by Larry Ham
If there’s one thing baseball has over the other major sports, it’s tradition. Yeah, football, basketball and hockey all have traditions, but they’re not as….. well, traditional as baseball. Opening day has red white and blue bunting hanging from the railings at every stadium. Fans of every team have genuine hope in April that this will be the year their team wins it all. Then there’s the seventh inning stretch. There’s also something else baseball has that no other sport has – the most intense rivalry in sports – the Dodgers and the Giants. The intensity occasionally makes an appearance on the field, but the real rivalry is between the fans – and it’s been that way for a century.
Being right in the middle of the state, and almost precisely between the two cities geographically, the Dodger/Giant rivalry is as strong in the central San Joaquin Valley as anywhere else. So let’s get an idea about the mind set of Giants and Dodger fans as we head into the 2012 season. Today’s debate will feature yours truly and Reedley College web-caster Brandon Johansen versus local sports writer Will Goldbeck and Giants fan Matt White of Visalia.
I was raised in southern California, and I got hooked on the Dodgers when I listened to Vin Scully describe Sandy Koufax’s seventh game win over the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series. And one thing I learned early is that any good Dodger fan hates the Giants. So, I hate the Giants. Nothing personal, you understand, but it is what it is. Giants fans feel the same way about the Dodgers, as we will soon see. Brandon Johansen is a talented, good-looking, articulate young man, so naturally, he’s a Dodger fan. He also lives in a home with two Giant fans, so he knows about the rivalry first hand.
“It’s really hard to put into words”, says Brandon, “These are two teams that play each other hard every time, and there is an energy at Dodgers-Giants games like no other energy in sports. In my family, my brother and father are Giants fans and my mother and myself are Dodgers fans. Seeing my brother celebrate anything, especially in sports, makes my blood boil.”
I can identify with that. Many years ago, I had a girlfriend who was a Giants fan, and it didn’t hamper our relationship too much, although I always felt intellectually superior to her.
Will Goldbeck is probably the most knowledgeable sports fan I’ve ever met, and he’s also pragmatic. His thoughts on the rivalry reflect a reporter’s mind set.
“I guess I don’t really dislike the Dodgers, I don’t like the way some of their fans react. I kept hearing, ‘when are the Giants going to win something. Are they going to choke again? What’s their excuse this time?’ Who can not like listening to Vin Scully broadcast a game? These questions are being answered just a couple of hours before the Dodgers’ opener with the Padres and I plan to sneak out to my car to listen to the Man.”
Matt White sees a parallel between the Giants and Dodgers and some other pretty heated pro sports rivalries.
“The Giants and Dodgers have been competitive rivals for years. Much like the Celtics and Lakers or the Red Sox and Yankees, the Giants and Dodgers have had a long-standing rivalry on the field. Many diehard fans carry that same competitive spirit felt by the players themselves.”
That competitive spirit can lead to some pretty intense confrontations. I remember going to a Dodgers-Giants game at Candlestick Park in 1987 and having garbage and hot dog wrappers thrown at me the entire game. The fact that the Dodgers won the game was sweet revenge, but it got pretty hairy.
Every Giant fan and every Dodger fan has their favorite moment from the rivalry. Matt’s came in 1982 when…”Joe Morgan’s clutch homer knocked the Dodgers out of the pennant race.”
Will’s favorite moment involved a notorious Dodger relief pitcher. “Many years ago at Candlestick Park, Giant fans were giving Steve Howe a bad time during a game.”
Brandon is a bit younger than the rest of us, so his favorite moments are a little more modern. “My favorite moment would have to be every game that Clayton Kershaw pitches against Tim Lincecum”, says Brandon. “Kershaw has absolutely owned the Giants, and it warms my blue heart to see Lincecum give up one or two runs in a game and get the loss.”
My favorite moment was in 1993, when the Dodgers returned the favor by knocking the Giants out of the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. I was bowling in a league the next Tuesday, and because I knew there were a lot of Giant fans in the league, I wore my Dodger shirt to the bowling alley. Not only did I get some really dirty looks, I also bowled a 300 game that night. Oh boy, was that sweet.
Of course, the rivalry can get out of hand. One of the earliest notorious incidents took place when both teams were still in New York. A Dodger fan who worked at the Brooklyn post office took offense to some taunting from a couple of Giants fans. He went back to the post office, grabbed a couple revolvers from the gun bin and shot both taunters to death.
And then there’s the Brian Stow tragedy. Last year on opening day at Dodger Stadium, a Giants fan named Brian Stow was beaten nearly to death by two alleged Dodger fans in the parking lot after the game. Matt White sees it as one of the signs of the times we live in.
“This is a good example of taking sports way too seriously and overreacting to the outcome of a game. It’s important to be respectful and kind to others, but sadly many lose sight of that in the sports world for some reason. Whether it’s a parent in the stands of a little league game, or a fan in the bleachers at Dodger Stadium, we need to remember it’s just a game and to be enjoyed.”
“The Bryan Stow incident was a tragic story that shattered the image of the Los Angeles Dodgers and really brought the leagues attention to the rivalry and security issues at Dodger Stadium. I go to Dodgers-Giants games in San Francisco every year and wear my Dodger blue proudly, and I’m always harassed by drunk fans. In this case, a fan had way too much alcohol and took things to the next level. I enjoy the rivalry more than anything in sports, but there certainly has to be a line drawn, and I can only hope that we never see anything like this again.”
Will wasn’t really surprised when he heard about the beating.
“I am really surprised that it hasn’t happened more often. Some fans can get drunk and nasty and I have seen a few times that someone was ready to beat up someone else. Fans just need to kick back and enjoy the game. Let the umpires do their thing even if you do think that they have blown a call. Remember, everyone is human, even Giants’ fans.”
I agree, and really that’s the bottom line. I have had many good times ribbing the Giants fans around me, especially before they won it all in 2010, but it’s never gotten out of hand. Let’s hope both teams have good years and make the playoffs. Well, let’s hope the Dodgers make the playoffs. I can’t root for the Giants. It’s tradition.