As production continues, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles, California, to further my knowledge and understanding of how the sport of canine disc began. If you’ve been a part of the sport for any length of time, you have most likely heard the story of Alex Stein and Ashley Whippet. Some have only heard bits and pieces, while others can give greater detail.
I arrived in Los Angeles on the early afternoon of July 30 to a hot upper 90s So Cal sunny day. Once settled with all the logistical dealings, I made my way to Dodger Stadium. Over the course of my many US travels throughout the years, I’ve seen my fair share of professional sports stadiums from the Kingdome in Seattle (in the early 90’s) to the Metrodome in Minneapolis. There was, however, something different about visiting Dodger Stadium; something exciting and surreal all at once. It is hollowed ground in my opinion, having given way to something so many of us would come to partake in for years to come.
As I entered the grounds to the stadium and made my way up to the ticket booth where the stadium tour begins, it became ever-so-clear of the magnitude of Alex Stein’s actions in 1974. For readers whom have never heard the story, the cliff notes version is this:
Alex Stein, living in Ohio at the time, adopted a purebred whippet puppy (c. 1971) and named him Ashley. As Ashley grew, he developed an interest in the flying disc. According to Alex, Ashley had a 9 foot vertical leap and could contort his body mid-flight in an acrobatic display of power and beauty.
Alex decided to move to Hollywood in hopes of being discovered. After being rejected by numerous talent agencies, Alex knew it was time to do something to gain an audience. Therefore, he decided to sneak Ashley into a Monday Night Baseball game between the Dodgers and the Reds on August 5, 1974.
Late in the game, Alex, along with Ashley, climbed over the rail along the third base side and proceeded to play a game of flying disc for nearly 8 minutes. Alex was arrested as he exited the field, leaving Ashley separated from his beloved owner.
They were reunited a few days later when Alex was released. You’ll have to wait for the movie release to here more details.
I stepped up to the ticket window and received my ticket. The tour began at the very top of Dodger Stadium, on the 9th tier. As I walked into the stadium, I was soon overwhelmed by the size of the stadium. The current stadium design can host up to 56,000 fans at a given time.
At its construction in the late 1950’s, Dodger Stadium cost approximately $23 million to build and was the third major league ballpark constructed in the United States, following Fenway Park and Wrigley field.
The tour continued onto the field level of the stadium. As we made our way down the third base side, I could imagine myself in the shoes of Alex Stein on the cusp of his monumental exploit that Monday night in 1974.
If you ever visit Dodger Stadium, its current seating arrangement is not quite the same as it was in 1974. There is a new section of field level seating that, according to our guide, was not there until the early 90’s. I stood in awe, observing nothing more than the bright red dirt of the warning track, imagining what it was like to have been there that night. What did the crowd sound like? What smells were in the air? How did the players react while they were doing their warm ups between innings? Did they stop everything and watch? Could anyone among the crowd imagine the significance of what was taking place before them?
I left Dodger Stadium with a new appreciation and understanding of just how important Alex’s actions were. Had it not been for Alex and Ashley, would any of us be playing this game we so love; sharing this bond we have with our dogs with the world? I’d venture to say “no,” at least not in the developed state we play it now.
My first day in Los Angeles came to a close, thus bringing forth a new day and a new adventure. I found myself on the grounds of the Rose Bowl where many canine disc teams performed as part of the World Frisbee Championships. While I didn’t find the Rose Bowl to be as impressive as Dodger Stadium, it is by no means a small feat or of little significance to the progression of the sport. Some of our current competitors have even had the privilege to perform as part of the halftime show at UCLA football games but it isn’t the fan fare that it once was, captivating an international Frisbee audience. I would like to see the World Frisbee Championships return to the Rose Bowl one day but ultimately I’d love to see a canine disc championship held there in celebration of the contributions of our early competitors.
I continued my trip in Los Angeles, interviewing folks like Benny Wong, Jaleen Sattler and Jeff Hill. I also had the privilege of spending time with Gary Suzuki and Eldon McIntire. I learned so much from each of them, everything from traveling with their dogs to how the competitions were conducted.
Prior to 2001, there was only one World Championship, that was (at that time) sponsored by Alpo. The Alpo World Championships were held on the mall in Washington, D.C., for many years. Here you would see the best of the best as only a handful of competitors qualified from around the country.
I am thankful I was able to visit Dodger Stadium and see for myself just how amazing it is. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like to experience Alex’s daring performance that night in 1974. I’m thankful that I get to experience this amazing sport, learn of its amazing history and share it with each of you.
To be continued…