The This is Us star on his favorite teams, how a “skinny little runt” from Chicago became a die-hard Dodgers fan, the first (and second) time he met Orel Hershiser, and coming full circle.
As told to Ilaria Urbinati
MY FAVORITE SPORTS MEMORY
I’ll tell you the story from the beginning. When I was a kid, I was 10-years-old, and my parents were going through a divorce. I don’t remember a lot of the details about the divorce, but I do remember it was 1988, and it was the fall, and my dad had this tiny, 13-inch, color—but barely color—red, rabbit-ear television in his room, and the Dodgers were in the World Series. They were playing the Oakland A’s.
And, you know, from Illinois everyone is a Cubs fan unless you get to southern Illinois, and then you start to see a lot of Cardinals fans. But mostly everyone’s a Cubs fan, and their hats are blue. I would always wear a blue hat, and of course when I turned around people would assume there’d be a red “C” on it, and there was not. There was a white “LA” on it. I was the only LA Dodgers fan that I knew in that area besides my father.
My dad had brought us years earlier to Vero Beach, Florida—which is where they used to have their Spring Training, and I got to meet Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser and Steve Yeager, Steve Garvey, Tommy Lasorda—all Dodgers. And that’s how I got to be a Dodgers’ fan when I was a really young kid. It blew my mind.
I have a picture of Orel Hershiser sort of holding me. I was practically a baby. Then a few years ago, I got invited to the Dodgers Stadium for their charity gala, and I’m standing next to Orel Hershiser and he’s asking me if I’m one of their new players. I’m going, “what? No!”. It was just funny to have a conversation with a man that, 30 years ago or more, had held me as a baby. It was pretty incredible.
So it’s 1988, I’m watching the World Series with my dad, the only Dodgers fans within maybe 100 miles of our house. And Kirk Gibson hit that home run in game two, I believe it was, off of Dennis Eckersley, which set the tone for the entire series. Orel Hershiser was amazing in that series. So all of these guys that I had seen and got to know in my young life, I was now watching on TV with my dad, and they became my heroes. They ended up winning that World Series.
Cut to 32 years later, we have not won since. Every year we field good teams—there were some slim years there in the ‘90s maybe—but we field some really good teams, but still we have not won since 1988.
So it’s 2020. I’m sitting in quarantine, and I can’t go anywhere. So I’m watching the game on TV. My daughter is staying with me, and we’re watching it together. I have my girlfriend, Sofia, who’s in Italy, on a FaceTime call—thank God for FaceTime. I put up a tripod in front of the TV so she can watch it with us. She’s become a massive Dodgers fan.
And we sat there, all three of us together, and watched the Dodgers win the World Series. It was the most amazing thing.
As a fan, we watch these guys—guys I feel like I’ve come to know a little bit; you watch so many hours of them. You watch them play, and you get to know their injuries and things about their personal lives, and it’s just a really cool thing to watch them win.
I couldn’t help but think: the two times my favorite team has won since I was old enough to remember it—1988 and 2020. And with all the technology that we have, and the access that I’m fortunate enough to have because of my job, and all of that. But here I am, in the middle of a pandemic, watching it on TV, just like in ‘88, with people I love—with my own daughter and my girlfriend. It just felt like…full circle…and I thought that was pretty amazing.
Dodgers number one overall, for sure. They have been since I was a kid.
The Chicago Bears for God’s sake, the “Monsters of the Midway”. Love the Bears, love them.
I love the Bulls.
I’ve become partial to the Kings just because I’ve gone to so many games.
All-time favorite athlete
Michael Jordan. Huge Clayton Kershaw fan as well. Those are my guys.
Sport I played growing up
Quite a few. I played a lot of baseball, a little basketball. I played football until high school. When I got to high school, I was such a skinny little runt that my dad told me I couldn’t play football; I’d get pulverized. He was right, I was so tiny.
So I decided to take up soccer. I had never kicked a soccer ball in my life and figured, well, I’ve got to play some sport. I spent the entire summer, every day for hours, playing soccer – mostly by myself, just trying to figure out the game and trying to figure out how to make my feet work and all of that. I ended up making the team. So I played soccer in high school. Just one year. Or maybe two. It was a long time ago.