What am I supposed to do with an Adrian Gonzalez bobble-head?
It’s what they gave me as I entered Dodger Stadium for the third day in a row. The aging first baseman, hands up towards the heavens in celebration, a cartoonish smirk molded to the large head. It’s hard to watch your team drop two in a row, even though it’s expected. Even though despite the best effort of the season from Finnegan (or any pitcher from Cincinnati in 2016) the Reds bats were Kershawed in the first game. They were outright humiliated in the second contest. Simply out-pitched by a narrow margin in the third, the apathy of the Cincinnati sluggers made a 3-1 deficit seem infinitely larger. Typically the Reds don’t hold up well in Los Angeles. In the eight years I’ve been seeing games at Dodger Stadium, only twice have the Reds walked away with a series in tact (’09 and ’10); aside from that, it’s been a lot head-shaking and disappointment. The West Coast swing is palpable. Despite every bone in my body urging me to take the loser walk up the aisle, I remain in my seat for the final out – then Jay Bruce rolls a routine grounder over to third for a 3-4 putout. Time to go.
Randy Newman’s anthem echoes through the concourse. His voice reverberating off the concrete and rebar amidst a swelling cheer as the Dodger faithful pluck along, “We love LA!” It’s a somber reminder that I’m not in Cincinnati. Head down I swiftly move through the throngs of people, counting the steps to my car. I hate this song. Instead I’m listening to Rancid in my head, “Good mornin’ heartache, you’re like an old friend, come and see me again.”
“Yo, you gonna keep that?” An older man in a Puig jersey motions to my door prize, the celebratory Adrian statue. “Yeah, I am.” I reply back, never slowing my stride. I don’t know why I didn’t hand it over, I sure don’t want it… but I suppose it’s the principle of the thing.
I hung on to the bobble-head out of spite. Cincinnati had given enough to the Dodgers these three days; I’ll take this, thank you very much.
Los Angeles is not Cincinnati. You learn that rather quickly, whether you drive the distance across the US of A or touch down at LAX. The distinction is as clear as the smog gray sky. I’ve been living in a self-imposed exile from the Queen City for the past eight years. Carefully navigating the streets of Dodger blue in a quiet Cincinnati red. By its social definition Los Angeles is a community for transients. The migrants of other cities who have nestled in the hills and valleys, often times taking up new personas, grafting pieces of Southern California lore to their middle America frames and coming out all something new. It’s a beautiful city. I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s a constant stream of culture and ideas if you know where to look.
Dodger Stadium is truly a site to behold. It’s new world in old world chic. Its outfield mountain landscapes rival the river and inner city vistas. Los Angeles buried beneath a smog cloud yields marvelous purple and orange sunsets which parallel a manufactured Hollywood theme. We’re drowning in poison, but look at the colors! It’s the third oldest stadium in baseball at 52 years, ranking only behind the iconic Wrigley and Fenway parks. It’s the biggest stadium the big leagues have to offer as well, boasting a 56,000 capacity.
I’ve grown accustomed to Vin Scully, that’s for sure. He’s no Marty, but home-cooking aside, Scully is a legend. The organization is honoring him as best they can in his final season. Every word is clung to, and even a disposed Reds fan gets misty thinking he will no longer be an active voice in future summers. The previous game recaps are done by Scully himself, playing on the video board in left. No video highlights to accompany his sultry voice, it’s just him and a microphone. Prior to the start of game two, while the Reds were warming up, they nearly all stopped, stared and listened. Votto even getting a congratulatory slap on the butt after the legend mentioned his name, Joey could only shrug with a smile and continue stretching. A nice moment as you notice the biggest players can still be star-struck.
There’s an unofficial tradition at Dodger games where fans don’t sit in their seats and don’t show up until the third inning. That’s an exaggeration… sort of. There’s such a thing as West Coast time, though. It’s a free-spirited collection of people who often take their leisure to get anywhere. They operate differently here, different from the Midwest upbringing of Ohio natives. You can chalk it up to them perhaps lingering too long in the sun, spending too much time at the beach, a sense of entitlement, a never-ending popularity arms race. It’s cool to be late, fashionably late. It’s an attempted jab that you had something better to do. That you spent your money on these seats, but what’s money? I’m at the game to be seen, snap a couple quick photos to my Instagram then it’s on to the next thing. This philosophy propagates a culture of reclined business, but Son, business is boomin’. The lapses of the Dodger franchise over the years and its stranglehold on boasting itself as a huge market team have at the very least yielded competitive teams. High hopes that are often dashed when you learn money can’t really buy happiness. Even on the dominating shoulders of, say, Clayton Kershaw.
You have to learn to live differently when you’re so far from home. The internet has made things infinitely easier, and you’re never really too far away from the information you want to hear/read/see. You can stream the games, you can listen to podcasts, you can read local papers, you can get everything you would want at home, except of course the feeling of being home. That feeling extends to always being the outsider, being the guest in someone else’s house. For those that haven’t seen a Reds game outside of Cincinnati, there are rules to be followed. Respect. Understand your surroundings and continue to remind yourself, “this ain’t your house.” You’re an ambassador because you’re wearing the team colors, so don’t screw it up. You’re outnumbered and win or lose you still have to walk out when the last pitch is thrown.
In fact, there’s no tailgating at Dodger stadium. So don’t even think about it. Once you pay your fee to park (a steep $20 for general parking if you don’t come prepared and order online), they usher you in like cattle. Dozens of parking lot attendants and dozens of LA’s finest on bikes, in golf carts and in cruisers. This is a reaction, of course, to Bryan Stow and the terrible tragedy that occurred in 2011. The action by the Dodgers and their affiliates was swift, as more security was added to prevent a possible repeat. It’s a small price to pay to prevent another incident, and now this black-eye put upon by two terrible men is something that you do think about as you’re herded out onto the vast concrete slab. It’s part of their history and identity now.
The rivalry between the Cincinnati and Los Angeles ballclubs is for all intents and purposes non-existent now. When the league realigned and added more divisional splits it all faded away. Its prominence was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when both clubs inhabited the National League West. Between 1970-1990, the two clubs combined to ten pennants and five World Series victories. Sparky Anderson remarked back in ’75, “I don’t think there’s a rivalry like ours in either league. The Giants are supposed to be the Dodgers’ natural rivals, but I don’t think the feeling is there anymore. It’s not there the way it is with us and the Dodgers.” All of this was prior to 1994, when the Central Division was added to both leagues essentially ending a twenty year top of the standings feud. I’m sure harsh feelings still linger among those who remember those days, but I don’t hear about it. The older Dodger fans that remember those days will often remark what a team Cincinnati had, but mostly my interaction is reciprocating head nods of solidarity from other émigrés in their Joey Votto and Johnny Bench jerseys. So there’s no real danger there, it feels almost as if whatever rivalry existed has been put to sleep. The new generation is willing to let sleeping dogs lie.
Los Angeles is many things. It’s Hollywood, it’s beaches, it’s traffic, it’s infinite culture, it’s change, it’s vast, it’s shallow, it’s pompous, it’s under-appreciated, it’s a town of work, it’s a town of winners, it’s a town of baseball. Sure, the Lakers are king and in most senses basketball dominates most conversation but there is a fierce contingent of Dodger faithfuls. My generation of Dodger fans and Red fans share a commonality, it was our fathers and mothers who taught them about the teams of the 70s. They lived in that mania, just as the Cincinnati contingent hears the story of the Big Red Machine they heard of Steve Garvey, Don Sutton and Ron Cey. Cincinnati may be the cradle of professional baseball, but Los Angeles remains a unique and passionate stop in the history of the game. Ascending from the mystical team in Brooklyn, it’s next step was the future, out west. Today the stadium still stands. It’s fans remain forever in love with a national pastime. They understand where they came from, they love where they are now even if they show up thirty minutes late. There are a lot of distractions in the City of Angels and your entertainment choices are bountiful, but don’t think for a second that baseball isn’t high on that list, because it is.
So I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the Adrian Gonzalez bobble-head. Perhaps it’s a story and a reminder of coming to know the city of Los Angeles. Respecting their culture, their tradition. Knowing that on some level as a Reds fan I can be fond of another team, not in the sense that I root for them, but that I live among them and I’m absorbed by it. A keepsake for a peaceful understanding. A rare non-Red meaningful memento. An aide memoir to understanding that a city’s heartbeat often runs through its sports’ franchises. To know the Dodgers is to know Los Angeles, a binding of my new home with my old. It’s all baseball.