They say you see something new every time you go to the ballpark. I learned a couple new things yesterday at Dodger Stadium.
We were stationed in Sec. 52, next to the Giants bullpen. Buster Posey and Matt Cain played catch in right field before the game, then moved to the bullpen to get Cain warmed up. When you’re standing less than 15 feet away from the catcher, the “POP” you hear as the ball lands in a mitt is impressive. Cain’s pitches didn’t force Posey to move his glove much more than a couple inches each time, and Posey seemed impressed. He smiled and nodded. So did Mark Gardner. That led me to believe (and tell my wife) that Cain looked like he was “on.”
And besides the three home runs Cain allowed — including two by Matt Kemp — he wasn’t bad.
Lessons learned. The way a pitcher looks while warming up isn’t a clear indicator as to how he’ll pitch when the game starts (assuming I know enough to determine whether a pitcher is “on” or not, which is probably a stretch). Also, just because the starting catcher and a couple pitching coaches nod in approval a few times doesn’t necessarily mean the pitcher is going to put up a bunch of zeroes.
Dodger Stadium had plenty to cheer about during their 6-2 win that kept the Giants from sweeping the boys in blue. The game itself didn’t provide a lot of memorable moments, other than all those balls jet-streaming over the outfield wall — Hanley Ramirez also had two home runs, and the Giants’ scoring came via solo shots from Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence. What I’ll remember is how this storied rivalry looks from a Southern California perspective.
Most of the fans at Dodger Stadium couldn’t be nicer to the intruders wearing orange and black. But there were a few exceptions, as always. The guy sitting three rows behind me, also next to a rail looking over into the Giants’ bullpen, was pretty hilarious in that his heckling was incredibly misinformed.
“Let’s go, overpaid Cain,” he yelled. “You’re taking up too much of the salary cap!”
Giants relievers Sergio Romo and David Huff took a look up into the stands to see who would say something so inane. Huff gave the guy a look like he was eating peanut shells off the concrete.
I turned around to inform the amateur GM that Major League Baseball hasn’t instituted a cap. I left out the fact that if a cap was in place, the Dodgers’ league-leading payroll would probably come under more scrutiny than Cain’s eight-year, $139.75 million contract. My words had no impact at all, as one would probably expect.
There were two sides to almost everything I observed, including this situation. Most of the Dodgers fans around the heckler seemed annoyed, both by the volume of his comments and his constant (and strange) updates on how many pitchers and coaches were in the Giants bullpen.
“Hey, you’ve only got three pitchers in there! Better find the others!!!”
Bullpen coach Mark Gardner looked over at the guy’s significant other, who looked mortified throughout, and told her that she was extremely patient to put up with a guy like him. Within a few minutes, a security guard came down the aisle and asked the fan if they could have a little chat. The bullpen heckler wasn’t kicked out, but he was noticeably quieter once he returned to his seat.
Throw it back! Throw it back!
Thirty seconds after Belt’s ball soared into the stands, it landed on the right field grass near Andre Ethier. Ethier looked at the fans near our section, and chucked the ball … into the Giants bullpen. The ball landed about five feet away from the area where Santiago Casilla, Jean Machi, Juan Gutierrez and Yusmeiro Petit were sitting in folding chairs. Machi jumped up and motioned to Ethier, who replied with a wave and a smile.
After Pence’s home run ball was launched from the bleachers back toward Ethier, the Dodgers right fielder paused, then deposited that ball into the Giants bullpen as well. This time the relievers were ready. Based on the reactions from all involved, it appeared this was an example of friendly fire more than anything else.
I would imagine it’s pretty difficult to hate Ethier, even for the Giants. A year ago, when I was sitting in nearly the same spot, Ethier sent bacon-wrapped hot dogs to everyone in our section. Yeah, I’m easily bought.
Another odd sight: Pence playing catch with someone in a Dodgers uniform between innings. From where I was sitting it was impossible to tell who Pence was warming up with, but it’s hard to imagine a scene like this in the mid-1960s. We’ve come a long way from the Marichal-Roseboro days.
As much as Giants fans complain when people try to start the wave at AT&T Park, it doesn’t happen all that often. The average number of wave attempts has to be under one per game in San Francisco, and most fizzle out after being met with boos from wave-hating patrons. Last night at Dodger Stadium there seemed to be at least one wave attempt per inning. I didn’t count how many times the wave passed through our section, but it had to be in double-digits.
Dodgers fans aren’t all that diligent when it comes to on-time arrival, but they sure are persistent wavers. There was a guy one section to our left that tried to get the wave started for at least 15 minutes to no avail, but a couple innings later the wave was coursing through all three decks for at least five minutes. The damned thing wouldn’t die, and sitting motionless in my chair was as effective as standing in the ocean and trying to stop an actual wave with my body.
Fans of the Giants (along with the Warriors, A’s, Sharks and Earthquakes) have “Beat L.A.!” Dodgers fans are trying to turn “Giants suck” into something similar. They probably think it’s working, but there’s no chance of success. “Beat L.A.” has been around for decades, it’s more fun to say, and it’s G-rated. Most parents aren’t going to let their five-year-olds yell the word “suck,” and some adults are uncomfortable using that work in public. The result — the crasser fans scream “Giants suck,” but only 50% join in at the most.
The rivalry is alive and well, but L.A. will always be L.A.
Dodgers Stadium lays the Hollywood on pretty thick. Mary Hart (Entertainment Tonight) was the guest P.A. announcer on Sunday night, for instance.
Part of the pregame package (which included a solid three-song set from Lupe Fiasco and a powerful rendition of the national anthem by famous trumpeter Arturo Sandoval) included some sort of how-to-be-a-Dodgers-fan guide narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson told us how Los Angeles is the best city in the world, how we all bleed blue, blah blah blah. I was expecting him to mention that he isn’t Lawrence Fishburne, but no.
Samuel L. did talk about how L.A. fans aren’t laid back in the sense that they don’t care, they’re just cool. I don’t remember the exact words, but the message was how you can be cool and cheer loudly for your team at the same time.
Just like how the phrase “Giants suck” becomes less believable every time it’s chanted, the admission by Jackson and the Dodgers that the “laid back” image is something to keep in mind and avoid if possible shows the primary difference between Dodgers fans and Giants fans. AT&T Park has their share of corporate/casual fans, but the vitriol toward the Dodgers is real. When the Dodgers had a 5-2 in the top of the eighth and the ballpark was a sea of beachballs and people flinging their arms toward the heavens (many watching everything but the game), it was clear that I wasn’t home. California may be one state, but it’s a state that’s home to several different types of people and fans.