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California and the West

United by Baseball, They Hate New York

Sports: Bay Area fans, usually bitterly split between the Giants and the A's, have a common theme as their teams battle the Yankees and the Mets in playoffs.

October 05, 2000|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — For James Brenneis and his baseball-loving buddies, Wednesday was a subway day for watching Bay Area playoff baseball.

Dressed in the full hat-and-jersey regalia of his beloved Giants, the 21-year-old short-order cook rooted for the home team during its afternoon game against a gritty National League rival, the New York Mets, at Pac Bell Park.

Then, in something akin to a seventh-inning stretch, he and his three friends made a mad dash for the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway train that would deliver them across the bay, where they cheered on the American League's upstart A's in an evening game against the majestic World Series champions, the New York Yankees, at Network Associates Coliseum.

On most days, San Francisco looks down on Oakland, and Oakland resents it back. But on Wednesday, the city that Bay Area residents hated most was New York--at least those residents who are die-hard baseball fans.

Although it cannot yet be called a subway series, for the first time in history, two pairs of local teams met in baseball's playoffs on the same fine autumn day. A subway ride was all that separated games pitting two usually Bay Area teams--usually rivals-- against two similarly rival teams from New York.

Bay Area baseball fans see New York City as the home of arrogant Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and his overpaid boys from the Bronx, and the haunt of swaggering catcher Mike Piazza and the rest of his smug Shea Stadium sluggers.

The prospects of watching the locals whip two New York teams in a single day was dizzying enough to put Brenneis in baseball heaven, with his BART ticket clenched in his hand.

"I'm doing a playoff doubleheader today--who else in the country can say that?" he asked, jostled by the midday throngs outside Pac Bell Park. "If you're any kind of sports fan, you're going to be at both games, rooting the homeboys to kick some New York butt. In a sport that revels in off-the-wall statistics, this is one for the record books."

For hours before the Giants game, city streetcars disgorged hundreds of banner-waving fans across the street from Pac Bell Park. Inside one train, fans began chanting "Beat New York! Beat New York!" Slowly, like a baseball stadium wave picking up momentum, nearly the entire train joined in.

Outside Momos, a stadium-side pub, fans drank beer in the midday sun and paid $28 for Giants caps and $75 for team jerseys. Nearby, stacks of New York Mets hats sat nearly untouched.

One T-shirt vendor said: "This Mets stuff ain't selling too well, but there's always a strange bird here or there."

Tommy Devine, a recent New York transplant, sat on a wall wearing his Mets jersey and a scowl of defiance at the hoots of passing Giants fans.

"I'm rooting for the A's," he said of the day's second game. "We Mets fans want the Yankees out of the way as soon as possible. We don't care who takes the honors. If New York is the city to hate, the Yankees are surely its mascot, the team to despise."

Back home, said ex-New Yorker and converted Giants fan Paul Winston, to attend two baseball games in the same day he would have to take the crowded 4 train from Yankee Stadium to 42nd Street and Grand Central Station, and then transfer to the 7 train for the ride to Shea.

In the Bay Area, it takes one short BART ride to travel between competing baseball worlds.

And that's not the only difference. "Even if you're a Giants fan, you're pulling for the A's to win tonight," he said. "You may not go out to the park, you may watch the game at home on TV, but these fans want the best for each other. There's some real Bay Area sports spirit here."

But New York, he said, means all-out war. "In the Big Apple, it's always an ego thing, right down from the owners to the fans."

Not every Giants fan was ready to don the A's green and gold--not even for a day--despite the chance to beat any dreaded New Yorkers.

"True Giants fans don't even acknowledge the junior circuit," investor John Marty said of the Oakland team. (To baseball cognoscenti, the National League is the "senior circuit" because it was established before the American League.) Added friend Richard Blanchard: "It's tough to turn around from a season of rooting against the A's and suddenly try to play the role of a fan. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth."

Many Giants fans say they pity the A's, a team of young, lesser-paid overachievers who play in one of the league's worst baseball parks and this season drew a mere 10,000 fans per home game.

In contrast, their Giants play in baseball's newest gem of a ballpark, where the season-long sellouts prompted fans to line up 36 hours in advance to snatch up the few available playoff tickets.

East Bay-bound BART trains Wednesday evening were full of fans sporting Oakland A's hats and jerseys. Most seemed willing to put aside their rivalry with the Giants--at least for now.

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