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Giant Roots Versus Angel Rooters

In Riverside, the legacy of Barry Bonds and Dusty Baker creates a divide in local loyalties.

October 24, 2002|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

RIVERSIDE — Maybe it's that the name Momma Bonds still summons a palpable reverence on the worn streets of the Eastside neighborhood, even a certain fear among those old enough to remember how her stare could ice down the blistering summer heat if they were acting up.

Maybe it's that there are still those who insist that Bobby Bonds was faster than the Santa Ana winds, or remember that they're standing on the same dirt that gave Dusty Baker his name.

Whatever the case -- even if the Anaheim Angels are the de facto home team out here, even if two Angel stars call Riverside home -- this town is torn.

Though most newer arrivals in this area consider the Angels "their" team, old-timers and civic leaders know that the two leaders of the San Francisco Giants -- slugger Barry Bonds, son of 1970s superstar Bobby Bonds, and sage manager Dusty Baker -- have roots in Riverside.

As the Angels and Giants duke it out in the World Series this week, even 88-year-old Elizabeth Bonds, better known as Momma -- grandmother of Barry, mother of Bobby -- says she can't bring herself to pick sides.

"I'm for all of them, darling," she said at her old house on Vasquez Place, an island of faith and grace in a neighborhood that has fallen to competing gangs. "I'm not pulling for anybody to win or lose. I'm just looking for a good, clean game. And then it will be over."

Riverside was still a hicks-and-orange-groves town when Mississippi native Ameal Moore moved here in 1960 to assume his appointment at March Air Force Base. Back then, the Angel franchise was in its infancy over the hills that line the western edge of the Inland Empire, and Moore opted to take his three sons to Dodger games. He quickly developed a Southern Californian's proper distaste for the Giants.

One Who's Torn

"That's where I spent most of my time and most of my money, watching my sons go back and forth to buy hot dogs," Moore said. "Bobby Bonds -- he was a star, you know -- it seemed like he would always find a way to beat the Dodgers. I hated those Giants!"

But Moore, now a Riverside city councilman who eventually became an Angel fan, also came to appreciate the local Bonds and Baker legacies. He learned about the achievement of Rosie Bonds, an 80-meter hurdles finalist in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and the African American pride that permeated the Bonds home. He learned about the sense of community instilled in the Baker kids.

"I'm one of those that's torn," Moore said. "Naturally, I like the Angels because they are a Southern California team. But I like the Giants too, with that connection to Riverside -- with Bonds and Dusty. There is a lot of mixed emotion out here."

Leon Culpepper doesn't feel torn at all.

He graduated in 1964 from Riverside Poly High School, known to locals as "Old Poly" to distinguish it from a newer school that has since replaced it. That was the same year that Bobby Bonds graduated from Old Poly after starring in football, baseball and track, then immediately signed the contract with the San Francisco Giants that would lead him to stardom.

Dusty Baker lived in Riverside too, and they all ran around Eastside together. Culpepper and Bonds competed in track together at Old Poly. They matured together when they disagreed over whether they should caddy for the white golfers in town -- Culpepper thought it would be nice to have a little money in his pocket; Bonds preferred to be poor and proud, Culpepper said.

They became young fathers about the same time, a few years out of high school. They both lost their fathers in 1983. Bonds is godfather to Culpepper's oldest son, Colin. When Bobby Bonds arrived in Riverside before the World Series, Culpepper picked him up at the airport, as usual, and Bonds surprised him with prized tickets to the weekend games in Anaheim.

A Giant Fan Since '64

"What do you think?" Culpepper said when asked about his World Series loyalties. "I've been a Giants fan since '64, when Bobby signed his contract."

Like many other Eastsiders, Alex Tortes attended Park Avenue Baptist Church. So did his friend Johnnie Baker Jr., whose father had settled in Riverside in 1945 after a tour of duty in World War II.

Johnnie Baker provided his friends with running commentary during Sunday school, and the preacher always seemed to be sending him to stand in the corner. He was also perpetually covered in Riverside's rust-colored dirt -- giving him, eventually, the nickname "Dusty."

"This is deeper than just team loyalty. These are my buddies," said Tortes, now 56 and the Riverside Police Department lieutenant who runs law enforcement operations in Eastside. "So I have to go with the Giants."

Park Avenue has long since moved to a bigger and fancier church -- emblematic, perhaps, of the changing faces of Riverside, and the other side of the city's divided loyalties.

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