Author Michael Shapiro is pure Brooklyn. A man of his borough through and through (though he no longer lives there), the fifty-something journalist speaks thick Brooklynese punctuated by a flurry of exclamation points, and his enthusiasm for the Brooklyn he grew up in -- the fabled blue-collar Brooklyn of Ebbets Field and Dem Bums -- is like a beer bottle overflowing. Who else but an urban native who was alive in '55, when the Dodgers took their first and only World Series from the New York Yankees, could have written a new book on the beloved team that offers a whole new viewpoint on the subject? The Brooklyn Dodgers mystique was rooted in the sense of community the underdog team inspired, Shapiro notes in The Last Good Season, a kind of elusive, three-hour camaraderie that's rare in the midst of urban hubbub. It's the underlying why and wherefore of his sports epic, which not only explores the scrappy Dodgers themselves -- Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and the rest -- and their fierce pennant battle of 1956 in particular, but also offers an in-depth account of the forces working behind the team's eventual departure, brought on by a power struggle between owner Walter O'Malley and urban mogul Robert Moses.
That move came to represent how the business of baseball grew to overshadow the sport at the close of the innocent '50s. "Parks are built now to replicate the parks that were torn down," Shapiro notes, "but it's not about nostalgia. It's about the sense of intimacy, shared for a brief period of time. The game itself matters only at that moment. If your team loses, so what -- you gotta get a life. The great thing about sports is that it doesn't matter, and for a while you don't have to think about things that do matter. It's escapism of the absolute best kind."
The Dodgers' exit took that away from Brooklyn's denizens, he adds: "People say it tore the heart out of Brooklyn, but they're just trying to find a way to express something elusive, something profound that felt lost. When you took away the Dodgers, you lost talking to your neighbors about them. It made people feel alone a little more. They had nothing left to share."
A Brooklyn fan to the last, Shapiro offers a resounding "No!" when asked if he continued to follow the Dodgers after they left for the West Coast. "They were in Hollywood," he exclaims. "How could they possibly still be the Brooklyn Dodgers?"
And what if they had stayed? "Then Sandy Koufax -- as God intended him to -- would have pitched right there at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue."
Shapiro will discuss The Last Good Season in conjunction with the Leah Cohen Festival of Books and Authors, at a Take Me Out to the Ballgame Stadium Luncheon today at 2 p.m. at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street in the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center. Tickets to the kosher-style repast of traditional stadium fare are $10 (free for children ages twelve and under), and reservations are required. Call 303-316-6360. -- Susan Froyd
The Triple Crown of Snowboarding hits Breck
Get ready to tumble! This weekend, for the sixth consecutive year, Breckenridge Ski Resort will host the first major competitive snowboard event of the season, the Mountain Dew Pro Nationals, part of the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding."Because it's the first major competition, people are really fired up. It's going to be huge," promises Nicky Deford, corporate communications manager for Breckenridge. "The athletes are all coming in with a lot of energy."
Today through Sunday, more than one hundred professional boarders will take on the Superpipe, the slopestyle course and the new progressive Mountain Dew Rail Jam, with all events being held at the Freeway Terrain Park on Breck's Peak 8.
Getting Nordic at Night
Enjoy cross-country skiing on mountain trails lit by torches at tonight's Twilight Nordic Series at the Breckenridge Nordic Center. "It's just really fun to be out there at night under the moonlight and torches, getting some exercise," says center co-owner Therese Dayton. "It's a non-intimidating, non-competitive event with a relaxed, local feel to it."
Featuring three-kilometer individual time trials and one-kilometer team relay races followed by a potluck dinner, the Twilight Series kicks off at 4:30 p.m. at the Nordic Center, 1200 Ski Hill Road in Breck. Individual nights, held once a month through March, are $12; $45 gets you in to all four.
"We do recommend headlamps, because it can get pretty dark out there," Dayton adds. For information, call 1-970-453-6855 or visit www.breckenridgenordic.com/. -- Julie Dunn
Washington Park will ring in the holiday cheer when seasonal sprinters tie bells on their sneakers for today's 2003 Pfizer Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis. Tinseled trotters will converge on the park, 1000 South Downing Street, at 9:30 a.m. for the kids' Snowman Scramble, followed by a costume contest at 9:45, with categories for best-dressed adults, kids and even pets. The 10 a.m. starting gun will launch the first heat, with additional groupings for twelve and under, sixty and over and walkers of all ages. The top five overall finishers will win prizes from everyone's wish list, including a fifteen-inch, flat-panel high-definition television and a cozy two-night stay in Winter Park.Mix and mingle at the finish line, where winners will be announced and event sponsors will be waiting with a celebratory expo. Advance registration is $15 for kids and seniors, $25 for adults, with all fees bumping up five bucks on race day. Call 303-756-8622, ext. 228, or visit www.arthritis.org/. -- Kity Ironton