April 1, 2018. Springtime. The time of renewal, rebirth, spring equinox, the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, the beginning of National Donate Life Month, April Fool’s Day. And, of course, the beginning of baseball season and the day my Dodger Blue Wish was granted.
Dodger Blue Wishes is a program designed to inspire and create an unforgettable experience for Dodgers fans who have a serious health condition. Last year, I definitely fit into this category. On the waiting list for a double lung transplant, I began a “Wish” letter campaign to nominate myself. In addition to my six appeal letters over a four-month period, I solicited help from my family and friends. I had a mission: Dodgers or bust.
The Dodgers became a lifeline during the most difficult season of my life. For six months out of the year, games were on almost daily. As well, the strategy fascinates me: the cat-and-mouse between the pitcher and batter, moving runners into scoring position, hitting the cutoff man… I got it!
I gradually began to understand “the chess-like” moves that were taking place. My second language of baseball developed with my husband as my tutor. Line drives were “ropes”, home runs “dingers”, a “shift” meant the batter was a pull hitter, all phrases l now uttered which brought a huge smile of satisfaction to Steven as I shared his lifetime passion.
By the end of the season, however, I hadn’t received any acknowledgement from the LA Dodgers Community Relations Office. Figuring they must get hundreds, if not thousands, of requests, I was disappointed but understanding.
Not to be deterred from my goal of Dodgers or bust, on the eve of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, I began my 2018 “Nominate Rachelle” campaign. I was already looking toward the next season.
The phone call came unexpectedly last month when my caller ID registered Los Angeles Dodgers. After Noelle, Community Relations Coordinator, apologized for the delay (under my breath I was laughing, thinking it was a good thing I was still alive!) and informed me that I would be the first Dodger Blue Wish of 2018. Stunned, but remaining calm, I agreed to any day, any time, anywhere, unless I was hospitalized, of course.
As instructed, we arrived promptly at 2 p.m. and entered a gate used only by the Stadium Elite — and us. As we were escorted through the underbelly of the stadium, the halls of fame surrounded us with Golden Gloves, World Series and NL West trophies, photos of Jackie Robinson,
Sandy Koufax, Pee Wee Reese, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Roy Campanella, Tommy Lasorda, Vin Scully, Clayton Kershaw. I get chills thinking of the baseball greatness we were seeing.
I could have spent hours among these archives but the game was not going to wait, so our family zipped through, uncertain of what was in store.
Upon entering the field, we watched the end of Dodger batting practice and the beginning of the Giants’ practice. I became a person I didn’t recognize: a “fangirl.” From each player and manager I met (both teams), I requested a hug, kissed their necks (creepy), and asked them to autograph my baseball. As my daughters Meaghan and Sierra shot me looks of horror at the audacity of my requests for hugs, I ignored them and lost all sense of protocol and became the stereotypical I’m-in-a-wheelchair-with-a-cannula-coming-out-of-my-nose-how-could-you-say-no-to-this-disabled-woman? woman.
They can’t, trust me. I have learned the art of using my illness. I’m flagrant, and so be it. On those days when I don’t know how I can possibly carry on, not breathing on my own, I want no regrets. So if I nuzzle my nose into Matt Kemp and Brandon Crawford’s necks? What the heck, I want to leave nothing undone.
When it was time to leave the field (reluctantly), the highlight of the experience was yet to come. As we reentered the deep recesses of tunnels under Chavez Ravine, I again became transfixed by the glory of Dodger past and present. It felt like at any moment one of these Dodger ghosts could come walking around the corner.
Then it happened.
As we rounded a corner, there was Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda with his entourage. He in his motorized cart, me in my wheelchair, shared a few moments as I recalled a pizza joint in Exton, Pa., where my mama used to bring her local theatre group for after hours to a place owned by the Lasorda brothers. He remembered this joint from the ‘80s and, again, I asked for a photo and a hug. No shame here.
Almost as an aside, the Dodgers won the game, 9-0.
And fangirl lives on.
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This is an installment in a series of articles on the journey of one woman as she awaits an organ donation. Rachelle Ledbetter and her husband, Steve Swinney, have lived in Three Rivers for 32 years. Rachelle has been diagnosed with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis and bronchiestasis. She is dependent on supplementary oxygen 24 hours a day while awaiting a double lung transplant.