Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fade into Fall

The calendar still shows it’s summer, and Southern California’s typically hot September weather gives no reason to think otherwise. But when September hits, thoughts of summer seem to transition to fall. It always amazes me that the Labor Day holiday weekend can truly be such a distinct and clear-cut changing point in the year – perhaps even more so than New Year’s Day. It always signals the start of a new routine. Here’s why…

The start of September means the start of school – at least it always did until some school districts decided to get going in August. Personally, I don’t think any schools should be starting before Labor Day, except colleges on semester schedules. Anyway, Sam and all of his Claremont High pals started school today (while Sid started classes at Cal State San Marcos last week). Back for another year of high school, I think they actually look forward to the new school year, reunions with friends and plenty of activities ahead. The homework and tests are the evil and necessary trade-off for the fun and the bigger picture that comes after high school.

The college football season gets underway this time of year, and it has now officially started. The UCLA game Monday was one that will be remembered throughout the season. I waited all weekend for that game, and by halftime I was looking for something else to do after the disastrous first-half performance by Kevin Craft. But the game was still reasonably close, so I tuned in again after watching the Dodgers for a couple of innings, and witnessed a truly remarkable comeback. It must have been a particular thrill for the Moores, Brehauts and others who attended. The game was especially meaningful, because the game matched the schools where the two top local high school quarterbacks will be playing their college football next year. Score another victory for the Bruins.

We held our annual fantasy football league draft on Sunday, which is another Labor Day weekend tradition. Most of the owners made it, with the exception of Lenny Seligman, who had a soccer tournament commitment, and Dave Bosson, who was simply a no-show. Even young Sid returned from college for the festivities, and Craig Allen drove up from Arizona. Tim Dickinson, who doesn’t even have a team anymore, came for the camaraderie (and we put him to work). This is the 26th year of the Iggy Biggie Football League, and Dave, Danny Brehaut, Lenny and I are original owners, while Phil joined the second year and Mike shortly after that. It’s been a great run, and hopefully we can keep it going for another 26 years, despite the annual moans and groans from guys who are tired of having football rule their lives. I can’t imagine Sundays without watching the scoreboard.

The fantasy draft means the NFL season is upon us. Kickoff for the season-opener is Thursday night, when the Redskins and Giants square off.

Speaking of the NFL, did you see the story this week that the people proposing the new stadium in Southern California are promising there will be a team in Los Angeles by next season? Here’s a link to the story. The idea is that the team would play in the Rose Bowl for two years while the new stadium in the City of Industry is being built. That might not be so far-fetched, because the people behind the proposal are some of the wealthiest folks in the United States. Billionaire Ed Roski and his business partner John Semcken are heading the charge. I think this time it’s going to happen. Get ready for more football. Here’s more on the proposed Los Angeles Stadium.

Danny handed out UCLA caps to everyone at Sunday’s draft. What a cool thing to do, but even more exciting is the idea that his son Richard will be playing at UCLA next year. The idea that Richard may one day be eligible to be drafted in our fantasy football league is beyond comprehension, but not out of the realm of possibility. But make no mistake, if and when that time comes, he’ll be up for grabs in the Iggy Biggie draft just like every other player in the NFL, no matter how many caps Danny brings us…. By the way, Thank You!

High school football kicks off locally this weekend. Claremont High (and defensive coordinator Jack Harper) hosts Ontario, while Los Osos plays at home against Bishop Amat. Upland plays at Colony High. Greg Setlich’s Chino High team opens on Sept. 12. The Daily Bulletin has a great prep football section in today’s newspaper, and writer Clay Fowler has his pre-season predictions on his blog. I love high school football on Friday nights, and you’ll likely find me at a local game every Friday night from now until November (which will help me avoid much of the political advertising that will continue through then. However, I had to include this sign that sprung up Friday after the announcement of McCain's VP running-mate.).

Of course, I won’t be at those games until halftime during the first month of the season, since the Los Angeles County Fair opens this Friday and I’ll be back doing the house announcements at the grandstand shows (and yes, DA, I took the Fair photo from your site. Thanks.). It’s hard to believe the last year I was an employee of the Fair Association was 2000, and my last full-time Fair was 1999. It was a great event, but it took everything out of me. I loved it there, and I still have a tremendous affection for the Fair and Fairplex. But it’s awfully nice to be able to show up, go make my announcements, and then either watch a concert, walk the Fair or leave. When I worked there, it seemed as if I never left. I’m sure Beth and our boys would second that.

Friday night’s opening act of this year's End of Summer Concert Series is War. Okay, they’ve been the opening act a lot of times before, but they always put on a good show. Nothing mind-blowing or spectacular, but always enjoyable and one I am glad I saw. Maybe I won’t be going to a football game this weekend after all.

I always felt during the years I worked at the Fair that September was the strangest transition period in the seasons. When the event started, it was summer, and the days were still long. It was hot. By the time the Fair ended, it was October, and it was dark sooner. I had to break out a jacket at night, too. By that time, the baseball season was over and it was time for the playoffs and World Series.

Baseball’s final month is unlike the rest of the regular season. By this time, the pennant races have come down to just a few teams. Some teams are out of contention and are just playing out the schedule (like the Giants and the Padres), while a couple – like the Angels – have wrapped up a division title. But the others are still in the thick of things, and every game is meaningful. Despite their mediocre season and a recent terrible eight-game losing streak, the Dodgers are still in the pennant race.

I’ve watched great September battles happen many times, including one year when I worked for the Dodgers. They were deadlocked with the Braves heading into September in 1991, and the two teams fought all the way to the final weekend. It seemed as if neither team would lose, and every game was a nail-biter. In preparation for the possibility that the Dodgers would win the division, we prepared what would have been a beautiful playoff program. We had great stories and pictures, and it was probably 150 pages. All that was left to do was print it. As we left the office on the final Friday of the regular season – and of September – the Braves held a slim one-game lead. If the Dodgers could pull it out, the printer had instructions to push the button and start printing the programs. Unfortunately, Los Angeles lost that night and again on Saturday in Candlestick Park. Atlanta ended up winning the division by a game.

As a fan, those losses are always tough to take. As an employee, it was worse. When we went back to our Dodger Stadium offices on Monday, it was just another day at work, except everybody walked a bit slower and didn’t smile quite as much.

That is, until the next day, when Dodger owner Peter O’Malley hosted the staff for a luncheon in the Stadium Club. Everybody had a chance to visit and commiserate a bit, until after lunch, when Tommy Lasorda came in and addressed the employees. If anybody had a right to be down in the dumps, it would be the manager of the team. But he gave one of those classic Lasorda motivational speeches, and the troops were back and ready to fight. It was a remarkable performance, and one that won my respect for Lasorda forever.

But in looking back, it really didn’t matter, because the season was over. It was fall, and summer had faded away.