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DODGERS VS. ANGELS

They Play It Cool in This Rivalry

June 14, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What this series needs is some good old-fashioned hate. Roger Clemens throws the remnants of a broken bat back at Mike Piazza, and all of New York takes sides, loudly and with expletives. If you're for the Yankees, you despise the Mets, and vice versa.

The Dodgers and the Angels? Chan Ho Park and Tim Belcher did their best to incite a local rivalry three years ago, with the Dodgers' Park delivering a karate-style kick to the Angel pitcher and Belcher issuing a statement calling Park's behavior "adolescent." Southern California fans laughed at the video, chuckled at the statement and proceeded happily with summer.

The Freeway Series tag is cute, but it doesn't generate a genuine rivalry, not for one weekend in the middle of a long season. There has to be something big on the line. The Mets and Yankees faced off in the Subway Series, in the World Series. The San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's faced off in the Bay Bridge Series in the World Series.

So this year's joust between the Dodgers and Angels offers a hint of intrigue, not for this weekend but for the hope of the birth of a serious rivalry. Neither team has appeared in the playoffs since interleague play began in 1997. But as the Dodgers and Angels meet tonight at Dodger Stadium, each team is only one game out of first place in its division.

If the teams keep playing so well, Southern California might finally be forced to choose sides. As a kid growing up in Tustin, the Dodgers' Shawn Green didn't have to.

"In 1986, I rooted for the Angels and in 1988, I rooted for the Dodgers," he said. "That worked out pretty well."

The Angels haven't appeared in a playoff game since 1986. The Dodgers haven't won one since 1988.

Said the Angels' Tim Salmon: "I wish I could sit here and say it's this big cross-town rivalry, like with the Yankees and the Mets. I honestly don't feel like that.

"Both teams are doing well. It's nice to see the two teams doing well. But I don't feel any of the whatever you call it that you feel when you play Oakland or Seattle or the Yankees."

For the players, the motivation is not pride or bragging rights. The motivation is to wake up on Monday in first place, or at least to avoid waking up on Monday four games out.

"It doesn't add to the rivalry," the Angels' Troy Percival said. "It adds to the meaning of the three games. We want to get a lead on the teams in our division."

That is not to say that the players do not care for the games. The Angel players enjoy an extra weekend with friends and family by playing three road games at Dodger Stadium; the Dodgers get the same privilege with three games at Edison Field at the end of the month.

The games will be played before large crowds, particularly in Anaheim.

The games ought to be close; four of the six games last year were decided by one run. With Gary Sheffield gone to Atlanta, neither team has a player prone to publicly disrespecting opponents, or his teammates.

"It's going to be a good series," the Dodgers' Paul Lo Duca said. "It's a big deal for both of us because they have Seattle in their division, we have Arizona in our division, we both play in really strong divisions, we're both second in the pack and we're both still trying to prove something."

Said the Dodgers' Eric Karros: "Probably unfortunately for each of us, our interleague games are against each other instead of some teams with lesser records. I like this series.

"If we're going to have interleague play, I'd rather be playing them than Detroit or something."

Those are hardly fighting words. Maybe the Dodgers playing the Angels never will inspire the passion and the emotion--and, yes, the hate--of a genuine rivalry.

"Met fans hate Yankee fans. Yankee fans hate Met fans. That's New York. This is L.A.," the Angels' Garret Anderson said. "That sums it up.

"The fans back there are a different type of fan. It's personal with them."

The Dodgers' Dave Hansen grew up in Lakewood, playing Wiffle ball in the street.

One team was the Dodgers, the other team was the Angels, and the kids didn't care which team they played on as long as they got to play.

Perhaps, after four decades of wishful thinking, this might be the year the Dodgers and Angels face off in October, in a Freeway Series that would need no hype. In Lakewood, on the block on which Hansen grew up, the next generation of kids just might have to choose sides.

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Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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