, it happens anyway. Then it helps a little, maybe, to have something else – or someone else – to think about.
"He took it and he got better," Kemp said. "And he made the world better. … That's why he's everybody's hero. Thank God for Jackie."
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