Bright and early next Sunday morning, the last day of March, Cambria’s Kniffen family (Steve, Lorie, Reagan and Gehrig) will leave this quiet, cool community and head down Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo where they will catch Highway 101 south and complete the 222-mile trip to noisy, gridlocked and sports-crazed Los Angeles.
After the kids and parents take great pleasure in up and down rides on the 30-story glass outside elevators in the Bonaventure Hotel Sunday afternoon — and take a spin through the hardscrabble neighborhoods on LA’s light rail Metro line — the most awesome segment of this 17th straight sojourn to LA waits on the morning of Monday, April 1.
The family will check out of their room at the Bonaventure and do what they have faithfully, dutifully done every year for the past 16 straight years: attend “Opening Day” at Dodger Stadium, a pilgrimage that father Steve says has spiritual overtones because “God is a baseball fan.”
If you’re in the Kniffen family, you know the approach to Dodger Stadium doesn’t entail getting into the stop-and-go logjam of cars snaking up from Sunset Boulevard to the ball park to get there by game time. No way. The Kniffens arrive at the entrance to the parking lot well before the gates open (around 10:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game).
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After all, there is a world of fun to be had before the game — playing catch and making friends in the parking lot — and, once in the park, checking out the high-tech aircraft that buzz the stadium in the traditional fly-over.
Steve candidly admits that at some stage in the pre-game ceremonies — during which iconic Dodger players from the past are introduced and patriotic themes abound — he has cried “more than once” from pure sentimental/emotional bliss.
Sixteen years ago, when Steve and Lorie attended their first Opening Day Dodger game — it was 1997 and the Dodgers were beaten 3-0 on a two-hitter by the Phillies’ Curt Schilling — they walked through the turnstiles with their 40-day-old son Gehrig (who today is a sophomore on the Broncos’ varsity baseball squad).
In the succeeding 16 years of attending Opening Day, the Kniffens have scanned the stadium but they have never located a child younger than 40 days in attendance. Hence, they may have the record, since the closest to Gehrig’s infancy they’ve been able to locate was a child three months old.
Speaking of records, the Dodgers have won 10 of those 16 Opening Day contests, but rooting home a winner is only part of the purpose, Steve explains.
“It is truly a religious experience for us,” Steve continues. “We don’t take vacations as a family; this has been it. We have seen much of the world, but our journeys to the heart of LA have shown us much of the universe.”
Unlike many Angelinos, the Kniffens have never in 16 years tried to beat the traffic by leaving a game before the last out. And unlike what most fans might do in terms of wagering with their children over a game’s outcome, in 2005 (when Reagan, now a freshman at Coast Union, and Gehrig were in third and fourth grades) Steve boldly announced that if the Dodgers won he would drive home in his underwear.
It didn’t seem like such a risky bet because it was the ninth inning and the Dodgers were three runs behind. But, boom, a homer in the ninth tied it and another blast in extra innings won it for the boys in blue. Well dad, it was your idea.
Meanwhile, Opening Day 2013 will be a first for the Kniffens: for 16 years they have had grandstand seats, but this year they’re in the right field pavilion. It happens that this section features “all you can eat” nachos, Dodger Dogs, popcorn, peanuts, Cracker Jack, and soda.
“We are looking forward to that,” Steve explained. And, he adds, consuming a Dodger Dog is part of the spirituality of the encounter — Dodger Dogs go down “…as smooth as the finest caviar.”