By Frank Gruber
October 19, 2009 -- Longtime readers of this column know that I was raised in Philadelphia and that I've remained obsessively loyal to the Philadelphia Phillies. I moved to L.A. in 1978, and for most of the first 29 years I lived in L.A. this didn't cause many difficulties. While the Phillies and the Dodgers met three times in the National League Championship Series between 1977 and 1983, after 1983 the teams were never good at the same time.
All that changed last year, when the teams met in the National League Championship Series, and now they are at it again.
I may be a Phillies fan, but I love to go to Dodger Stadium. Back when I started writing this column, in 2001, I wrote one about how tickets to Dodger games -- which, because so many of them are season tickets, float around the city making friends -- are social currency in L.A. ("WHAT I SAY -- Good Seats," July 20, 2001)
I am happy to report that notwithstanding the now heated again rivalry between the Phillies and the Dodgers and their fans, Dodger fans and their tickets still epitomize the potential for goodwill and friendship in a complex world.
Second only to the beach, Dodger Stadium is best common denominator place in L.A. In a metropolis spread out over an expansive landscape, with no traditional central gathering place, for half a century at least 81 times a year about 50,000 people come together at the park from all over the region and from all demographic groups.
As a Phillies fan, I'm not ever going to say that you need to root for the Dodgers to be an Angeleno (L.A. is the melting pot of sports), but it's rare to meet anyone who lives here who has never been to Dodger Stadium to watch a game. Even though the stadium is cut off from the city by its massive parking lots and lack of access by public transit, it performs a great urban function.
Forgive my generalization, and I'm not just trying to flatter my readers, but Dodger fans are great people. I'm not sure if I were in Philadelphia I would share my tickets with a Dodger fan (one of those moral dilemmas I will never have to face), but last week I had Dodger fan friends with tickets contacting me to see if I wanted to join them at the playoff games.
This doesn't mean that there aren't tensions between Dodger fans and Phillies fans. Shouldn't one expect that? But for the most part, the fans follow unwritten rules.
The rule that is most telling is the one involving the vulgarity that starts with "F" and has four letters. If a fan from either side uses that word against a fan from the other side, it creates an ugly atmosphere. Even in a world where that word has become common, once it has been uttered, if tensions escalate, the next step is someone throwing a punch. I am happy to report that I attended both games last week, and where I was I only heard one buffoon use the word.
I got my ticket to Thursday's game though old friends who had an extra, but my ticket to Friday's game came through friends of a friend, who had an extra because one of their sons couldn't go. (I only took the ticket once my friend ascertained that her friends wouldn't mind sharing the ticket with a Phillies fan.)
This family (let's call them the Smiths) had four seats in an odd configuration -- they had three seats in a row, and then one (mine) right in front of them; I suspect it was the residue of what was once a six-seat "box." This configuration becomes important because of what happens later.
That one seat put me in the midst of some wonderful fans, all vociferously for the Dodgers, but willing to talk baseball and joke around with someone wearing Phillies hat. One man was about 60 and knew a lot about baseball -- he several times accurately predicted what pitch would come next. To my right was a dad with his young son.
In front of me were several young men, the kind you might suspect could have testosterone poisoning, but they would only turn around and smile big smiles whenever something would go well for the Dodgers. They were more than polite. Behind me were the Smiths.
There weren't any Phillies fans near me to commune with, and so when things went well for the Phils I didn't do much -- just stood up and gave a little cheer. But I was wearing a Phillies hat and T-shirt. Occasionally the crowd would yell, "Phillies suck," but that's well within the bounds of propriety.
I had a surprise, though, when the game ended. As I was leaving, a big, young, burly Dodger fan who had been sitting nearby, across the aisle, came up and put his arm around me, and insisted that I have a picture taken with him. I posed for a couple of more pictures with his friends. Everyone was laughing -- they were happy because the Dodgers had just won, and I figured they just wanted to have a photo with a vanquished Phillies fan.
Look, I'm not going to say that all the fans are angels. There have been fights, and Giants fan was killed outside the stadium not long ago. But an English friend was astounded when he heard that Dodger fans and Phillies fans wouldn't be separated at the game for security. That's what they have to do in England at soccer games.
Flash forward to Saturday night, the day after the game. My wife and I went to the movies and who should be at the theater but the Smiths. Afterwards we met in the lobby and talked about the game. They expressed surprise that I was so friendly at the end of the game with the Dodger fans from across the aisle.
The Smiths explained that all through the game, the burly guy was directing insults at me -- Phillies suck, etc. I hadn't noticed, but the Smiths had, since they were behind me.
In my mind what they told me explained why the guy was so friendly -- he wanted to make up and show that it was all for fun.
I coached youth soccer and when my son got to be 10, we coaches were advised that at that age, losing games would hurt, but that the hurt over a lost game was nothing that a piece of pizza couldn't cure.
That's how I feel about baseball. All through the summer, I wake up happy or sad based on how the Phillies did the night before, but it's nothing a good breakfast can't cure. That and the knowledge that there will be another game. The worst is when the season ends.
It doesn't make sense to say good luck to both the Phillies and the Dodgers, but you know what I mean.
Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on amazon.com.