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To Enjoy the Ball Game, Beware what you wear
June, 2008 - Issue #44
"Today, going to <b>DODGER STADIUM </b> wearing the <i>opposing jersey</i> invokes a different kind of response from the locals."
"Today, going to DODGER STADIUM wearing the opposing jersey invokes a different kind of response from the locals."
As soon as I hung up the phone, my mind began to wrestle with a dilemma: What should I wear?

In light of world events, the question seemed somewhat silly. But the debate over what to wear, it turns out, was a debate over which my personal security hung.

The friend on the other end of that phone conversation had called to tell me he'd secured tickets to the Dodgers' Opening Day game against the rival San Francisco Giants. A native San Franciscan and lifelong Giants fan, I jumped at the chance to go. I know my team stinks, but I'm no bandwagon fan. But what should I wear?

My baseball instincts demanded I wear something orange and black to the game. No self-respecting Giants fan could do less. My survival instincts, however, insisted on more discretion. It wasn't always that way.

When I moved to L.A. in the late summer of 1990, I was an alien in this town. A childhood in the suburbs by the Bay and then four years in laid-back Santa Barbara had done little to prepare me for the grittiness of living in East Hollywood.

I went to a lot of Dodgers-Giants games in Chavez Ravine that year. Decking myself out in my favorite SF jersey and cap and commiserating with the smattering of visiting Giants fans at the game was a little like smelling garlic coming from the kitchen when I'd come home from high school. It felt like home. For a bachelor living on $800 a month, it was as close as I could get.

Back then, wearing visiting colors to Dodger Stadium meant absorbing a bit of good-natured ribbing from the local fans. I was heckled regardless of the score and that was part of the fun. It pushed me another step toward home.

Today, going to Dodger Stadium wearing the opposing jersey invokes a different kind of response from the locals. There's a meanness behind the ribbing now. In 1990, Dodger fans poked and jabbed. In 2008, they spit. They shove. They threaten.

I first noticed it in the late '90s, after I returned to L.A. from a two-year hiatus in Oklahoma. I don't know if the shift toward nastiness is related to a changing fan demographic or a change among fans at all stadiums. Assuming it's a local phenomenon, it may just be fans venting their frustration over repeated post-season sweeps and free agent busts.

Whatever the reason, Dodger Stadium is no longer friendly. Opening Day 2008 was the worst I've seen so far. The occasional brave fool in orange and black incurred so much venom, you could hear the boos from across the stadium.

You could argue those NoCal fans got what they deserved. Any fan invading an opposing stadium wearing in-your-face colors should expect some negative attention, right? You can expect that in any city and in any sport.

But do opposing fans deserve to be pelted with food? Do they deserve to have their wives and children bombarded with insults you wouldn't repeat in a high school locker room? Do they deserve to be leaned on by a mob of drunk and belligerent fans?

I saw all of that and more this time around - all the while thanking God for the wisdom to wear something neutral. Oh, my Golden State Warriors cap drew the ire of my stadium mates in the third deck along the third-base line. But by comparison, it was nothing.

The worst attack I witnessed was directed at a woman in her 50s. This poor ticket holder made the mistake of wearing a jersey, not from the wrong half of the state, but from the wrong end of town. Her Angels attire ignited a firestorm of profanity as she made her way back to her seat in the sixth inning.

"Go back to Orange County!" was the most polite phrase I heard among a barrage of epithets. I have little doubt the ruckus she invoked was loud enough to ring the bleachers beyond right field.

Poor lady, I thought. She probably rarely goes to sporting events, but a friend scored Opening Day tickets. To embrace the spirit of the day, she probably reached for the only baseball attire she owned. She would have caused less commotion if she'd worn no shirt at all.

Unruly behavior is against the Dodger Stadium's fan code of conduct, of course, and not every Dodger fan is inclined to act like that. But it's mob rules at Dodger Stadium these days, so be careful what you wear when you're there. Rodeo Drive may be our local Mecca of fashion, but it pales compared to Stadium Avenue.
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