Initially, I sat down to write about 1975 Topps Card #50, Brooks Robinson. I walked out to get clothes out of the dryer and was thinking about the fact that I couldn’t think of a single scandal involving Robinson, and that memories of his 23 years in Major League Baseball were best summed-up by the fact that he was one of the finer fielding third baseman to play the game, and that he is regarded fondly by former teammates as well as opposing players as a true gentleman of the sport.
I walked back inside determined to pen the lede to my post to say something along the lines that, like a cool glass of water on a hot summer afternoon, Brooks Robinson was a refreshing ballplayer during a time when most players were just as noteworthy for their flaws as their performances on the field.
I’ll definitely still write about Brooks Robinson in the days to come, but for some reason I cannot shake the disturbing conversation I had Saturday concerning Dodger Stadium and thus, I have to just write my way through it.
The Stadium, sadly, is becoming more known for its violent flaws than for the fine brand of baseball being played in the field.
I enjoy giving some good-natured ribbing to a St. Louis Cardinals fan that I know. Mostly, it’s just me telling her that my Dodgers want no part of the Cardinals in the post season and she knowingly laughs because of my team’s recent ineptitude versus her Cardinals. But on Saturday our chat wandered into a sensitive and painful part of her and her husband’s team loyalty, as they told me the disturbing tale of a trip they took to Dodger Stadium back in 2010. It was a trip that has resulted in the two of them having a low opinion of Dodger fans in general along with a vow to never set foot inside our home stadium ever again.
Sadly, the verbal picture they painted for me is one I have witnessed personally on countless occasions at the Stadium and one for which I’m actually ashamed to have any allegiance for the team in blue on the field because of a ruthless minority in the stands.
As noted, my friends are Cardinals fans, so they came to Dodger Stadium on that day in 2010 wearing their team’s colors, and while it would be expected that they might hear a few good-natured catcalls or boos, the level of harassment that they felt at this particular game still gets both of them pretty riled-up retelling the story some five years later. From drunken and belligerent Dodger fans cursing at them, to having food thrown their direction, to being harassed when they were leaving and then suffering the final indignity of having a gang of “fans” running toward their car as they left the parking lot, my friends were made to feel threatened, scared and fear for their safety.
The husband tells me that he purposely walked behind his wife on the way up the stairs when they were leaving because he felt there was a legitimate reason to believe that his wife would be pushed or shoved by any one of the angry and antagonistic bunch of Dodger fans and he wanted to be able to anticipate it and put it a stop to it, or in a worst case scenario, catch her fall and carry her to safety. The wife simply recalls crying non-stop in the car until they were well away from the Stadium.
Is this really how it should be, malice and intimidation in the air? Is this what they call “home field advantage?” When did going to a ballgame suddenly mean that it is okay to drink to excess and pick fights with people who root for the opposition?
What made this story even more disturbing to me was the response from Dodger Stadium security personnel and ultimately security management. My friends observed two security guards at the top of the walkway once they had exited their seats, and both of them had their heads buried in their phones, thumbs in rapid motion as they were both texting. Once made aware of the peril that my friends had been in, the security guys shrugged and apologized. Unsatisfied with that response, but safely home, my friends wrote a letter to the head of security at the Stadium and immediately received a response, apologizing for the incidents and promising to treat the couple to a game of their choice the following season, with an additional promise that the experience would be so overwhelmingly positive that the two would no doubt forgive and forget every taunt, gesture, expletive and threat that they’d endured in their three hour ordeal in 2010. Of course prior to the start of the season when they called to cash-in on the offer, the guy who’d made the promise was no longer with the organization, but the Dodgers promised to make good somehow, some way and would call them back.
To date, there has been no follow up call to that promise, but most of us know what happened in 2011 to Bryan Stow. Stow, a diehard Giants fan, was savagely beaten in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on opening day in 2011 at the hands of two angry, unruly Dodger fans from Rialto who pursued him and his friends who were attempting to exit the Stadium. As Stow stood with his hands at his side he was blindsided by a punch that resulted in his head hitting the pavement with a sickening thud. He was then kicked and punched repeatedly even though he was unconscious.
The assailants were ultimately caught and prosecuted, one is serving a four-year sentence, and the other is in for eight years.
Stow will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair and diapers.
My friends were horrified by the incident. They completely sympathized with Stow and his family – as did all normal, non-violent Dodger fans – but my Cardinal fans friends also recognized that given a different set of circumstances, it could have been them getting the beat-down. And all this for wearing Giant orange and black or Cardinal red? Sadly, because of their experience they could definitely see something like this happening at the Stadium, and sealed the deal on them never returning to Dodger Stadium ever again.
Like the cynics who believe that the people who get injured by a foul ball or broken bat at a game had it coming to them because they weren’t paying close enough attention to the game, there are those who assume that opposing fans at Dodger Stadium actually provoke Dodger fans into these sorts of acts. In other words, they had it coming.
I’m here to tell you that as a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and one who attends a few games each season that is simply not the case.
There are some “fans” that enter the Stadium hoping for a fight and looking for a reason to heap abuse onto any person not wearing Dodger blue. Sure, there is the good-natured heckling that should be expected when you are not root, root, rooting for the home team, but what I’m talking about here is unwanted, unnecessary abuse of another human being. I have witnessed it too many times, and sadly, because fear of violence is hanging in the air and palpable, I have chosen to not get involved. My wife is always thankful that I’ve stayed out of it because she values my safety, but I always walk away from the situation sickened and sad. I too have made the vow to never go back because of the situation, yet there I am again at the Stadium hoping for a Dodger victory and praying for peace.
So what’s my point?
It’s this: Even with increased security measures put in place after 2011, the Dodgers still have a problem at their venue. People who have no business being allowed to enter the Stadium – those with obvious signs of gang affiliation – are allowed in. People are permitted to drink to excess. Security is lax, only responsive once the abuse threatens to become physical. The team airs a public service message on the jumbo-tron prior to the first pitch, encouraging fans to simply support the team without being an idiot, and we are presented with options to text Security anonymously if we see a situation about to boil-over, but it’s simply not enough. What the team needs to do is exercise its right to refuse admittance to anyone they view as a potential threat. They should impose a two drink maximum, and Security’s presence should be obvious and should operate from a first strike and you’re out philosophy, with no second chances – ejections for any infraction of fan safety – and if you have been ejected from the Stadium for any offense you are added to a watch list so that if you are ejected a second time you face a permanent ban from ever entering Dodger Stadium again.
Attending a Dodgers game is a privilege, not a right.
The bottom line is that attending a ballgame at Dodger Stadium should be fun, and no one should ever feel threatened. Intimidation should not be the overarching feel that you get from sitting in a seat the game, and whether you are wearing Dodger blue or the jersey or cap of the Giants, Mets, Marlins or Yankees, you should be able to enjoy yourself without feeling like you are going to take the beating of a lifetime because of who you root for.
The sad part is that no matter what refinements are made at Dodger Stadium to ensure fan safety my friends are not likely to ever return.
The sadder, and perhaps tragic realization, is that the Dodgers are under the false assumption that with every passing day that they can distance themselves from the Bryan Stow incident of 2011 that all is well at the Stadium, and with attendance numbers forever at 3 million-plus, business is booming at Chavez Ravine. The problem is that the ugly truth is only exposed when mayhem reigns, and the next time there is a violent incident at Dodger Stadium it will likely result in the death of a patron. And then, and only then will we see real changes beyond the turnstiles and in the parking lots.
And that is the saddest truth of all.