BIG CHANGES FOR THE LOS ANGELES DODGERS?

John Longville punked me good. The former state assemblyman, Rialto mayor, and current trustee of the San Bernardino Valley College Board sent me an email reporting the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to the government of the Philippines.

My jaw dropped farther and farther as I read each paragraph. I almost reached for the phone to call the sports editor to ask, “Have you HEARD this?” And then I came to the last paragraph, which contains the best punchline I’ve heard in a long, long time.

Here’s his entire text:

Dodgers name and franchise to
change?

by John Longville

The Los Angeles Dodgers, the first major-league baseball
team to be based on the West Coast, are about to expand the baseball world
again, according to major league sources who asked not to be named because they
are not authorized to speak publicly.

If all the necessary legal arrangements can be worked out –
and that’s still not certain, apparently — the team will continue to play home
games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, but officially will be franchised in
and owned by the government of the Philippines. 
Included in the deal will be four exhibition games each year in Manila,
one of which tentatively will be played against a Japanese team. And the
profitability of the team will be enhanced by a major increase in the value of
international television broadcast rights, although a small part of that new
money is proposed to be diverted to a new fund to assist teams in smaller
markets.

The pending deal began coming together early in April. Former
Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer contacted Commissioner Bud Selig on the
first day of the month to inform him of a rumor that representatives of the
Philippine government were interested in purchasing the Dodgers, and already had
been quietly in negotiations with team owner Frank McCourt. Schieffer developed
close contacts in the Philippines when he served as U.S. ambassador to
Australia. All three nations were members of the now-defunct Southeast Asia
Treaty Organization (SEATO) formed under the Manila Pact in 1954.

Baseball became popular in the island nation during the
1950s and ’60s, when millions of young American sailors (over 4 million in 1967
alone) spent time at the massive U.S. naval base at Subic Bay. Those were glory
years for the Dodgers, and Filipinos became ardent fans of the first baseball
team to share the Pacific Ocean with them.

The Philippine government is about to acquire a
multi-billion-dollar windfall as international banking authorities conclude the
allocation of funds that former dictator Ferdinand Marcos had deposited in
secret Swiss accounts before his government was overthrown in 1986. Bankers
indicate that the total sum to be returned is substantially higher than earlier
estimates, prompting one government official to suggest an effort to buy San
Francisco Giants ace pitcher Tim Lincecum, the most valuable Filipino baseball
player in history, to boost the Dodgers’ prospects.

Schieffer, who was named Monday by Selig to take control of
the Dodgers before owner Frank McCourt could further damage the team, declined
to comment on reports that a sticking point in the negotiations is the proposed
new name for the team:

The Manila Folders.

CITRUS PSYLLID IS ONE BAD BUG

Are we going to allow some lousy little bug to destroy what’s left of our Inland Empire citrus groves?

Heck, no. We are going to fight the Asian Citrus Psyllid, and we are going to fight to win.

“The best way to protect California citrus is to inspect for
the pest,” says Ted Batkin, president of the California Citrus Research
Board.

The Asian Citrus Psyllid carries the fatal bacterium that
causes Huanglongbing (HLB), also called citrus greening disease. Trees
infected with HLB develop symptoms that include stunting, loss of
foliage, mottled leaves and excessive fruit drop. The diseased trees
produce hard, lopsided fruits that remain green, or partly green, with
bitter juice and flesh.

There is no cure.

“This could be the death knell for our citrus industry,” says
Bob Knight, founder of the Redlands-based Inland Orange Conservancy.

Since 2005 the insect has ravaged millions of acres of groves throughout Asia and the Middle
East, the Caribbean, South and Central America, and the southern United
States from Texas to Florida. Indeed, Florida’s citrus industry is
threatened with total extinction, as the insect has invaded every citrus
growing portion of the state.

In July 2008 the insect hopped the Mexico-U.S. border at Tijuana
and has advanced into Southern California. Quarantines are in effect in
Imperial, San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties.

The Inland Empire is seen as the last line of defense in terms
of preventing the insect from overwhelming all of Southern California’s
groves and threatening what still is a $1.2 billion annual citrus
industry in the state.

Experts stress that the Asian Citrus Psyllid is just as likely
to appear somewhere among the hundreds of thousands of citrus trees in
the yards of homeowners as among the orchards of commercial growers.

“We have what we call `party trees,’ where an infestation of
insects of all ages and stages of development are clustered in a single
tree,” Knight says. “Any single tree can become that tree. Any single
tree in anybody’s back yard can become the `Typhoid Mary’ tree that
wipes out our citrus industry.”

Homeowners are urged to inspect their citrus trees regularly.
The Asian Citrus Psyllid is a brownish, aphid-like insect that ranges in
size from one-eighth to one-sixteenth of an inch in length. It feeds on
bud shoots and the undersides of leaves, and while feeding it adopts a
distinctive tilted stance, with its head down and its rear lifted at a
45-degree angle.

The insect deposits waxy tubules of waste as it feeds, and
also emits a mist of so-called “honeydew” that encourages the growth of
sooty mold on leaves. The females lay their eggs, almond-shaped and
yellow-orange in color, on the tips of growing shoots and in the folds
of leaves.

If you think you have spotted an Asian Citrus Psyllid, act
fast. Call the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline,
800-491-1899.

MY MEMBERS ONLY JACKET

When the Fedco store on Mount Vernon Avenue in San Bernardino was about to close in 1999, I went to check out the fantastic savings. I bought a black Members Only jacket for $10 and thought it was the deal of the century. I bragged about it to my friends, all of whom told me, gently, that Members Only jackets had gone totally out of style and that nobody with any fashion sense would be caught dead wearing one.

Not wanting to reveal publicly that I have no fashion sense, I forlornly put my brand-new Members Only jacket on a hanger in my entryway coat closet and left it there until this day. I never wore it. Ever.

You remember Members Only jackets, don’t you? They were all the rage for awhile. They had all sorts of unnecessary straps and buckles and grommets and buttons. Very Michael Jackson-ish. But then they stopped being the rage, evidently. I am very suspicious that it happened the very day before I bought one at big savings.

Fortunately, this very sad story has a wonderfully happy ending.  Recently I wandered through the Urban Outfitters store at the Victoria Gardens shopping mall in Rancho Cucamonga. This is a very hip, young, trendy shop, filled with hip, young, trendy clothes and accessories for hip, young, trendy people.

I admired all the cool stuff as I moved through the store in a counterclockwise circle that brought me back to the entrance. As it turned out, the very last thing I saw was a display case right near the front door. And there, in that case, featured in all its glory, I saw it … a Members Only jacket.

I’m not sure, but I think the store suddenly was bathed in a heavenly light. I heard music. Bluebirds may well have been flying in a circle above the display, carrying garlands and banners in their beaks.

Obviously, Members Only jackets are back! And, obviously, I am a genius for hanging on to my own Members Only jacket for more than a decade now … waiting … waiting …

Baby, that jacket is coming out of the closet!

THE LONG HAUL: MY FAVORITE TOW TRUCK STORY

My former parents-in-law, may they rest in peace, were in Las Vegas once when their car broke down. My dad-in-law, the practical one, argued in favor of getting the car fixed there and driving home, while my mom-in-law, the wildly impractical one, insisted on getting the car home first, then getting it fixed here.

Well, mom never started an argument she didn’t intend to win. So they hired a tow truck and had themselves hauled all the way home from Las Vegas to San Bernardino. And they didn’t sit up front with the driver, either. No, they sat regally in their own car and floated along behind the truck. Mom probably gave the queen’s wave to fellow motorists all the way home.

Dad did not enjoy the journey. He was horrified by the expense of it. And the spectacle of it. He never would talk much about it later. 

Mom, however, had the time of her life. She never tired of recalling it. It was one of her favorite stories.

One of mine, too.

THE INLAND EMPIRE: NEW ‘PLAYER’ IN HOLLYWOOD

“Player,” a new movie making the rounds on the film festival circuit, was shot almost entirely in the Inland Empire. It’s a gritty drama with a terrific twist ending that tells the story of a Los Angeles gambler who falls for a young woman and enlists her help in a high-stakes bet that puts both of their lives at risk.

Filming took place in such San Bernardino and Riverside county locations as Ontario, Montclair, Indio, Desert Hot Springs and Cabazon, as well as in Las Vegas, Laughlin and Santa Monica.

The movie stars Robert Fleet, Natalie Avital and Nick McCallum, and is directed by Montclair’s Alina Szpak. It’s a featured title in this year’s Riverside International Film Festival, which continues through April 17 at the UltraStar Cinemas at University Village, 1201 University Ave., Riverside.

For more information on the festival, visit www.riversidefilmfest.org. For more information on “Player,” visit www.playerthemovie.us or www.imdb.com/title/tt1223414/.

MY SO-CALLED LUCKY ROCK

Let me tell you about my Lucky Rock, and why it isn’t so lucky anymore.

I was living in England in 1971, working on a master’s degree in English literature at Birmingham University.

One day, while bicycling the 20-some miles between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon, just as a fun day-trip, I rested and had a bite to eat by the side of the road. I happened to spot a small rock on the ground, near the spot where I was sitting, and it struck my fancy. I decided to keep it.

It was lozenge-shaped, smooth, unblemished, perfect in form, and the color of honey.

I carried that rock in my change pocket every day for at least the next 10 years. Then, perhaps worried that it might get nicked or discolored by loose change or keys or whatever else might be in my pocket, I stopped carrying it at all times. But I still would take it along on trips or other special occasions. Hey, it was my Lucky Rock!

This went on for at least another 10 years.

I actually lost the rock, briefly, on two occasions. Once it fell out of my pocket and onto the floor under a table at a restaurant. I called the next day and, sure enough, a sharp-eyed waiter had spotted it, recognized that it was something special, and it was waiting at the checkout counter for me to pick up. Whew!

The other time, I accidentally left it behind, along with pocket change, on a nightstand in a motel room. I was hundreds of miles away before I noticed it was missing. I called and, sure enough, a sharp-eyed maid had discovered it, recognized that it was something special, and turned it in at the front desk. The proprietor was kind enough to pack it up and mail it home to me. Whew!

Because of these scares, I stopped carrying it at all. I put it away in a safe place. I didn’t want to risk losing it again.

Trouble is, I think you actually must carry a charm around with you, if you want it to work its magic. How can you expect to enjoy the benefits of a Lucky Rock if you don’t have the Lucky Rock with you?

And, come to think of it, my luck hasn’t  been what it used to be. For about two decades now. Hmm …

It’s been almost exactly 40 years since I found my Lucky Rock. Maybe it’s high time to start carrying it again.

ORANGES AND TRAINS: THE GLORY DAYS OF THE INLAND EMPIRE

Two forces began to transform San Bernardino, starting in the 1870s and continuing into the next decade — the citrus boom and the coming of the railroad. In just a few years the city would evolve from a Wild West town full of desperadoes to become a vital agricultural capital, a transportation capital, and even a tourist capital.

The region’s first half-dozen orange trees had been planted in 1857 by Anson Van Leuven in southeast Rancho San Bernardino, in what today is Loma Linda. He used cuttings from trees located at or near the San Gabriel Mission, it is said. In 1865, Myron H. Crafts planted orange trees in what now is Yucaipa, and Lewis F. Cram planted a modest orchard in 1869 in what now is Highland.

It can be said that these men were California’s first commercial citrus growers, though on a small scale. Previously, fruit from the few citrus trees in Southern California had been used only for private consumption, but now San Bernardino Valley growers were able to sell their produce to a burgeoning population, and for astonishing prices. Cram, for example, realized a yearly profit of almost $2,000 from his grove of not quite two acres. That was a great amount of money at the time.

But the real action got under way in 1873, when Eliza Tibbets obtained two navel orange trees imported from Brazil and planted them at her home in Riverside, a breakaway community founded in 1870 southwest of San Bernardino. The results of that planting were spectacular. The fruits were abundant, large, seedless and deliciously sweet.

Word spread and Tibbets soon managed a flourishing business selling rootstock cuttings from her amazing trees to growers not only in Riverside and San Bernardino but throughout the valley and all of Southern California.

The boom was about to begin.

Also in 1873, the Southern Pacific Railroad declared its intention to extend tracks from Los Angeles to San Bernardino and from there to Yuma, connecting there with tracks already in place to complete a transcontinental line across the southern United States.

The railroad couldn’t reach terms with San Bernardino, however, and chose an alternate route that circumvented the city a little to the south. A depot, built in 1875 at what now is Colton, led to the development of that city.

The Southern Pacific also planned a north-south line from San Francisco to the San Bernardino Valley, but it couldn’t acquire rights through the Cajon Pass, so it instead chose a route, completed in 1876, between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Bernardino did benefit, in the short term, from its proximity to both of Southern Pacific’s new rail lines. And, in the long term, when a new opportunity to accommodate a railroad project presented itself a decade later, the city did not fail to take advantage.

In fact, city residents were excited to learn, in the late 1870s, that a rival railroad, the California Southern, intended to build a line between San Diego and San Bernardino. Construction began and anticipation grew as the line grew closer and closer to San Bernardino.

A substantial difficulty loomed, however. In order to complete the route into the city, the California Southern would have to cross Southern Pacific’s east-west line south of the city, and Southern Pacific made it known that permission would not be forthcoming.

As expected, when the California Southern rail line reached Colton in August 1882, it was blocked from crossing Southern Pacific’s east-west tracks. Southern Pacific even parked idle locomotives in place to obstruct the way. California Southern’s project was stymied for an entire year while the issue was debated in court.

But in the summer of 1883 the court granted an order that the Southern Pacific must yield to California Southern’s northward push. The lines were crossed, additional track was laid, and on Sept. 13, 1883, a California Southern train rumbled into San Bernardino, where it was greeted with a citywide celebration.

The railroad had come at last
to San Bernardino and the city was linked at its heart
with an exploding Southern California economy. In fact, in many ways,
the city became the heart of that new economy.

In 1885, the Santa Fe Railroad acquired California Southern, determined to extend its line through the Cajon Pass to points northward. But Southern Pacific again presented an opposing force. It previously had bypassed the Cajon Pass, unable to secure rights to a route on its west side that was considered to be the only viable option. Later, though, it secured those rights and maintained them for the purpose of keeping them out of play for competing railroads.

The Santa Fe, though, guided by engineer Fred Perris, a San Bernardino resident with keen local knowledge of the Cajon Pass, successfully laid track along an eastern route through the pass. Construction was completed that same year, and the following year, 1886, Santa Fe built a depot in San Bernardino, the city’s first.

Soon, as Santa Fe continued to challenge and usurp Southern Pacific’s monopoly in the region, an east-west Santa Fe line sprouted from the city and two things happened: San Bernardino became Southern California’s key transportation crossroad, and it became forever known as a Santa Fe town.

The citrus industry, meanwhile, was gaining full force, and San Bernardino found itself at the center of that, too, not only as a grower but a shipper of citrus. Even oranges and lemons grown in Riverside had to be transported out of San Bernardino.

There were 10 million orange trees in Southern California, most of them in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The first large commercial shipment of citrus out of the Inland Empire took place in 1882 when a railroad car full of oranges and lemons left San Bernardino bound for Denver. It set the pattern for countless shipments to come, at an increasingly frenzied pace, especially after the refrigerated box car was developed in 1889.

By 1920 more than 40,000 railroad cars full of citrus were leaving San Bernardino each year, headed East. That amounted to almost 20 million crates of fruit, a cash crop worth more than $30 million, an incredible sum in those days.

Easterners were endlessly fascinated by reports of the mid-winter citrus harvest in California’s Southland, and growers here took advantage of that interest. Citrus crate labels often featured images of snow-capped mountains rising behind orchards heavy with ripe fruit.

Postcards were circulated showing happy people picking and enjoying fruit, with the caption, “I’ll eat oranges for you, if you’ll throw snowballs for me.”

The National Orange Show, established in 1911 in San Bernardino, was for decades held in February or March, winter months, and it was billed as “California’s Greatest Mid-Winter Event.”

The festival featured an onsite packing house where souvenir crates of fresh fruit could be purchased and shipped anywhere in the country. Each box was adorned with a commemorative National Orange Show label.

The citrus boom ultimately proved to be an irresistible tourist attraction. People in other parts of the nation and world wanted more than reports and pictures and even boxes of real fruit. They wanted to see the spectacle for themselves.

The National Orange Show became one of America’s most highly attended annual events, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. As a postcard advertisement for the 1929 edition of the show stated, “No trip to California is complete without a visit to the National Orange Show, the most beautiful exposition in all the world.”

The growth of the Southland citrus industry even became a magnet for permanent migration. Many visitors liked what they saw so much that they decided to move here. It was a phenomenon that was likened to the influx of gold seekers to the state in earlier decades. In fact, the citrus boom came to be called “California’s Second Gold Rush.”

It was said, only partly in jest, that trains left California full of fresh fruit and returned full of fresh folks.

World War II marked the beginning of the end. The combined effect of the war years, the Great Freeze of 1949, and booming urbanization in the post-war years forced a decline in Southland citrus production that began slowly but accelerated with each new decade.

San Bernardino County’s 50,000 citrus acres dwindled to 5,000 by the 1990s as groves were bulldozed to make way for industrial, commercial and residential growth and development.

In recent years, a backlash movement has gained momentum, and efforts are being made to preserve remnant orchards and support the small number of local growers who remain active. The Inland Orange Conservancy (www.inlandorange.org) is leading these efforts. The campaign is featured in the documentary film “Orange Sunrise” (www.orangesunrise.net).

A SAMPLE OF ‘THIS RIVER’

‘This River’ (Counterpoint Press, $14.95) is the new memoir by James Brown, who lives in Lake Arrowhead and teaches at Cal State San Bernardino. The book is full of fine writing, from first page to last. Here’s my favorite passage. It’s from the title chapter:

This is not at the Chetco River. This is in a run-down house my father rented after he got back on his feet, a few years after we moved out of Aileen’s place. This is at the kitchen table. Today we finished roofing a home, it’s evening, and we’re drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. My father is old school, believing if I’m man enough to put in a full day pounding nails and hanging shingles, I’m man enough to have a couple beers. I’m sixteen.

When he drinks, he likes to reminisce, and he often talks about the Chetco, the years of his youth spent there, camping and fishing and swimming. He talks of one day building a home along its banks to bring his children together. To surround himself with us. But his words are empty. He is a poor man after our mother bankrupts him, and too old by then, too worn out, to recover his losses. Still he talks.

I’m not sure what gets into me. I’m not even sure why the subject crosses my mind, but I’m light-headed with alcohol, and it’s emboldened me. I’m young and my mouth works too easily. My father, however, is unfazed.

“Are you ever scared of dying?”

“What brought that up?”

I don’t say anything.

He smiles at me and chuckles.

“Death is nothing to be afraid of.”

He grew up around the Cherokee, and though baptized Methodist, he rarely spoke of Christ and didn’t care for organized religion.

“What comes of the earth,” he says, “returns to the earth. Your spirit goes into a pool of deep water where it mixes with the spirit of all God’s creatures. The bear. The mountain lion. The squirrel. The deer. Who are we to think we’re any better?” He puts his hand on top of mine resting on the table. He smiles again, knowing, I believe, that my question implies the child’s fear of losing his parent. “There’s nothing to worry about. The calm water feeds into the rapids and carries you on. The spirit never dies,” he says, “it just follows the river.”

A decade later, I’ll return to the Chetco … I bring Andy, my oldest at twelve, and Logan, just six. Nate has yet to be born. The lessons learned, on that first trip, run deeper than showing my sons how to pitch a tent, to shoot a rifle, to string tackle and bait a hook. It’s the experience itself. It’s the wedding of the past with the present, the time we spend together, and the time we’ll never have again. It’s about the loved and beloved and the memories that survive us.

INLAND EMPIRE HAS THE WRITE STUFF

Inland Empire has the write stuff

NOTE: This is an updated version of an article I wrote for the August 2010 issue of Inland Living magazine.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, the Inland Empire has a standing army of mighty warriors.

It’s true. A host of literary figures have roots in the region.

Acclaimed novelists Barbara Wood, Gayle Brandeis, Kathryn Lynn Davis and Susan Straight all live in Riverside. Straight is on the faculty at the University of California, Riverside, as are noted authors Chris Abani, Christopher Buckley, Mike Davis and Juan Felipe Herrera.

Science fiction and fantasy author Tim Powers, a San Bernardino resident, is author of the 1988 novel “On Stranger Tides,” which has been optioned by Hollywood to form the basis of the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie starring Johnny Depp.

Another San Bernardino author, Robert Reginald (real name Michael Burgess), has more than 100 fiction and non-fiction titles to his credit. He is a retired librarian at Cal State San Bernardino.

The English department at Cal State includes such literary notables as James Brown, author of “The Los Angeles Diaries” and “This River”; novelist Glen Hirshberg, author of “The Snowman’s Children” and “American Morons”; and poet Juan Delgado, whose works include “A Rush of Hands” and “El Campo.”

Redlands claims novelists Patricia Geary, Jack Lopez, Bruce McAllister and Lynn Flewelling.
Prolific horror novelist Tamara Thorne, whose titles include “Bad Things” and “Thunder Road,” lives in Upland.

Lee Gruenfeld, with homes in Lake Arrowhead and Palm Springs, writes bestsellers such as “Irreparable Harm” and “All Fall Down” under his real name, and sports-themed bestsellers such as “Scratch” and the “The Green” under his pseudonym, Troon McAllister.

There’s another long list of literary figures who are not current residents of the Inland Empire, but who have strong past connections with the region.

Best-selling novelist Joseph Wambaugh once lived in Fontana, where he worked as a fireman at Kaiser Steel.

Dean Koontz lived for years in Big Bear Lake and set his bestselling thriller “Lightning” there.

Charles Phoenix, humorist, stage entertainer and author of such books as “God Bless Americana” and “Southern Californialand,” was born and raised in Ontario.

Kem Nunn, whose novels include “Pomona Queen” and whose TV writing credits include “Deadwood” and “John from Cincinnati,” grew up in Pomona.

Fantasy and science fiction novelist Barbara Hambly lived in Montclair, Riverside and Ontario.

Horror novelist Alexandra Sokoloff grew up in San Bernardino.

Luis Rodriguez, author of the best-selling “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.,” worked as a reporter at The Sun in 1980-82.

Screenwriters Les and Glen Charles, creators of the TV comedy classic “Cheers,” both attended the University of Redlands. Les tended bar at the Gay 90s Pizza Parlor near campus, and the tavern’s setting provided much of the inspiration for “Cheers,” he later said.

James Fallows, author and former U.S. News and World Report editor, grew up in Redlands.

David Saylor, who is American art director of the “Harry Potter” books, lived in San Bernardino.

Authors of  yesteryear  with ties to the Inland Empire include Riverside’s Harry Lawton, a longtime professor at the University of California at Riverside, who wrote the 1960 book, “Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt.” The book inspired the 1969 movie “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here,” starring Robert Redford.

Mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of the “Perry Mason” novels, which inspired the long-running TV series starring Raymond Burr, settled in Temecula in Riverside County, where he died in 1970.

Raymond Chandler, creator of the Philip Marlowe detective novels, lived briefly at Big Bear Lake and set his 1943 novel “Lady in the Lake” there. It’s the only Philip Marlowe story that is not set in Los Angeles.

Harold Bell Wright, one of the nation’s top-selling novelists of the early 1900s, also lived in Redlands. His “The Winning of Barbara Worth” (1912) was the first novel in history to sell a million copies. It inspired the 1926 movie of the same title that starred Gary Cooper.

Helen Hunt Jackson, who lived for awhile in the Hemet/San Jacinto area, set her best-selling novel “Ramona” in the desert regions of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Ina Coolbrith, who lived in San Bernardino during its pioneer days, became California’s first poet laureate, appointed to the post in 1915 by Gov. Hiram Warren Johnson. Even though she died in 1928, she still has an ardent fan base to this day (check out the Ina Coolbrith Circle at coolpoetry.org).