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Chris Piombo: Life can be hard for a Dodgers fan in Lodi

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Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:25 am

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked the question, “How did you end up a Dodgers fan?” I have a hard time understanding the Lodian in the pumpkin orange Giants cap/shirt combo making the inquiry, due to the fact they are usually holding their nose. My grandfather was a Dodgers fan, and so am I.

My son Anthony embraced the family curse and, as a third-generation Dodgers supporter, he puts up with questions like “Vin Scully is 85 years old. Has he ever seen the Dodgers win a championship?” or “Have the Dodgers won a World Series in this century?” It’s been a long time for Dodger Blue.

I’ve been a Dodgers follower since the glory days and bad hair of the Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey infield in the 1970s. The owners, players and managers all came and went, but the Dodgers-Giants rivalry remained heated, fueled in part by shaky decisions by the Giants’ front office and by reruns of Tommy Lasorda in a way-too-tight white uniform, thrusting his stubby arms into the air while pogoing out of the dugout after the Kirk Gibson homer in the 1988 series.

There was a seismic shift in the Dodgers-Giants relationship when San Francisco reliever Brian Wilson struck out Texas Ranger Nelson Cruz to end the 2010 World Series. Local Dodgers fans retreated into the shadows and watched the predictable Olympic Games caliber vaulting onto the Giants bandwagon by folks who couldn’t spell Bochy if you spotted them the B, O, C and H. People in expensive Giants game jerseys with “LINCECUM” or “POSEY” on the back suddenly appeared in every Starbucks and Subway in Lodi. 2010 World Series Champions bumper stickers and flags adorned cars barely worth more than the bumper stickers and flags in every lot from Wal-Mart to the Grape Festival grounds. Infants, against their will, were swaddled in Panda onesies, forever altering their perception of what makes up a good baseball team.

We went to a Dodgers spring training game at their facility at Camelback Ranch near Phoenix a few weeks ago. It was liberating to walk upright and fearless amongst my brethren. Bright blue Dodgers caps and shirts — and onesies — formed an azure sea of commitment throughout the stadium. I confidently made eye contact with other fans as I stood proud in my Dodgers shirt while we all tried to figure out who No. 87 at shortstop was.

Dodger Dogs and hope were in ample supply that night, my friend. Who needs the yellow brick road? I’d found Oz at Camelback Ranch. Did I receive courage, wisdom or a heart? No. Something better. I eventually figured out Oz was the guy wearing No. 87 at short, and he’s headed to Rancho Cucamonga to play rookie ball this summer.

Back in Lodi, Dodgers supporters roll their eyes when Giants fans use the terms “us” and “we” when talking about the team like they share a stick of Old Spice with Timmy or B.P. after batting practice. Classic San Francisco nicknames like the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mac and Will the Thrill have been replaced with monikers like Madbum, Scoots and The Giraffe on barstools in School Street establishments.

Are Dodgers fans in Lodi jealous of the Giants’ recent success? Yep. Have the Giants owned the Dodgers so far this year? (Insert affirmative head nod here.) Is the Dodgers front office trying to buy a championship? That’s the fact, Jack.

Hey, Dodgers fans have been waiting a long time. In our low moments we take out the 1988 Dodgers World Championship pennant from one of those plastic bags that you suck all of the air out of with a vacuum cleaner to preserve it, like the Constitution or the Shroud of Turin. We clutch the tattered and tear-stained pennant to our chest and worry about which will go over 100 miles an hour more often this season: Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen’s fastball or outfielder Yasiel Puig’s speedometer. And we amuse ourselves wondering which will grow faster, Lincecum’s earned run average or Sandoval’s belt size.

The 2014 season is here. The Dodgers-Giants rivalry is alive and well. Let’s play ball.

Chris Piombo is a local family man, coach and marathon runner.

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