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COLUMN: Billie Jean King’s Special Legacy Grows With Dodgers

Billie Jean King (right) recently became a part owner of the Dodgers; she’s joined by fellow Poly and Hughes alum Chase Utley (left). Photo courtesy LA Dodgers.

It looks like Hollywood is becoming “Poly-Wood.”

It was announced last week that Long Beach Poly alum and American sports legend Billie Jean King is a new minority-share owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with life partner Ilana Kloss.

“I’m totally going to pinch myself … I’m pinching myself already,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “When you’re born and raised a Southern California kid, you dream your dreams of coming back, but how could I have ever dreamed of something like this? Joining the Dodgers is my life coming full circle.”

King was a huge baseball fan growing up in the Wrigley in Long Beach, and said her father used to read her box scores from all the MLB games. She tried playing baseball but, as would become a theme throughout her career, was denied the chance because she was a girl. She ended up playing on a 15U softball team as a 10-year old, starting at shortstop.

Her family were Dodgers fans from the moment they moved to SoCal when she was 14, but her brother, Randy Moffitt, ended up with the Giants for a decade. They both grew up watching the Long Beach Nitehawks softball team at Joe Rodgers Field, and her dad was a scout for the Brewers.

What’s great about King’s move with the Dodgers isn’t just that it’s happening, but why it’s happening. The Guggenheim Baseball Management Group, led by chairman Mark Walter and Magic Johnson, specifically sought out King because of her legacy as a trailblazer. King and Kloss will also become minority owners of the WNBA’s Sparks, also owned by the group.

“I think everyone at the Dodgers and the Sparks could learn something from her,” Walter told the Times. “She can help shape and expand how we promote inclusion and empowerment at both teams and throughout the Los Angeles area.”

Those have been her missions since retiring from her richly decorated playing career, and getting to carry them out while living out a dream with her childhood favorites is its own special reward.

When the team introduced her at a press conference on Friday, she was presented with a Dodgers jersey. Watching the International Tennis Hall of Famer turn into a fan again was a rare treat for those viewing the presser.

“I can have a jersey, a Dodgers jersey?” King said. “Whoa. Thank you!”

King, of course, is one of the greatest athletes to ever come out of Long Beach. She won a record 20 Wimbledon championships and 39 Grand Slam titles. Her trailblazing career advocating for women in sports and for the LGBT community after she was outed in 1981 have propelled her to even greater heights, as she became the first woman to have a major sports venue named after her in America when the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing was named in her honor (Long Beach’s best public tennis venue carries her name as well).

She was named one of Life Magazine’s 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by Barack Obama.

On Friday, though, she was just a hometown girl from Long Beach made good–really, really good. She drove that point home by asking fellow Hughes Middle School and Poly alum Chase Utley to sit in on her introductory press conference. When King pointed out they grew up in Long Beach and went to the same schools, Utley yelled out, “Jackrabbits!”

It was a special moment, and a fitting one as one of Long Beach’s greatest products adds another chapter to her already incredible story.

 

Mike Guardabascio
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.
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