Giants, Dodgers remind fans that baseball is just a game

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants black and the Dodgers blue blended together on the green infield on Monday night when the teams set aside decades of bitter rivalry to make a unified statement. To let fans know that, at the end of the day, what they're doing is just playing a game.

A simple game.

The message was obvious but necessary. A recent, horrible incident of violence left Giants fan Bryan Stow, 42, in a coma in critical condition at Los Angeles County-USC Hospital, after being beaten in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium.

His sin? Wearing his Giants colors to a Dodgers game.

"This is one of the most storied rivalries in the history of the game," Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt told the crowd before the game. "But in honoring that rivalry and honoring the Stow family, respect that rivalry. Respect each other as fans."

It's an uncomplicated message that -- sadly -- increasingly needs to be stated aloud. Whether or not fan violence is on the rise is debatable, but it's certainly become more visible and frightening. Fans are warned not to wear their teams' colors in opposing ballparks. To leave the kids at home. To watch their backs.

"When the last out is made, the rivalry ends on the field," Affeldt said, his voice choking with emotion at one point. "So please respect that, and in your excitement and in your frustration don't take it out on another fan if you don't agree with who they [cheer] for."

The Giants had a very tangible way of illustrating the concept. They held a ceremony involving a player in the opposing uniform, a player they still love and honor.

The original plan was to present Juan Uribe with his World Series ring in a private ceremony. Uribe -- a key catalyst of the Giants postseason run -- spurned San Francisco's offer and chose to sign with the Dodgers in the offseason. But that plan didn't feel right to several of the Giants players, who openly lobbied for the ceremony to be public.

Wisely, the Giants listened. Because giving Uribe his ring on the field provided a perfect way of showing that just because someone is wearing a different uniform doesn't make him less than.

So the Giants changed their plan. They gathered as a team on the field to see Uribe presented with his ring, and then huddled around the Dodger, showering him with hugs and back pats. When Uribe emerged from the love scrum, he was weeping, and, back in the Dodgers dugout, grabbed a towel to wipe his face.

On Monday night, security was beefed up at AT&T Park -- which, in truth, begets far fewer fights than the discomforts of Candlestick Park ever did. There was less Dodger blue than there has been in the crowd in recent years, which may be more a function of post-World Series ticket sales than concern about safety.

Stationed at the stadium gates were close to 100 paramedics and EMTs from around the Bay Area. They wore white sweatshirts that read "For Stow, P21732" -- the code representing Stow's paramedic license number. The paramedics were asking for donations to help the Stow family, who is facing untold medical expenses.

Stow, a father of two and an avid Giants and Dallas Cowboys fan who lives in Santa Cruz, was leaving the Dodgers game on Opening Night on March 31, when he was attacked from behind. His assailants kicked him as he lay on the ground and then escaped, leaving Stow with a fractured skull and his tightly knit paramedic community reeling.

"We would want everyone to get along," said Brian Green, a coworker of Stow's in Santa Clara County who called Stow one of his best friends. "It's just a game."

In the days since the attack, there have been several fundraisers. Earlier in the day, a Los Angeles-based fundraiser netted over $61,000 for the foundation. Tommy Lasorda wrote a $5,000 check for the Stow family.

The Giants have yet to play a home game without a long and involved pregame ceremony: a championship banner, World Series rings, Rookie of the Year. But Monday was a chance to say something more profound with their pregame ritual.

"Hopefully it does send a message" said manager Bruce Bochy. "We're competing here in baseball. But it is baseball. We want to remind fans to keep it in perspective."

After Uribe received his ring, a "Beat L.A." chant started in the crowd, then petered out as the fans witnessed something unusual happening on the infield.

The long history of Juan Marichal and John Roseboro, of coffin-nails by Joe Morgan and Steve Finley, of brush backs and bean balls, was set aside. The Dodgers and the Giants stood together to send their message. Affeldt spoke his eloquent piece and then introduced Dodgers second baseman Jamey Carroll as a friend, a good husband, a good father and a good human being. Carroll reiterated to fans that there was no room for violence in the game.

The fans stood on their feet and cheered.

A half-inning later, when Carroll came to bat, they booed loudly.

Which is fine. Taking it one step further is not.