“You’re a Mookie,” I announced to him on the first day, and he seemed to agree — or at least he didn’t disagree. He looked the part: squat, gentle but inscrutable, gremlin-like. And he was older, with the long-suffering air that reminded me of the protagonist Mookie in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
But I discovered that this Mookie was also improbably upbeat and self-confident. He would grab a treat from my hand with an almost savage gusto, then wait for another, his marble eyes staring without blinking or betraying emotion, like a ballplayer at bat. He was capable of great joy, moments in which his mouth would split open into a smile that almost went ear to ear. At those moments, I liked to imagine him out in right field, patrolling his territory, snuffling the ground until it was time to nab a fly ball on the run or stoop for a basket catch.
Mookie was also tough, undeterrable, skilled in the art of the comeback. Not long after I adopted him, he was attacked by my neighbor’s German shepherd, and he spent a week in a veterinary hospital recovering from surgery to resection his intestine. I was distraught — I had given him sanctuary, only to expose him to an ambush — but Mook voiced no complaints, not even a whimper. He recovered without complications. He also had a condition that caused his back feet to drag, to the point that they sometimes bled on the concrete. A neurologist suggested I crate him for a month. I balked. A month? That was too much time on the bench. I gambled: We kept walking, but I wrapped his back feet in nylon rain boots. After a month or so, he didn’t need the boots anymore.
Fully healed — or as healed as he was going to be — Mookie started to revel in his new success. On our walks he often broke into a full trot, face lit by that impossible grin, ears flopping, tongue dangling from one side of his mouth like a cigarette. Watching him was briefly but totally satisfying, like watching a Dodger ball sail over an outfield fence for a home run. Mookie was the unqualified bright spot in many of my darker days as I wrestled with so much during the year — my father’s death, fears that the death of democracy was pending, happiness itself.
Meanwhile the Dodgers, like the rest of baseball, made their way through the maze of Covid-19. They played without fans; games were suspended when necessary. They persevered in an imperfect season that kept reinventing itself. More and more, my Mookie felt like the mascot for the moment, and for a perilous year. When the Dodgers made it to the World Series and promptly teetered once again on the brink of collapse, I didn’t hold my breath — this was 2020, after all. But then they overcame, powered by Mookie Betts’s home run in the final game. Serendipity was now synergy: I resolved to buy a dog-size Dodger jersey with Betts’s name and number on the back, for Christmas. Mookie deserved the recognition.