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Oldest living Dodgers fan, 108, always excited to see Jackie Robinson

You'll have to excuse Irving Piken if he can't remember every detail of his first memory as a Dodgers fan.

There were, after all, 22 innings of baseball played before they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 on that memorable Wednesday afternoon. And Piken was just 8 years old.

Oh, and the game happened 100 years ago.

That makes Piken 108 years old.

The year was 1917. The Dodgers were called the Brooklyn Robins, and Piken, now the world's oldest living Dodgers fan, remembers hearing people around him talking about that game by word of mouth, as there were no radio or TV broadcasts of baseball at that time.

"I remember the game," said Piken, as he sat comfortably in a dining room chair in his Laguna Woods, California, home. It's just a few months before the 100th anniversary of his first season as a baseball fan and the 60th anniversary of the Dodgers' final season in Brooklyn.

"Though, frankly, much of that has faded, and I don't recall too much about the proceedings."

As the United States' 14th-oldest man spoke, I was thrilled just to listen to him. When I stumbled across his story last year and saw his last name -- my mother's maiden name -- I did some digging to see if we were related.

I reached out to his son and drew up the family tree. I found a picture from the 1960s and spotted Piken -- some 50 years younger. It turned out he's my grandfather's first cousin.

I knew I had to meet the man who was born during Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, two months after the Chicago Cubs won the 1908 World Series and just one year after the invention of paper towels.

Piken was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Dec. 20, 1908. He grew up in the Williamsburg neighborhood, not far from Ebbets Field. Back then, he was an actual trolley-dodger -- someone who literally dodged trolleys coming down the street, and the inspiration for the franchise's current nickname.

Piken lived most of his life in the New York area with his wife and two sons. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1930 and eventually became vice president of the Bank of North America. In 1977, he moved to Southern California, 19 years after the Dodgers did the same.

As he describes his life's transitions, Piken will tell you his memory isn't too sharp, that it has declined with age.

"After all, I am 108," he'll say, with nothing but gray hair, a slight hunch and hearing aids indicating he's a centenarian.

But then something in his brain will click, and Piken will go on a tangent about the earlier stages in his life: remembering the brilliance and precision of Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser on the mound, or how Pete Reiser would fly around the outfield.

He said baseball hasn't changed that much over the past 100 years, just that players get paid more and there's more publicity. It's a "dog-eat-dog system," he said.

Piken saw most of the greats, including Babe Ruth.

"He was kind of cocky about his ability to hit home runs," Piken said.

But his favorite player will always be Jackie Robinson.

"I remember his antics and playing the pitchers and finally stealing home plate a number of times, which was done by very few ballplayers who had the ability to react as quickly," Piken recalled. "It was very thrilling to watch it."

Piken also took his sons to Dodgers games when the team was still in Brooklyn.

"He was never so excited as watching Jackie Robinson dancing off third base for a possible steal of home," his son, Ed Piken, said.

In 1958, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The days of visiting Ebbets Field were over.

"I was a little disappointed," Piken recalled, "but in a short while, I was very happy that they made the move."

Piken remains a loyal fan to this day. He can tell you the team won its division last year and marvels atClayton Kershaw'stalent.

The Dodgers honored Piken last May with a personalized jersey and a chance to meet Dodgers legends and broadcaster Vin Scully.

Brian DeCloux, a coordinating producer at Spectrum SportsNet LA, helped arrange the interaction, producing a feature on Piken for the show "Backstage: Dodgers." Still, he didn't know if the meeting would actually come to fruition.

Sure enough, Scully, 88 years old at the time, emerged to speak with Piken, 19 years his senior.

"The crazy thing too to think about, Vin is old," DeCloux said. "So it's rare when Vin is speaking to someone who is older than him. And [Piken] was sharp as a tack."

DeCloux said Scully did not have to raise his voice when talking to Piken. He talked to him in a regular tone. Piken heard perfectly.

"They're going back and forth on everything, about the Brooklyn Dodgers, about life in the '20s and '30s. It's like a time capsule," DeCloux said.

"[Piken] remembers everything. He's like an encyclopedia."

After my couple of hours spent reminiscing with Piken, he tries on his personalized Dodgers jersey and L.A. hat. He tells me the secret to a long life is staying active.

He's ready for another season of Dodgers baseball. He has special hearing aids that allow him to hear the television broadcasts, and can enjoy the traditions that sports bring with his son, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren -- all Dodgers fans.

"It's been a wonderful connection," his son -- my second cousin -- Ed Piken said. "His love of sports has given [us] a bond through four generations."

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