Editorials & Commentary

Thursday, June 09, 2005

 

Death of a Dodger Fan
Joy Greenberg
     

   The blurb from the Ventura County Star’s Saturday Roundup put it succinctly: “The Cubs embarrassed the Padres.” But embarrassed is an understatement of what the Cubs did to the Padres on their home turf, Petco Park. “Humiliated” would be closer to the truth. It was sweet revenge for all of us die-hard Cubs fans who had seen the Padres break Chicago’s astonishing seven-game winning streak the night before.
       I had witnessed the Flubs live up to their image of Lovable Losers at the Friday night game in which they succumbed to the Padres 6-2. Adding insult to injury were the comments of a young fan who, upon spying the Cubs garb worn by my sons, sneered, “Cubs suck!” while we were leaving Petco.       

   By game time Saturday I was somewhere in the S.F. Valley on the 101, returning home to Oxnard from a three-game tour that found me and my twin college freshman sons following the Cubs from L.A. to San Diego. It was the first time I had gone to baseball games three days in a row, and I was starting to feel like a Grateful Dead Head or “Cubs Head,” if you will. I was listening to the Mighty 1090 Padres Radio announcers when the miraculous top of the fifth inning began rolling.
     Perhaps it was the pre-game dog show put on by Petco that jinxed the hapless Padres, but I think even dogs could have played better than San Diego, especially during the fourth inning, which featured Cub runner, Jason Dubois, being hit on the backside by the ball from Padre shortstop, Khalil Greene, as he tried to throw Dubois out at third—a blunder that seemed to discombobulate the NL West Division leaders and set the momentum for a supercharged, seven-run fifth inning in which the Cubs scored six times before committing the first out. For Cubs fans, it was a rare, choice event.
     The first leg of our Cubs Head Tour ’05 began Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. We watched our Beloved Flubs sweep the series for the first time in ten years, but the win was bittersweet, thanks to a very unpleasant Dodger Stadium experience. Although my son, Gian, and I left UCLA at 5:45—which we thought would give us plenty of time to get to the 7:10 game—we didn’t reach the ballpark until 8 p.m. It took over two hours to drive ten miles.
     When we got to our Pavilion seats, many of the surrounding attendees were already drunk and restive. As the game wore on, our section became even rowdier, with one Dodger fan maintaining a constant rap/scream, exhorting the rest of us to join him so loudly that I had to plug my ears to avoid hurting them. At one point I turned around and saw the woman sitting directly in front of Mr. Drunken Loudmouth holding her head in her hands.
     Then Gian—who was wearing his blue Cubs jersey and Cubs cap—felt a peanut hit his back, which he didn’t tell me about until afterward, or I really would have freaked out. The security guards made many appearances in our section during the game, escorting the unruliest rule-breakers out. The last two innings the guards planted themselves permanently among the audience, monitoring the animosity developing between other Cubs and Dodgers fans.
     On our way out after the game, we observed several fights erupt as ambulances flashed and helicopters hovered, shining spotlights on the parking lot. It was the first time I’ve been fearful for my safety, excluding being held up at knifepoint 35 years ago in a Manhattan elevator.
     I vowed never to return to Dodger Stadium again after our Wednesday night experience, despite the fact that I’ve patronized it for over forty years—since it was first built. Indeed, the Dodgers are what first hooked me on baseball. My dad started taking me as a 12-year-old to see them play before Chavez Ravine was finished. A diary entry of mine from April 21, 1961, confirms this: “Dear Diary, Guess what? We went to the Coliseum to see the Dodgers win 5-3.” From there on I was a dyed-in-the-wool Dodger fan, and Sandy Koufax was my childhood hero.
     But somewhere along the way, the Dodger Magic began to wear off. Their fall from grace started when my dad, disgusted by the consistently horrendous traffic in and out of Dodger Stadium, swore never to return. Their superhero facade was stripped away further and dissolved in a cloud of indifference when I moved to New York City to attend college in 1967. I didn’t change team affiliation; I simply lost interest.
     When I met my Chicagoan husband in 1980, I became a Cubs fan “by injection.” Don’t ask me why; rooting for a team that never seems to put it all together defies logic. Even native Chicagoans can’t explain why they prefer their beloved Flubs to the better playing White Sox. Some theorize that it’s because the White Sox were involved in a scandal years ago, from which they never recovered. But I think it’s more than that. As the very first American team, the Cubs symbolize Baseball. And, they’re perennial underdogs, having failed to win the World Series longer than any other team. We Americans, of course, love our underdogs.
     Whatever the reason, the Cubs became a family bonding thing for us Greenbergs. However, living in Central California meant having to watch our favorite team play live at Dodger Stadium. Even though there are always hordes of Cubs fans at L.A. games, Dodger fans let be known their displeasure with us in no uncertain terms, snarling curses and worse at those who dare to sport Cubs apparel.
     Still, in those days, the most unpleasant experience was with Dodger Stadium staff who once forced my husband, Chuck, to remove his T-shirt depicting two dogs in flagrante delicto and to turn it inside-out before they would let him enter the park, saying his shirt was “offensive” to their “family” clientele.
     On the other hand, our experience at Petco Park was completely different. For one thing, we actually arrived early. Both Thursday and Friday we departed UCSD campus at 5:45 after collecting Gian’s twin Greg, managed to slip through rush hour freeway traffic with no problem, and arrived at Petco by 6:30. This gave us plenty of time to scope out all the food concessions on Toyota Terrace, including an excellent sushi bar where you can eat and watch the game from window seats overlooking first base.
     Most amazing of all, the Petco staff could not be nice enough. When our ordered meal was delayed, the waiter brought us chocolate-covered strawberries and vanilla ice cream on the house. Furthermore, the fans were almost polite in comparison to L.A. We enjoyed ourselves so much it almost didn’t matter that the Cubs lost, and we are already looking forward to their return to Petco next year.
     Bye bye, Dodgers. I hope never to darken your doorstep again.