A year after awful beating, Giants-Dodgers rivalry has different feel
SAN FRANCISCO -- Grown men dressed as gnomes -- complete with pointy hats and orange-and-black striped socks -- stood outside AT&T Park on Tuesday, while a handful of Dodgers fans dressed in blue milled around.
Not exactly a tense, threatening atmosphere for a heated rivalry.
The grown-up gnomes were in line for the latest in an endless stream of San Francisco Giants-related giveaways -- a bearded Brian Wilson garden gnome -- and by being dressed as garden statues themselves they were ushered directly into a "Gnome Express" line. The Dodgers fans were on hand to witness their club's first visit to San Francisco of the 2012 season, with their team still clinging to the division lead.
It was a far different, far more relaxed scene from last season's initial Dodgers' visit to the Bay Area. Back then both organizations were reeling from the brutal beating of a Giants fan at Dodgers Stadium on opening day. Bryan Stow, a paramedic and father of two who was wearing Giants colors, was beaten in the Dodgers parking lot and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He is currently in a rehabilitation facility. Two suspects were arrested last summer and pleaded not guilty last week.
"From the Dodgers standpoint, we learned a lesson," said Los Angeles outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. "The whole city learned a lesson. This is still a rivalry but we just want people to be smart about what's going on."
In that first Dodgers visit of 2011 to AT&T Park, the tension was high. Uniformed police were a visible presence as were local fire fighters and paramedics, who collected funds to help Stow's family. In a rare moment of unity, both teams took the field together. Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt and Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll stood together and appealed to fans for civility. The ballplayers asked the fans to remember that this was only a game, to cheer for their team but to respect each other.
"I think it resonates," Affeldt said Tuesday night. "I think there are people out there who don't really care and that's just the world we live in. But I believe in the goodness of people ... my hope is that people will think twice about what they're doing and why they're doing it."
Affeldt visited with Stow in February, when he was at a Bay Area rehabilitation facility before he was moved to a facility further away. The Giants dedicated Opening Day to Stow and had him participate in the pregame ceremonies via satellite. His 13-year old son, Tyler, threw out the first pitch.
"I think fans everywhere, if they could see Mr. Stow, who is having to learn how to roll over, would understand," Affeldt said. "To see the damage that took place in a moment that will cause such pain to a family over the course of a lifetime, it's just not worth it."
The message must resonate, right? The lesson must be learned?
But less than four months after Stow was beaten, fans shot each other a few miles from AT&T Park -- at Candlestick Park during a 49ers-Raiders exhibition game.
"So I don't know how far the impact went," Affeldt said.
On Tuesday night, there was a smattering of Dodger blue among the sea of orange and black at the sold-out ballpark. Not all of it belonged to actual Dodgers fans -- San Francisco police sent a compliment of undercover officers dressed in Dodgers garb to ensure that fans behaved themselves, using a tactic the department employed during the 49ers-Giants NFC Championship Game. According to Giants senior vice president Staci Slaughter, the team had a full compliment of security and had no unusual incidents in the first game of the three-game series on Monday night.
"I think everyone learned a real lesson on both sides," Slaughter said.
Some of the blue in the crowd belonged to authentic Dodgers fans, who didn't seem overly concerned about representing their colors.
"You always have some people saying stuff," said San Jose resident Charlie Turner, who was wearing a Dodgers hat and a Dodgers World Series championship jacket. "I don't worry about it. Just don't get reactive. We're all here to have fun."
When the Dodgers lineup was announced, the players were heartily booed. The atmosphere at the park was charged, but in a good way -- the way it should be in a battle between two rivals competing for the division. The environment earned high praise from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who was groomed in some high-intensity ballparks.
"I just like the energy here -- it's a little crazy," he said before the series began. "Fans are kind of rowdy. It's a little Boston-ish for me. People try to get under your skin. I like that."
On Tuesday night, behind the pitching of Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants shut out Los Angeles -- the first time in a decade San Francisco has recorded two consecutive shutouts against the Dodgers. The Giants pulled to within one game of the Dodgers, who had a seven-and-a-half game lead on May 27, in the National League West.
"When you've got 42,000 people screaming 'Beat L.A.' you don't want to let them down," Vogelsong said.
That's what they were chanting, gnomes and all. But it didn't seem like anyone was taking the words literally.