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Giants-Dodgers rivalry turns ugly off the field again

A man in Dodgers attire is stabbed to death after game in San Francisco.

September 26, 2013|By Lee Romney, Kate Mather and Scott Gold
  • “The fact that anybody got in a beef over the Giants versus Dodgers and someone lost their life — it's just senseless,” San Francisco Police Greg Suhr said at a news conference.
“The fact that anybody got in a beef over the Giants versus Dodgers… (Mike Kepka, The Chronicle )

SAN FRANCISCO —The young man, a plumber's apprentice, had taken a couple of days off, driving to San Francisco for a reunion with his father and brother. A little before midnight he was dead, stabbed by strangers near a nightclub.

But as word of 24-year-old Jonathan Denver's killing spread Thursday, it became clear that this was the latest turn in a saga that stretched back more than a century — to the roots of one of the most storied and bitter rivalries in American sports.

Authorities said Denver was wearing Los Angeles Dodgers apparel at the time of the attack, and was involved in an altercation with Giants fans. The rivalry between the two teams has routinely spilled off the field. At times it has carried a terrible price — as when Bryan Stow, a 42-year-old paramedic, was savagely beaten outside Dodger Stadium in 2011, targeted because he was wearing Giants clothing.

"The fact that anybody got in a beef over the Giants versus Dodgers and someone lost their life — it's just senseless," San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday.

Denver's father, Robert Preece, is a Dodgers fan and sometimes worked security at Dodger Stadium, the team confirmed.

"The pain that this has caused … is unimaginable," the Dodgers organization said in a statement. "Words are not enough to describe our sadness."

The Dodgers lost, 6-4, Wednesday night to the San Francisco Giants. Denver was there, but left the game a little early. With his father, brother, his father's girlfriend and another friend, he went to a bar a few blocks from the Giants' AT&T Park.

The group was in the South of Market neighborhood, on a stretch of Third Street that is jammed with commuter traffic in the mornings but transformed into a baseball pilgrim's corridor on game nights — sometimes with thousands of people headed from the stadium to a nearby public transit station.

The scene can get rowdy, but is almost never violent, said Mitch Brown, 53, a local property manager. The bars that night were full but calm, said Hal Coleman, who was tending bar at Pedro's Cantina. In fact, a lot of the crowd was Dodgers fans, he said. The Dodgers have had a riveting season and are headed to the playoffs.

"I think Giants fans have pretty much given up on the season," he said.

Denver, who was wearing Dodgers apparel, was walking along 3rd Street when he and the others encountered a group of people who were going to a club, authorities said. One of the men in the other group may have been wearing a Giants cap, police said, and there was some jawing between the groups over the rivalry.

The encounter became physical. At first no one was seriously injured, then it erupted again a short time later. It ended when Denver realized that he had been stabbed. He died a short time later at San Francisco General Hospital.

"Just a good, good kid," said Cas Smith, owner of North Coast Plumbing in Fort Bragg, Calif., where Denver lived and had worked for about two years.

Authorities said Thursday they were interviewing two men, ages 18 and 21, in connection with the crime. The men, whom Suhr declined to name, had not been charged.

"They're not free to go," he said. "They are talking."

Police said they have the name of a third potential suspect and the first name of a fourth.

The Dodgers and Giants first met in the 19th century, with both franchises located in New York, and the rivalry continued when they moved west in 1958. Combined, the teams could offer a full roster of baseball royalty — Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider; Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays.

But the rivalry has at times degenerated into violence, on and off the field.

In 1965, at Candlestick Park, the Giants' Juan Marichal attacked Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat. A Dodgers fan shot and killed a Giants fan in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in 2003. In March 2011, Stow, a Santa Cruz paramedic and Giants fan, was attacked in a Dodger Stadium parking lot.

Stow is back home, still recovering from the attack after numerous hospitalizations and surgeries. Several fundraisers have been held for the Stow family, including one this week at AT&T Park.

Denver was an unlikely candidate to be caught up in the rivalry.

"I don't think he was a big baseball fan," Smith said. But, said Louie Padilla, 63, who lives next to Denver's father in Alhambra: "He loved his dad very much."

This week he asked to take Wednesday and Thursday off work for a mini-reunion. Denver lived with his brother in Fort Bragg, and they were planning to join their father, who was traveling to San Francisco for part of a late-season, three-game series.

Smith praised Denver's character, saying that he would help an elderly person across the street, and recalling that as a teenager, Denver used to come by his house and pull weeds.

Denver was planning to become a journeyman plumber, which required five years of training as an apprentice.

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