The Astros are back in Dodger Stadium in October. Luckily for them, the Dodgers and their fans aren’t there to greet them.
LOS ANGELES — The organists and deejays at Dodger Stadium have been known to be a bit cheeky with their music selections over the years. This, after all, is where attendees at last week’s Wild Card Series with the Brewers—attendees meaning: players and media—were greeted by the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter, and to another 1970s sitcom, Happy Days, which was based in Milwaukee.
The choices before Monday’s Game 1 of the ALDS between the A’s and Astros were more subtle. First came the late Craig Mack’s 1994 hip-hop anthem “Flava In Ya Ear,” whose chorus repeated over and over, “You won’t be around next year, my rap’s too severe, kickin’ mad flava in ya ear.” Its encore was the Black Keys’ “Gold On the Ceiling,” from 2011. Its chorus instructs:
“I ain’t blind, just a matter of time before you steal it, it’s alright.”
Yes, Dodger Nation has not forgotten the World Series title the Astros won here in 2017, two years before it came to light that Houston had executed an elaborate scheme to steal opponents’ signs and relay them to their own hitters. That championship certainly wasn’t forgotten inside a modest office space less than five minutes from the stadium, where the Dodgers’ traveling fan club, Pantone 294, is headquartered.
Named for the paint hue more commonly known as Dodger Blue, Pantone 294 is headed by Desiree Garcia and Alex Soto, longtime friends in their mid-30s who turned their love for the club into a career.
Garcia said she woke up Monday morning to find emails from P294 members who were “horrified” by the idea that the Astros might occupy the Dodgers’ dugout during this postseason series. Their concerns were unfounded, as it turned out. The ‘Stros, the visiting team in their Game 1 win over the A’s, will remain in the visitors’ facilities throughout this best-of-5 ALDS due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Still, the idea of those orange uniforms occupying the same clubhouse where the Dodgers and their white jerseys normally hang—it was almost too much to bear.
So deep is Pantone 294’s disregard for the Astros that seven months ago, Garcia and Soto bought 3,000 tickets for Houston’s season-opening road series in Anaheim, where they and hundreds of others planned to unload their loathing on the defending AL champs. It would have been their first opportunity to do so, in person, since the sign-stealing scandal broke in December 2019. It wasn’t just Dodger fans, Garcia says. SoCal-based supporters of practically every team in baseball wanted in. “Yankee fans, Red Sox, everyone.”
It was not to be, of course. The pandemic canceled that series and every other baseball game until July. Once baseball resumed, the Dodgers rolled to another division title, the A’s won the second seed in the American League playoffs, and the Astros finished 29–31, backing into the AL’s No. 6 seed.
A July dust-up involving Dodgers’ reliever Joe Kelly made for a lively two-game series in Houston, and their two-game set in L.A. in September had its moments as well, but this week the Astros are on the Dodgers’ home turf—and the Dodgers aren’t even here to defend it.
“Oh man,” Garcia says with a laugh when asked to sum up her feelings about this series. “Let me keep it PG for you.
“When it was first confirmed that the Astros cheated, every fan in baseball—not just Dodger fans—it offended all baseball fans. We were so ready for that Angels series [in April]. And since then we have had to just sit at home watching, waiting.”
When first pitch arrived on Monday afternoon, Garcia and Soto (who founded the group in ’09) were in their office, eyes glued to a series that had nothing to do with their favorite club—and everything to do with it.
If they’d been allowed to attend the game, Garcia says, they’d be sitting in their usual bloc in the outfield pavilion, where the vibe is more down-to-earth than in the glitzy, selfie-soaked atmosphere near the plate. Every Astros home run would have been tossed back onto the outfield grass, she says. Inevitably, some of her friends would have found their way behind the Astros dugout to voice their disgust with its occupants.
Isn’t this the way of the world at present? Doesn’t it make sense that a large part of America’s pastime is frustrated with rule-flouters, with no way to effectively bring them to justice?
Instead of giving the ‘Stros a piece of her mind on Monday afternoon, Garcia had to be satisfied with watching A’s slugger Khris Davis smash a Lance McCullers fastball into the right field pavilion, where it bounced among cardboard Dodger fans for a two-run homer. She and Soto were thrilled. “We’re all A’s fans this series,” Garcia texted.
“It’s not just the cheating,” she’d said before the game. Houston shortstop Carlos Correa “is constantly on TV, every chance he gets,” flaunting his team’s suspicious success and pitting his current squad against “all the haters”—haters presumably referring to anyone who disapproves of deceit.
“If they had come out and apologized,” Garcia says, “or if there had been some sincerity to their apology, it might have made a difference. But their response has been disrespectful to baseball in general.”
A recent example, she says, was posted over the weekend by the Astros’ Twitter account. Referencing their return to L.A., site of their Game 7 World Series win three years ago, the tweet flashed images of the ’17 trophy being hoisted, along with the message: “Memories last a lifetime.”
“It shows that that organization still stands behind what they did,” Soto says, despite the penalties, fines and firings baseball handed down.
But she digresses for now.
Astros-A’s is merely the second-most important series of the week. Garcia and Company are more focused on the Dodgers’ NLDS matchup with the Padres, in Texas—as evidenced by the new shirts that just went on sale on Pantone 294’s website. They display a smirking Ron Burgundy and the profane sign-off that he read from his teleprompter in Anchorman.
“We consider San Diego to be Dodger Stadium South,” Garcia says, referring to the blue-clad fans who flock to Petco Park each time the Dodgers play the Padres on the road. “When they celebrated [their Wild Card Series win over St. Louis] in the streets last week, we were like, ‘We have never seen so many Padre fans in our lives!’ [We said], ‘Oh, they have fans!’”
Meanwhile at Chavez Ravine, the Astros’ hitters were overcoming nine strikeouts (each soundtracked by “Can’t Touch This,” from former A’s batboy Stanley “MC Hammer” Burrell) to mount a mid-inning comeback. A two-out error by Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien allowed Houston to string together a four-run sixth that put the orange-clad villains ahead for good. “Astros offense waited 63 games to show up,” Garcia texted, adding an eye-roll emoji.
Pantone 294 is about more than just baseball, though. Instead of purchasing a cutout of herself (priced from $150–300) and having it placed in her favorite seat at her favorite stadium, this summer Garcia oversaw the donation of $500 to five loyal L.A. fans. Pantone 294 gave $1,500 cash to a local street vendor whose business had been decimated by the pandemic.
It’s that sort of community bond, Garcia says, that sustains her through this strangest of baseball seasons. Even if the Astros make it past the A’s, she says, “we’re already planning for next year.” MLB’s advance schedule shows that the Dodgers are set to face the Astros in an interleague series in Houston in 2021. If the coronavirus cooperates, Garcia and several hundred of her best friends will be there in full force.
With this year’s World Series slated for Arlington later this month, however, the possibility exists that her chance for Texas-flavored vengeance might even come sooner. “That,” she says, “would be sweet.”
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