Claremonter shows true colors
Claremont resident and soon-to-be centenarian Dorothy “Dot” Finerty set out on a sunny Wednesday afternoon to check off another item on her bucket list. After weeks of preparation, the lifelong Dodger fan got called up from the bullpen to throw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Senior Day.
“My son asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I wondered if it’d be possible to throw out the first pitch at a game,” Dorothy said. “It looks like that’s going to happen.”
Making Mrs. Finerty’s wish come true was no small feat, but with the help of some truly caring friends with one common goal, “Finerty” was on the team roster for the Dodgers vs. Nationals game on September 3. Team Dot was finally born.
“I had no idea if it would be possible,” Dorothy’s son Tom said. “But how do you turn down that kind of request? We needed to make it happen and we did. It’s really exciting!”
From Brooklyn to Los Angeles
Dot’s affinity for the Dodgers started at an early age and has spanned over nine decades. In that time, the team has seen a lot of changes—including a move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles—but for this die-hard fan, little else has changed.
“I don’t think the game of baseball has changed that much,” she says. “Just that new rule about instant replay.”
As a child growing up in New York in the 1920s, Dorothy and her six younger siblings would sit, huddled around their father A.J., as he called the live action during the Brooklyn Dodger’s games. “My dad built a crystal set with earphones, it had no speaker. This was before most people had radios,” she says. “He would listen to the game and give the play-by-play to us kids. That was my introduction to the Dodgers.”
In 1941 and fresh out of nursing school, Dot and her friend loaded up the Ford and made the move across the country to Los Angeles where she later met the love of her life, utilities manager Fred Finerty. The couple married in 1943, started a family and built their life together in southern California.
Roughly 10 years later, the Brooklyn Dodgers followed her out to Los Angeles and Dot’s love affair with Dodger blue was solidified. Even Fred, an Oklahoma native, became a Dodger fan.
“When the Dodgers moved out here, I was just thrilled because I could go to the games,” says Dorothy. “We would go and meet up with friends at the top with a view of the beautiful city. And after the game we’d take our folding chairs, sit back and enjoy the lights. The moon would be out and we’d drive off with no problems. Everyone would be gone.”
Although the Finerty family lived in several cities throughout the Los Angeles area, in their later years Mr. and Mrs. Finerty settled in Claremont. Their oldest daughter, Molly, now a special education teacher at Claremont High School, attended Pomona College and the City of Trees left an impression on the couple.
“We always thought this was a lovely town and when we retired we thought we’d look into it.” Look into it they did, and when they found a house to rent on the corner of 12th and College Avenue they were hooked. “We liked it so well we just stayed there.”
After 59 years of marriage, Mr. Finerty passed away in 2001 and Dorothy remained in Claremont where she continues to live independently in an apartment near the Village. “I live here by myself with a little help a few hours a week, and I think that’s keeping me going,” Dot says. “Two years ago, I fractured my hip so that keeps me on a walker, but otherwise I get along fine.”
With her pitching debut fast approaching, Dot recruited longtime friend and former Stanford University pitcher Maurice “Coach Mo” Leblanc to help work on her technique. Wearing her Dodger ball cap and with a MLB ball in hand, the pair worked together every week for a month, perfecting Dot’s right-handed pitch for the big day.
“I’m going to throw overhand because most everyone throws underhand,” Dot said during a final practice session Tuesday afternoon. “I’m nervous about the pitch…that I won’t make it right, that it will go on the ground.”
“You know what, Mom, even Kershaw warms up. You’re better today than you were yesterday,” said her son Tom, cheering her on from the sideline. “She doesn’t want to quit until she works up a sweat.”
On Wednesday morning, Team Dot—including friend Patricia Dillon, Coach Mo, son Tom and Dorothy—decked themselves out in Dodger blue and hopped in the car to caravan to Chavez Ravine.
Upon their arrival, Team Dot was greeted by a dozen friends and a member of the Dodger Blue Crew escorted Dot and her “Doterage” down to the field. But not before presenting her with her official uniform: a Dodger jersey with “Finerty” emblazoned across the back, followed by the number “100.”
“Well, isn’t that something,” said Dot with a smile as she put on the jersey. “Isn’t that just something!”
On the field, Dot was the star, posing for photos and giving interviews to news stations interested in her major league journey. “I can’t believe I’m here,” she said. “I’ve seen it on TV, I watch every game, and I’ve sat in the seats, but I’ve never been down here.”
She even met one of her favorite players, Matt Kemp, who took a few moments to introduce himself prior to the game and wish Dot luck on her ceremonial pitch.
At 12:07 p.m., Dot took to the mound and, with Drew Butera behind home plate, she threw the first pitch like a big league closer. The crowd in the stands went wild with cheers and Dot’s Dodger dream was realized.
“It was a good pitch,” said Coach Mo with his contagious smile. “Sometimes pitchers, they throw underhand and to the side, but not Dot. Practice makes perfect.”
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be,” said Dot, leaving the field. “Even Butera said it was a good pitch.”
After the pitch, Dot made her way up to section 134 where she would join her Team Dot rooting section of more than 30 family members and friends who came out to support her. Fans stopped her mid-path, asking for autographs.
“I’m really impressed by her,” said Hilary Vongerlech, who asked Dot to sign her Dodgers jersey. “She has a true love of the game and to see her out there on the field today was just really inspiring.”
“Dot is a remarkable woman,” says longtime friend and former backdoor neighbor Patricia Dillon. “She’s a natural athlete, completely without pretensions, and loves everything. She’s just happy. The older I get, I have a greater appreciation for our friendship and all that she has accomplished. She’s a wonder.”
With her big Dodger day behind her, Dot looks forward to finishing out the season with her boys in blue.
“It is my daily routine. I watch every game, from Spring Training through the end of the season,” says Dot. “I pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy the game. I just love Vin Scully. I hope I survive another year so I can listen to him next year.”
Asked who her favorite players are, “I think I have two favorites, Kershaw and A.J. Ellis, because my Dad’s name was Arthur Julius (A.J.) I don’t think Ellis gets enough notoriety.”
When she’s not watching Dodger baseball, Dot keeps herself busy with various activities including a knitting group at the Joslyn Center and a weekly game of Skip-Bo.
“That also keeps me young. We put in a quarter each time. We’ve never done that—we just started this year. It will make it a little more interesting,” she says with a giggle.
On September 27, Dot will be celebrating her 100th birthday with a big bash, including family and friends who will be traveling from as far away as Korea and Rome to celebrate the milestone.
“My 97-year-old little sister will be there, and I have a lot of friends coming,” says Dorothy. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Dot’s longevity may very well be summed up in her description of Skip-Bo. “A lot of it is the luck of the cards and a lot of it is strategy.”
Here’s to a hand well played, Dot. Happy 100th!