On March 31, on Opening Day, on what is supposed to be the best day of the year for a baseball fan, a 42-year-old paramedic named Bryan Stow texted a relative from inside Dodger Stadium that he feared for his safety. Minutes later, as he waited for a taxi outside the ballpark, he was severely beaten by two assailants. He remains in a medically induced coma.
What did Stow do to deserve this? Probably no more than wear a Giants jersey to Dodger Stadium. Probably no more than cheer for his team while others around him cheered for theirs.
Maybe he said “Lasorda sucks,” or something like that. Most likely he didn’t. There were dozens of witnesses. Many said the assailants, wearing Dodgers gear, were yelling epithets at Stow as they followed him to the parking lot. None said Stow was yelling back.
This sort of problem isn’t indigenous to Dodger Stadium. It might have happened at any ballpark where grown men play a kids game. Except at Petco Park in San Diego. I’ve been to Petco Park dozens of times, wore the opposing team’s colors, never felt threatened. Yes, Padres fans are laid-back, and like a Randy Jones barbecue sandwich with extra dry rub seasoning, there’s something to be said for that.
On Monday, the Giants dedicated a ballgame against the Dodgers to Bryan Stow. They put up a picture of him and his kids on the scoreboard. They raised more than $70,000 for his medical bills. Players from both sides urged fans to cool their jets, to cheer for their team and let the other guy cheer for his, to give peace a chance.
“There’s no room in this game for hatred and violence. It is about respect,” Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll told the sellout Bay Area crowd, prompting cheers.
The crowd was willing to give peace a chance. So nobody yelled back, “Yeah? What about Marichal and Roseboro in ’65?”
On Aug. 22, 1965, in a game at old Candlestick Park, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal had hit two Dodgers with pitches. Sandy Koufax, the Los Angeles pitcher, did not retaliate. So Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro buzzed Marichal’s ear with a return throw to Koufax when Marichal was batting. Marichal’s response was to club Roseboro in the head with his bat. There was a lot of blood. But unlike Bryan Stow, Roseboro did not go on the disabled list for a long time.
It was a nice gesture by the Giants and Dodgers to honor Stow. But if they really wanted to honor him, what Jamey Carroll should have said, after he said there was no justification for violence at the ballpark, is that the pitchers on his team would stop throwing baseballs at the hitters on the other team. If the Giants hit back-to-back home runs, the next batter need not be concerned about his life insurance premium.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy should have said if Matt Kemp tries to steal second base with a six-run lead, violating another of baseball’s silly unwritten rules, Kemp need not worry about a baseball being pitched toward his kneecaps the next time he bats.
That’s what they should have said.
Practice what you preach, fellas.
Anyway, this latest and most extreme case of fan-on-fan violence has everybody on a razor’s edge, so much so that security guards in Pittsburgh cracked a drunk fan in the face with a nightstick about five or six times the other night.
On Friday night, the 51s will host their 29th Pacific Coast League home opener against the Fresno Grizzlies. I spoke with 51s general manager Chuck Johnson and security chief Nick Fitzenreider, who seemed only on a disposable razor’s edge, not on a Gillette Fusion ProGlide edge, probably because Grizzlies fans don’t travel that well. You just don’t see a lot of Ryan Vogelsong jerseys at a 51s game.
But it is Opening Night. There will be fireworks. There will be a big crowd. And chances are it will be thirsty.
When it comes to fan-on-fan pyrotechnics, alcohol is almost always the fuse.
“That’ll happen,” Johnson said. “That’ll happen everywhere.”
It doesn’t happen here all that often. The 51s employ a security force of eight to 10 on most nights, and on special nights when there are fireworks and cheap beer, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Metropolitan Police provide another eight to 10 men. Most have beefy biceps.
“Our (security) presence is pretty good for our fans,” Johnson said.
As a former high-ranking member of the security force at old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Fitzenreider has seen just about everything, including Clydesdales in the Gateway Arch museum after the Cardinals won the World Series in 1982. He was prepared for that, too. He brought a big shovel.
“Ninety-eight percent of the people who come to Cashman Field have a nice experience,” he said.
The other 2 percent will have to deal with Fitzenreider and his big shovel.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.