Maybe it was the arrowed sign directing me to GREEN MONSTER SEATS mounted on the far wall, or the framed lobster painting in the corner. Maybe it was the cloud of salty, familiar accents billowing around the room, but I felt right at home at the Little Bar on LaBrea Avenue in Los Angeles last Friday night.
The Sox were starting their big three-game set across town at Dodger Stadium after clubbing the Giants heads’ up north with twelve runs two days earlier, and we thousands of Boston rooters living in Southern California were looking at this series as a possible World Series preview.
It would also be a Series rematch, the Red Sox having dumped the Dodgers or Robins or Superbas or Bridegrooms or whatever they were called 97 years ago in five games. There would be plenty of media saturation of that storied battle if this dream match-up would occur, but for now, with over a month to play and nary a race clinched, a sweet late-season meeting between two clubs having unexpected great years would surely create infectious, fever-pitched excitement, right?
Judging from observations during my three-day pub and stadium crawl…not so much.
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FRIDAY: The Little Bar is on a busy mid-city block just south of Wilshire Boulevard. The snug, friendly place looks great inside, and it should, seeing it got an Antonio Treatment makeover on HGTV a year and a half ago. Owner Angelo Vacco, a fit, energetic Northeastern grad from New Haven who wanted to open a “New England-style” bar in L.A., bought it after its life as a lesbian establishment called Girl Talk and an alleged deeper past as a Japanese speakeasy, and with its neon-trimmed mermaid over the bar, French window and vintage model airplanes hanging from the ceiling, there’s now a decided old world hipness to its neighborhood bar vibe.
By the time Ricky Nolasco began his baffling, game-long mastery of Red Sox bats, I had settled into a large booth with two Dodger fans, a Boston one, and the first of what would be three pints of Sam Adams. Michael and Ken work together in the finance department at Wells Fargo, and Ken became a Sox fan merely by going to Boston for business and taking in some games at Fenway. (As many of us know, one visit to the Fens can be enough to make you a fan for life.) Ken and a buddy flew up to AT&T for the first Sox/Giants game the previous Monday, and as he put it, “We were drinking from the moment we got off the plane, drank all the way through the game, and got back to town at 1 or 2 in the morning.”
“Fuck Crawford!” he then yelled after the first of the new Dodger’s two hits. Crapping on press-blabby Carl would become a dominant theme of the weekend, but the fans I sat with from opposing teams had a serious respect for each other throughout the night, and good-naturedly ribbed each other whenever possible. This was extremely far from a Celtics/Lakers war.
Much of the Little Bar crowd was young, professional, artsy. Enjoying the scene without being all that engaged in the action. When Hanley Ramirez picked out a Lackey delivery and golfed a two-run shot over the center field fence for the only runs of the game, the cheering and groaning was pretty much split down the middle. And when Kenley Jansen nailed down Nolasco’s win in a contest that flew by in a ridiculous two hours and seven minutes, Dodger fan Tony yelled for all to hear, “Know what Boston needs? A razor!”
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SATURDAY: Walking up the Elysian Park hill from my secret Dodger Stadium parking spot (please don’t ask where it is) on a gorgeously warm Saturday, I realized why Angelo’s place might not have been stuffed with Red Sox fans the night before. They were all at Chavez Ravine.
Still, it was hard to fathom why the stadium was not completely sold out; the Dodgers had been a non-stop thrill ride for months, and this was only the second time the first-place Sox had ever played in the park. Large bluish-green swatches of distant upper deck seats glimmered in the sun.
Boston fans were everywhere, blotches of cheering red tops spicing up the pervasive mellow blue ones. Pedroia garb was definitely the fashion of choice for ex-New Englanders attending the game, though I also saw a Ted Williams T-shirt, a half Red Sox/half Dodgers Manny Ramirez jersey that was sewn together by a mad bearded genius (the human baseball centipede?), and even some of those forever-ghastly pink hats.
I was with my longtime friend Dave, a graphic artist from Agawam, MA, which is across the Connecticut River from my hometown of Longmeadow. Dave I met at work out here, but pure mutual love for the Sox was the thing that bonded us right away, and I was at his house to see a now infamous 19-8 game in October 2004. Dave had actually been boycotting Dodger Stadium since over a hundred tailgating beer drinkers were arrested on Opening Day 2010, but he did make a habit of seeing the Sox whenever they played Anaheim.
Our beach party began early. Hyun-Jin Ryu was wobbly out of the gate and served up a first-pitch, three-run Johnny Gomes bomb that would have scraped a few clouds on its way to the left field bleachers if there had been any. Then my usual concerns about Boston’s inconsistent offense returned, as the tag team of Ryu, Marmol, Howell and Beard Wilson whiffed 13 Sox over the next seven innings.
Dodger crowds tend to head for home after the 7th inning regardless of score, but this year I’ve been noticing a lot less of that behavior. It was soon clear why. When Lester walked Crawford leading off the Dodger 8th (“You SUCK, Crawford!” yelled a Sox rooter behind us), Tazawa and Breslow gave up a single and two-run Adrian Gonzalez double to plug the home fans into the nearest wall socket. Fortunately, we were the ones who employ Koji Uehara, and he whiffed A.J. Ellis with the sacks juiced to end that noise, then got the Dodgers 1-2-3 in the 9th, the final out coming on an impossible belly flop snag up the middle and throw to first by Pedroia, sweaty high fives with hooting strangers erupting all over reserved section 23.
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SUNDAY: There is no ignoring Sonny McLean’s Irish pub and restaurant in Santa Monica, a huge, green, flag-adorned building on Wilshire at 26th with A Red Sox-Patriots-Celtics-Bruins cloverleaf as its house logo.
The crowd arriving for the ESPN Sunday night broadcast was not massive, but it was a loyal Sox following that was very into the game. Steve, Sonny’s bartender for 15 years from Plymouth, NH, said that Jenny Dell and a NESN cameraman showed up around noon to film a segment but the place was practically empty; on Patriots game days you can hardly get in the door.
Sonny’s is still the granddaddy of Masshole-friendly sports bars in L.A. After the 2004 title, there was a three-hour wait to view the World Series trophy. I waited in a shorter Sonny’s line in ’05 for Bill Simmons to sign my copy of Now I Can Die in Peace, and probably weirded him out a little when I asked him to touch my Magic Yaz Ball (hit off my knee at Fenway in ’78). Steve admitted that the peak period for Sonny’s were the two or three after the ’04 title, and that a lot of the regulars have since gotten married and moved away—but I believe it’s more than that.
Today’s ease of baseball game access via dish, smart phone and Internet makes exiled fans of one team congregating in a new city far less necessary. Red Sox fans have always been known for traveling well, but these days it tends to take a hugely important, sold-out game to get them drinking and watching in a public saloon together. Sure there are Red Sox Nation meetups in Orange County and other places, but Los Angeles is a very spread-out location that makes you work for your camaraderie. I’ve lived out here for over thirty years and have always made Sonny’s my New England game bar of choice, but while I understand the modern compulsion to follow the team in private, there’s no way it will ever be as much fun.
My bar neighbors for the series finale were Jason and Pirouz. Jason, a resident of nearby Brentwood who rooted for the Sox and Dallas Cowboys, alternated between Bud Lights and quick cigarettes outside, and like me, wasn’t completely sold on the Sox making the World Series, though with his chain-drinking Bud Lights and my Firestone IPA it became harder to understand his specific reasoning.
Pirouz was a big Lakers fan in his native Iran, but after moving to the U.S. 18 years ago and attending Boston College, he became a fan of all Boston teams except the Celtics. He moved to L.A. in 2003, became a Professor of Engineering at UCLA, and was at Sonny’s to watch the Sox and “just get out of the house for the night.” Pirouz knew a lot about the team, was no stats dummy and as schooled in their recent history as anyone I’ve met. Then Carl Crawford stepped to the plate and he said “I HATE this guy. Hit him in the head!”
Thankfully, Jake Peavy didn’t have to. It was his best start of the year for Boston, home runs were flying off Victorino and Saltalamacchia’s bats, and Napoli launched an ICBM missle in the 9th that was likely spotted on Iranian radar. Steve rang a ship’s bell with every Red Sox run, and much bell-ringing took place in the 8-1 drubbing.
It was a fitting end to a weekend without one lead change, umpiring disaster or Puigian miracle. Good baseball was played, more of it by the Sox, but Nolasco’s gem on Friday nullified Peavy’s. More apparent, the Red Sox/Dodgers “rivalry”, maybe because of a massive trade one year ago that built a partial bridge between the two rosters, was well-mannered and professional, and the fans—despite the presence of Carl Crawford—pleasantly followed suit.
And if they do meet in the World Series, I think this will all change in a heartbeat.