Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” is a well-known description of how people express their commitment: with affirmative words, valuable time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
When my big brother David Porras died suddenly this summer, I discovered a sixth category: sports. The Los Angeles Dodgers in particular proved to be a unique love language for my grieving family and David’s friends.
As far as I know, David didn’t think about love languages. Still, he was fluent in the language of camaraderie, especially when it came to the sport. After all, strangers can talk about the Dodgers together. Who won, who lost, and which catch/run/pitch stopped hearts—these are safer topics of conversation than politics or personal feelings. But sports talks can also go beyond small talk and become a shared field of memory, a bond that connects.
This realization came unexpectedly to me when Teddy Reyes stopped by my mother’s house to pay his respects the day after David’s death. Amidst the raw sadness and palpable awkwardness, I asked Teddy how he and David first met. Teddy’s eyes lit up: They were 7 years old and played Little League.
Later, Dave Navarro recalled my brother’s encyclopedic knowledge of high school athletic records, including Dave. David went to Marshall, Dave went to Wilson, but David preserved a wealth of Dave’s high school highlights – in this case football – and made him feel seen, valued and known.
My brother and I grew up in Echo Park in the 1960s and 1970s and we’ve been “Doyers” fans for as long as I can remember. Dodgers baseball has always been a part of our lives, proudly anchoring us in our place in LA
At the age of 10, David and his friend Minh Chau would walk to games at Dodger Stadium and have fun throwing a can in the street. Even as an adult, David treated every home game like a pilgrimage, gathering a team at our family home and walking through Echo Park to the stadium.
His last game was on Father’s Day, two weeks before his death, with a 15-strong entourage including his son Justin, because that’s how David was traveling. (That’s David and Justin at Dodger Stadium in the photo above.) His love for the Dodgers created a community.
The day Teddy came to visit, He brought a floral arrangement with flowers dyed Dodger blue and white. Even in our grief, my family was excited about the novelty – will they dye the roses? — and my 90-year-old mother, who never expected to grieve for her only son, smiled. Later that same day, David’s friend Delia brought us blue and white Dodger-style donuts from Dunkin’.
We decided to adopt the Dodger theme to celebrate David’s life. Alex, the manager of Elks Lodge, where David worked and where we wanted to hold the memorial, designed an invitation with the outfield of Dodger Stadium as the background and a deep blue Dodger sky.
LA folks routinely wear Dodger jerseys, even when dressed smartly (makes sense: a team shirt can cost upwards of $150). Our invitation called for black or Dodger Blue attire, team t-shirts welcome. Even our youngest guest, nephew Cal, came into his room Calavera Dodger onesie.
I had given away David’s collection of quality Dodger gear – a dozen custom jerseys, one Dodger blue guayabera with the LA logo – as a keepsake for those closest to him, and many of them wore the t-shirts to the memorial service. In lieu of flowers, we suggested that mourners donate to the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. Among their good works is the improvement of baseball diamonds in public parks, the fields where David and I, his son, his godson, and his nephews all played ball.
My blue sky took on a whole new meaning that day.
As we debated the sensitive issue of David’s Ashes, we joked about signing up for Kids Run the Bases, a tradition following Sunday games. The adult accompanying the children could then secretly drag ashes into the field from a hole in their pocket.
We haven’t tried it – honestly. But for David, Dodger Stadium was truly sacred ground. After a 1981 World Series game, he joined the crowd that stormed the field and stuffed his pockets with infield dust.
I couldn’t guess how many games he’s played in his life – it could be more than 1,000. He greeted ticket buyers, vendors and fans as if they were family. And we are touched by the condolences we have received from the Dodgers community since his passing. Even his all-time favorite player – Steve Garvey, whom he first met when he was nine and got an autograph – spoke up. Five stadium attendants paid their respects at the memorial service.
I recently ordered my own Dodger jersey for the first time ever. The back is embroidered with the number 6, Garvey’s number, and David’s last name, Porras. I can no longer go to a game with my brother, but I can wear this talisman of my love for him and continue to talk to him about baseball in my heart.
Natalia Molina is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC. Her latest book is A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community. Photo by Kassandra Rodriguez.