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The Guy Chronicles

Watching Boys of Summer Turn Into Fall Guys

October 04, 2000|Chris Erskine

So we head out to the Church of the Divine Dodger, the Rev. Davey Johnson at the pulpit. At least for now. At 7:10, the organ music stops and evening vespers begins.

"Now batting for the Dodgers . . . Tom Goodwin," the stadium announcer says soon after.

All around us, there are Giants fans. This is no way to end a long season, surrounded by San Francisco fans, with their pasty skin and black and orange hats. They are a peculiar bunch from a peculiar city, a lovely enough place except for the fact that it is filled with Giants fans.

"Jeez, we're surrounded," I tell the guy I came with.

"Yeah, Giants fans," he says, his voice trailing off, his smirk saying it all.

A haze hangs over Dodger Stadium this night, an Indian summer soup heavy in the air. Like Vaseline on a camera lens, it makes things blurry. Much like the Dodger season just passed.

But we're not here to dwell on negatives. We love this place, Dodger Stadium, one of L.A.'s most inspired churches. A place of deep faith. We are here looking for positives.

"Shawn Green, I still like him," my friend says.

Out on the field, the Giants' pitcher is trying to jam Shawn Green, throwing at his wrists as Green stands too close over the plate. Most of the season, pitchers have been doing this, throwing in tight against Green. At restaurants, when someone passes Green a dinner roll, they probably aim it at his ribs.

"Strike!" yells the umpire.

Green, who physically reminds many of a young Koufax, hasn't seemed to adjust. This night, he will collect two hits. Otherwise, his season has been a disappointment.

"Yeah, you don't give up on Shawn Green yet," I say, trying to be positive.

In the fourth inning, the Giants unload on a rookie Dodger pitcher. They play with fire, these Giants, as if they're upset about something--the disappearance of the stadium's onion grinders or the too-warm beer. The Dodgers don't care, but the Giants are upset about something.

The worst part, of course, is how this little rally enlivens the Giants fans, who have been merely sitting there, chatting on their cell phones or discussing their Intel stock.

J.T. Snow homers, but that isn't enough. Some guy named Mirabelli doubles with runners on, and suddenly these greedy Giants are ahead by four runs.

Giants fans react as if these are the first runs in franchise history. They climb the seats and jump around like orangutans after a bee sting. I don't mean it as criticism, this is just how they react.

One guy, seven rows in front of us, keeps turning around and showing his Giants cap to everyone, like we've never seen one, and he expects people to shout, "Look! A Giants cap!"

It makes me want to take my warm beer and toss it on his smug head, except that I paid five bucks for the warm beer. And there is an onion floating in it. I'm looking forward to the onion.

"I will consider the night a success," I tell my friend, "if Eric Karros gets his uniform dirty."

That's all I ask from our last home game of the season. Some dirty Dodger uniforms. Grass stains. Mustard. Ketchup. Karros can slide into a food stand, for all I care. Doesn't matter, as long as he leaves the field with a dirty uniform.

"Dive!" I yell whenever a ground ball flutters past him.

He doesn't hear me.

"Dive!" I yell anyway.

Back in June, I actually saw Karros slide. He'd hit one deep into the gap and decided--to the amusement of 40,000 stunned Dodger fans--to leg out a double. He slid into second base reluctantly, like a priest delivering bad news. Down he went. Ka-boom!

At Caltech, the seismographs all twitched.

"What was that?" a Caltech worker probably asked, as the needle registered 4.2.

"Karros just slid," his associate probably answered.

"Now I've seen everything," the first guy said.

On this night, Karros is standing at the plate in his uniform, still spotless and Day-Glo white in the stadium lights. An inside pitch knocks his legs out from under him, but still he does not get dirt on his knees. He falls to his hands, then pushes himself to his feet. Mr. Clean.

I growl a little, then sip my beer, then eat my onion, which is surprisingly sweet, having floated in my beer for two innings.

"Now batting for the Dodgers . . . Adrian Beltre," the announcer says.

Just for fun, I go to the bathroom, which is packed with Raider fans. I know this because five or six guys begin chanting "Raiders" over and over again while standing at urinals, amused by the echoes they get from the tile bathroom. For a minute, I think there might be a murder.

"Go, Raiders," I say, just to play it safe.

"Yeah, Raiders!" the guy next to me says, his pupils dilated and Raider black.

"They've got a nice Raiders rally going," I tell my friend when I return to my seat.

"Where?"

"In the restroom," I say.

"That's nice," he says.

"See, there's something positive," I say.

Out on the field, the Dodgers go through the motions as this final homestand of the season winds down. In the late innings, I half expect them to trot out onto the field in their street clothes, ready to leave for the off-season.

"How's your new house?" I ask my buddy, trying to fill the time.

"We've had to do a little work," he says.

I have spent a lifetime preparing for this, these years of Dodger futility. Raised as a Cubs fan, I have limited expectations for baseball. To a Cubs fan, a baseball game is a glorified picnic. A place to get a beer. A tavern with a nice lawn.

Still, for the Dodgers, it feels all wrong.

"I think I finally understand Cub fans," a longtime Dodger follower recently confessed to me.

"How's that?"

"The Dodgers," he said, "are becoming the Cubs."

"Bite your tongue," I said.

Out on the mound, a young Dodger pitcher, maybe 12, looks in for the sign.

At the plate, a Giant batter digs in, licks his lips, then digs in some more.

And on the next pitch, fall arrives.

*

Chris Erskine's column runs on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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