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Santa Barbara's Loyalties Are All Over the Map

Because home isn't quite north or south, baseball fans don't follow the same road.

October 25, 2002|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — If this World Series is a war between California's north and south, then its Mason-Dixon line zig-zags through the heart of O'Malley's Sports Bar, a dark-wood, open-fronted tavern on State Street with 13 television sets and more satellite links than the White House situation room.

Like a lot of places in the middle of California, Santa Barbara is an uneasy bystander in the rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This week, at O'Malley's, loyalties are divided between the Giants and the Angels.

Back in April when the baseball season was still young and even the San Diego Padres had a chance, the line here mostly separated Giants fans from Dodgers fans. But the L.A. team's pennant run fizzled in September, and loyalties of the Giant-haters have shifted.

Dodger blue has gone Angel red, and the rally monkey is looking cuter all the time to die-hards such as Daran Lewis, a 34-year-old Santa Barbara limousine driver who grew up in Camarillo.

"The Angels are a Cinderella team, and people like an underdog," said Lewis, noting that the Angels have the added cachet that they aren't the Giants. "That's why people are climbing on the bandwagon."

Spend time here on the dividing line and you realize the California split is more than north versus south. It's less a marital spat than a family feud, more like the Balkans than Korea, complete with a disputatious past -- over water, mostly.

California has five Major League teams, enough to form a single division. And each team claims tribal lands, some broader than others. There is no official map, of course, but booster club rosters and anecdotal accounts from sports bars and other knowledgeable observers provide a rough guide.

Four out of five Angels Boosters Club members live within 50 miles of Edison International Field in a zone that swings from Camp Pendleton northeast into Riverside and San Bernardino counties, then cuts back to the coast through Bellflower and Lakewood. Padres fans have their own corner down in San Diego County, and Oakland Athletics fans have carved a niche east of San Francisco.

Still, the state is dominated -- in more ways than just baseball -- by Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Giants' fan base extends from Northern California out into the Central Valley to include Fresno -- home to a minor-league team affiliated with the Giants -- then eastward to the Sierra Nevada and south to Santa Barbara, where Dodgerland begins.

They bump into each other here in Santa Barbara, a city that likes to think of itself as part of a distinct "Central Coast." In reality it marks the northern edge of L.A.'s cultural sphere of influence, much as Monterey anchors the southern reach of San Francisco's.

But there are overlaps. Earth-friendly electric shuttle buses -- so Nor-Cal -- course through downtown Santa Barbara, where the sidewalks are lined with SoCal-style outdoor cafes and a massive open-air mall.

Santa Barbara's geographic isolation forces fans to consume baseball from a distance.

The closest major-league ballpark is Dodger Stadium, a frustrating two-hour drive to the south, with the Angels' Edison International Field yet another 45 minutes down Interstate 5 , on a good day. The Giants are even farther out of reach, a six-hour drive to the north.

Despite the distance, passion for baseball -- and other sports -- runs strong on these flatlands between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the ocean. O'Malley's bartender Toby Daily, 26, a Giant fan, ties it to Santa Barbara's slower pace: People who don't spend hours a week creeping along Los Angeles and Bay Area freeways have more time to follow sports.

"People have a life, and they're passionate about sports because they don't have other stuff to worry about," said Daily, who was born in the East Bay city of Pleasanton but has lived in Santa Barbara for six years.

For some, picking a team in the Series is more personal and comes down to one figure: Barry Bonds, the Giants giant so deadly at the plate that many teams simply walk him rather than risk giving up a home run. But Bonds also has become a target among fans alienated by what they see as an ego-mad ballplayer who can't get along with his teammates.

At O'Malley's, Bonds' face on TV elicits a raucous chorus of catcalls and cheers, the boos notably coming from fans of teams for which Bonds does not hit his towering blasts.

"You know, if it wasn't for Barry Bonds, I'd probably be for San Francisco," fumed Dodger-turned-Angel fan Charles Kirkby, 27, a Santa Barbara shipping manager who was born in Glendale.

For others, loyalties are shaped by pure pragmatics: It's easier to get to a game in L.A.

Cary Seyle, sales supervisor for Budweiser distributor Pacific Beverage Co., said Santa Barbara is primarily Dodger country, with Giants a healthy second, and Angel fans amounting to a quaint and slight minority.

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