Meeting Eric Karros: Dodger Legend and My Hero
By Blake Keathley
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I grew up in Central California in a house divided; my dad is a lifelong fan of the Dodgers while my mom is loyal to the San Francisco Giants. So the first opportunity he got, my dad packed me in the car, put a Dodgers cap on my head and a Dodgers Dog in my hand, and in those moments, my allegiances were sealed forever.
I am very fortunate to have a wealth of memories that I’ll cherish forever, and I’ll always be thankful for the quality time that I got to spend with my father and friends at Dodgers Stadium. However, no individual game has been as memorable as the game I most recently attended at Dodgers Stadium on May 1, 2015. Even if the Dodgers had lost 100-0 to the Diamondbacks that night, nothing could have taken away from the excitement that I was fortunate enough to experience before the game.
In order to understand why this moment is so significant in my baseball fandom, I first have to say that Eric Karros has been my favorite baseball player since the first Dodgers game I attended in 1995. Throughout my own baseball career, I always wore #23 in his honor and even though he hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2004, I’m fairly certain no baseball player will ever come close to meaning as much to me as Eric Karros did in my childhood.
January 1998 – Jackie Robinson Stadium, UCLA
I was seven years at the time and old living in Bakersfield, California (2 hours north of LA), and a family friend that had walked on at UCLA had been invited back to campus to participate in an alumni game in Westwood. It had recently been announced that Eric Karros was going to be inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. Our family friend couldn’t guarantee that he’d ultimately show up, but Eric Karros was scheduled to be recognized for his Hall of Fame induction the day of the alumni game and would likely be in attendance.
I left my house in Bakersfield that morning dressed in my baseball pants, my Eric Karros #23 jersey tee-shirt, and a LA Dodgers hat excited to potentially meet my baseball hero. I also packed a baseball, an 8×10 photo, and a few baseball cards in the event I was lucky enough to have an opportunity at getting his signature. When we got to UCLA, we got to go down on the field and meet some of the players and alumni in attendance. I was thrilled to have a chance to mingle with these players and shag batting practice, but there was no sign of Eric Karros.
The day wore on and like 7-year olds tend to do, I grew impatient waiting for Eric to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity, I was so disappointed that Eric had not yet arrived that I went to the bathroom and changed out of my Eric Karros t-shirt into a UCLA shirt that had been given to me earlier that day. I was crushed at what I thought would be a missed opportunity to meet my baseball hero and my attitude continued to deteriorate as the day wore on.
However, within an hour of changing out of my Eric Karros t-shirt and declaring that the day was ruined, in walked #23 himself. Overwhelmed with excitement, I immediately ran out to the car and changed back into my Dodgers outfit and prepared to meet ‘Mr. Karros’. I stood nearby for what seemed like hours, but was more likely a minute or two, as Eric wrapped up a personal conversation before greeting me. I was completely star-struck, overwhelmed by the excitement of the moment, but eventually summoned the courage to address my childhood baseball idol.
I don’t have any recollection how long the encounter lasted or what we discussed, but I’ll never forget those few minutes. To this day, an 8×10 hangs on my wall with the inscription: “To Blake: Best Wishes!! Eric Karros #23”. At that moment in my 7-year old existence, I think I could have died and gone to Heaven. Heck, in the euphoria of those few minutes, you probably could’ve convinced me I was in Heaven! It was a truly great day and one that I will never forget.
Eric went on to play with the Dodgers through the 2002 season when he moved on to one season with the Chicago Cubs and another with the Oakland A’s.
May 1, 2015 Dodger Stadium
Back to May 1, 2015. I was in attendance at Dodgers Stadium with my mother, father, sister and her boyfriend as well as my girlfriend for the game against the Diamondbacks. Unbeknownst to me it was ‘UCLA Night’ at the park, and Eric Karros was in attendance to represent the Bruins and throw out the first pitch at the game. While we waited for the game to start, I struck up a conversation with a nearby usher about my moment with Eric in 1998 and how he had been and remains my favorite baseball player. Moved by my story, the usher arranged a meeting between Eric and me.
I heard the expression recently “never meet your heroes, they’ll only disappoint you.” My experience with Eric Karros on that day could not have been more the opposite. As if he needed any introduction, he walked over and shook my hand and asked me my name. I introduced myself and my girlfriend, who had heard ad nauseam about EK over the years, and told him the story about our encounter 17 years earlier. He didn’t remember it and I didn’t expect him to, but he was gracious enough to engage a fan, who was no longer 7 years old, and take a few minutes to talk about the experience.
We talked about that day and what the experience meant to me, and he was gracious enough listen as I transformed into that same 7-year old he had met all those years ago. He said he could relate, and showed me photos on his phone of him as a boy with Pete Rose and Joe Morgan, his heroes at the time. He told me he did not mean to compare himself to Pete Rose, but I (cheesily) told him that to me at that time (and even today) he was more than Pete Rose ever was or will be. He thanked me for being a fan and I thanked him for his time, and we snapped a photo together to commemorate our second encounter.
I left my conversation with Eric completely overwhelmed by his graciousness and willingness to engage me in such a down-to-earth manner. I feel very fortunate not to be disappointed by my baseball hero and lucky to know that my childhood baseball hero was one of the good guys.
Wouldn’t it be something to run into EK again 17 years from now in the year 2032? I’ll be in my 40s and he in his 60s, but I guarantee that not only will his trademark ‘flow’ still be fully intact, but that I’ll still be as enamored with him as I was as a boy. I might even get to tell my story to my future children, if I’m fortunate enough to have any, and point out to them their father’s baseball hero, a good Dodger and an even better person.