Baseball and gangbangers: LA’s dirty little secret

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Many seats sit empty at Dodgers Stadium, the result of concerns over safety

Many seats sit empty at Dodgers Stadium, the result of concerns over safety (Photo/Shutterstock)

No one really wants to talk about the most politically sensitive issue in Los Angeles — and it’s not the presidential campaign, nor the future of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

It is Latinos and Dodger Stadium.

These should be among the best days at Dodger Stadium. An owner who was roundly disliked and despised is gone, and the new ownership includes popular Lakers legend Magic Johnson. Add to that the fact that after many lean years, the Dodgers are in first place in their division.

But on any given night, a fourth to a third of Dodger Stadium is empty. The Dodgers are averaging over 39,000 fans per home game, but the stadium holds 56,000. In the old days, especially the days of Fernandomania in the 1980s, the stadium was almost always full. You were lucky to get a ticket in the cheap seats.

What’s happened?

No one wants to say it, but it’s the fallout of Opening Day 2011 when a San Francisco Giants’ fan was beaten senselessly into a coma in the stadium parking lot, apparently by Latino thugs. The aftermath was chilling. The police manhunt focused on Latino gang members and Latino neighborhoods. At one point cops even arrested and identified one of the assailants as a tattooed Latino man who fit the description but wasn’t even at the game.

I’m not only a baseball fan. I write about baseball for a living. It is apparent what has happened. As Los Angeles has become increasingly Hispanic, it has also turned even more into the turf of Latino toughs and gang members whose lack of civility and penchant for violence can grow even greater after several innings of beer at the stadium.

I also talk to a lot of fans — good fans who can easily afford the high prices of great seats and used to go to Dodger games regularly, even when they were losing, but who no longer are willing to do so. Not because of the ownership nor because of the even more exorbitant cost of going to the games, but because of fear for their safety.

Some of these fans who are mortified at the thought of what could happen to them are even Dodger fans, but Los Angeles also has a lot of residents who moved here from Chicago, Houston, New York and other Major League Baseball cities. They are Cubs, Astros, Mets fans — fans who not too long ago enjoyed going to the ball park with caps and jerseys showing their allegiance to their favorite teams.

Related story: Report reveals young Latinos show riskiest behavior, highest stress levels

But they’re frightened of what today’s sports culture has become. Even if they’re in the expensive box seats, at some point they have to walk to their cars through the parking lots where any nut can confront them, which is what happened to the unfortunate Giants fan last year.

“Dodger Stadium is a gang-filled war-zone, considered by fans to be more dangerous than attending an Oakland Raiders game in Oakland,” one blogger wrote after last year’s fan beating. “In part this transition was understandable, but the Hispanicization of America will not turn out to be Brazil or Mexico.

“Something more akin to the Balkans is in the works, and in particular entertainment will be the first casualty of this Hispanicization. Everyone in media and entertainment will have to adjust to radically different shifts (and less money) as culture finally reflects the undeniable changes adding half the population of Mexico has wrought.”

That reaction is harsh and a little over the top, but I’m not altogether in disagreement.

In Los Angeles, at least, one of the casualties of the radically changing demographics is the romance about baseball that many of us used to have.

The Dodgers have moved to strengthen their security force, even mobilizing some LAPD officers, but it’s a battle of several hundred trying to police compacted crowds of tens of thousands. It’s an impossible mission. Incidents continue to occur, thankfully none as serious as last year’s tragedy. Fans are also being much more careful. You don’t see many Giants caps being worn. And that’s part of the loss of romance and innocence.

In the minds of many, I’m afraid, going to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium has indeed become like going to an Oakland Raiders football game or worse.

I don’t know what the answer is. I know it doesn’t have to be this way. I was recently at a packed house at Angels Stadium in Anaheim to watch the Yankees play. A third of the stadium must have been in Yankee gear, and no one got hassled.

It was an entirely different home crowd at Anaheim. There were a lot of Latinos, too — heck, the Angels are the only MLB team owned by a Hispanic. The single annoying Angel fan may have been the adorable Rally Monkey, jumping up and down on the big screen, as if it were caged and not harming anyone.

Maybe that’s answer for the Dodgers. Cage the animals.

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