Now that the pain has mostly subsided, I can write about this:
Thoughts On Watching the Dodgers Beat the Giants in the Penultimate Game of the Season, Thus Clinching the National League Western Division
Saturday, October 2, 2004
1. The Giants came into LA having to win all three games to force a playoff for the NL west title. Obviously, this was really unlikely. But as all sports fans know, when something is unlikely, a true fan starts seeing it as more likely, as long as it would be really cool for that thing to happen. A dramatic comeback to force one-game playoff between two rivals? What could be more likely than that?
When I went to the park on Saturday, the Giants had already won on Friday. And on Sunday, the staff ace, Jason Schmidt, would be pitching, so the Giants would probably win that one (as indeed they did). So all we (yes, “we”) had to do, I reasoned, was win today. Which we would, because the story was just too good for us to lose.
2. As I expected, I got a lot of heckling from the Dodger fans sitting around me. In the beginning I didn’t really know how (or whether) to respond, so a lot of the barbs I got were about how quiet I was being. I eventually got into it, though, and while I’m not the wittiest heckler in the right-field stands (that would be my dear friend and reader Bret Turner) I made them laugh at a couple points. (They brought up the Giants’ loss to the Angels in the 2002 World Series, and I asked where the Dodgers were at that time. “Playing golf,” one of them acknowledged.)
Trading witty barbs like that, I realized that the relationship between opposing fans is, ideally, a friendly one, almost a working partnership. In order to thrive, a rivalry has to have interaction between rival fans, but if that interaction is unpleasant or violent, it’s not a rivalry, it’s a turf war. At one point, a Dodger fan in a nearby section started swearing at a Giant fan, challenging him to a fight and so on. The Dodger fans and I told him to shut up, to watch his language with kids around. Then we joked with each other about how stupid it was to get angry over this kind of thing. “Yeah, we’re going to follow you back to your car,” one of them said to me sarcastically. It was acknowledgement between us that sports don’t matter; it’s just that they’re most fun when we pretend they matter.
3. As I say, the heckling was usually respectful. The exception was the gay jokes that were occasionally tossed around. I didn’t hear anything too poisonous–one of the guys behind me asked if I had a gay wedding to attend, and someone in the bathroom told me to go back to the “Gay Bay” (because, you know, Los Angeles is free of all homosexual activity)–but even so it wasn’t the kind of joke I felt like laughing at. At the same time, it didn’t bother me all that much; I had seen it coming. But when I was talking with some friends, and someone else (a Dodger fan) mentioned that he had heard comments of that kind, everyone around us was really surprised and angry about it. I started to talk about how, well, this is a sports fan thing and it’s not as outrageous as it sounds, but I had to wonder: am I just less sheltered than other people when it comes to homophobic slurs? Or am I playing down the importance of it out of loyalty to the Guy League? As in, well, I don’t make comments like that, but I don’t let it get me mad because we’re all guys here? I mean, if someone made the same jokes in a class, I don’t think I’d let it slide–but then I’d have the social context on my side. Social pressure is one of my least favorite things.
4. When Barry Bonds came up with a base open, he always got walked, as he is every single time in that situation. Giants fans always take that moment to express their displeasure with the lily-livered opposing team. What I didn’t realize before that day, though I should have, was that the fans of the opposing team don’t like it either. Not just that they want to see Bonds play, but that they realize that it’s always dangerous to walk someone. The fans around me were tense that their team had just given ours a free base. That made me feel a lot better about the whole thing–it may be frustrating for me to watch Bonds get walked again and again, but at least he makes opposing fans afraid wherever he goes.
5. Yeah, the Giants lost. They took a 3-0 lead into the ninth, on the strength of a masterful pitching performance by Bret Tomko, and I made the mistake of getting smug, asking things like “Where can we get tickets to Monday’s game?” (that is, the playoff between the Giants and Dodgers). And then the bullpen blew it, blew it spectacularly, letting in three runs, one at a time, and then giving up a grand slam for a 7-3 loss. Seven runs is the HIGHEST POSSIBLE number of runs a team can give up in the bottom of the ninth with a three-run lead, and we did it. We get it. We lose. Okay.
It wasn’t fun to watch. It wasn’t fun watching the lead leak away, thinking “Double play, double play” with every pitch, my knees shaking throughout the inning. It wasn’t fun hearing the excitement mount around me, fueled by all the fans I’d been poking fun at for the last three hours. And it really wasn’t fun walking out of the stadium as soon as the “National League West Champions” sign started flashing–immediately, I was faced with a hundred elated, gloating Dodger fans, grinning and yelling triumphantly, trying to high-five me, and so forth. Lots of other Giants fans were making their escape, too; we passed each other without saying anything, as passing Dodger fans yelled, “Giants suck!”
It wasn’t fun, but it was an experience. It was a total inversion of my usual life as a sports fan: a member of a cheering throng, anonymous in my orange and black cap. I can honestly say I’ve never gotten as much attention at one moment as I did while walking out of the park. And if I bore some abuse on behalf of my team, that just shows the kind of fan I am. (Dedicated, not masochistic.)
6. As for them losing, it was sort of painful, but at the same time I think it was much less so than it would have been if I saw the same thing in San Francisco. There I would have been one of thousands of anguished fans, watching in horror as our team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. At Dodger Stadium, as the enemy, I was already the underdog. Being in the minority, I already had to keep a stiff upper lip. So when they lost, the fall wasn’t nearly as sharp, and I was much more able to roll with the punches.
7. Okay, God, Kerry has to win the election. You didn’t let the Giants win, you didn’t let the A’s win, you didn’t let the Cubs win, and it doesn’t even look good for the Red Sox. You owe me and you owe me big.