Behind the Seams: Fans need to step up

Every Monday morning this season, we will examine a pressing baseball issue in our new FOXSports.com baseball column, Behind the Seams.

Sometimes, we will focus on a player. Sometimes, we will focus on a team. Sometimes, we will focus on the game at large.

In this inaugural installment, we’re considering someone crucial to baseball’s present and future welfare.

You.

Sadly, fan behavior – or, more accurately, violent misbehavior on the part of Los Angeles Dodgers fans – was an unwelcome distraction as the San Francisco Giants began the defense of their first World Series title over the weekend.

A Giants fan is in a medically-induced coma, according to the Associated Press, after being attacked by two Dodgers fans following Thursday’s season opener at Dodger Stadium. The fan – identified by the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel as 42-year-old paramedic Bryan Stow – is in critical but stable condition, the AP said.

The beating occurred in a Dodger Stadium parking lot, which isn’t far enough from home plate to allay concerns about safety at our nation’s third-oldest major-league park. But the schedule went on uninterrupted, and an announced crowd of 40,809 turned out to see the Giants prevail over the home team, 10-0, on Saturday afternoon.

Before and during the game, I walked the stadium concourses, sat with fans, and asked about their experiences.

“It’s embarrassing for the city,” said Elena Caro, as she sat beside her 9-year-old grandson, Daniel Martinez. “It’s embarrassing for our team, too. They’re not decent people. They used violence. That’s not acceptable here. Nowhere.”

“I’m a Dodger fan,” said Brett Howard, 26, while sitting among his black-and-orange-clad friends. “I don’t like seeing that.”

“Embarrassing,” Randy Serrato, 24, said in the left field pavilion. “It really is.”

Bay Area resident Mike Delfino, who wore a Will Clark throwback jersey to Saturday’s game, was surprised to receive apologies from some Dodgers fans.

The LA fans I met were conscientious, empathetic and insightful. And if there are enough others like them, they can contribute to baseball by doing something we hear about often in sports.

Lead by example.

The Dodgers, along with the 29 other major-league franchises, absolutely have an obligation to provide a safe environment for their customers. Police bear responsibility, as well. But if this is truly the fans’ game, then the fans must protect it.

To be clear, I’m not second-guessing the reaction of those who witnessed Thursday’s incident, or suggesting that anyone should have forcibly intervened when it wasn’t known if the assailants were armed. The crowd that day numbered 56,000. I don’t believe 55,998 fans should be held accountable for the criminal acts of two.

Yet, fans must understand the power they have to counter the jerks who drink themselves into a stupor, use vile language in front of children, and assault those who have the audacity to wear a rival team’s colors.

The Dodgers, for example, post a phone number on their scoreboard for fans to call or text if they are bothered by the conduct of a nearby fan. No need to yell at the drunk and risk an expletive-laced tirade – or fist – in reply. The system is based on anonymity, so you won’t be labeled as a snitch.

You’re probably on your phone, anyway, so just send a text. Drunken idiot in section 158, row 10. Threatening to fight people. It won’t take long for the usher to get there.

My knowledge of Thursday’s incident is limited to the information that has become public, but I’m comfortable saying this: I doubt the two suspects sat quietly for nine innings, not drinking a drop, before morphing into criminals when they found themselves side-by-side with someone with the nerve to root for the other team.

The time to stop this tragedy was long before it started.

“As a whole, I think Dodger Stadium is a safe place,” said Serrato, who brought his girlfriend, Irina Reinhardt, to Saturday’s game. “At the same time, it’s Los Angeles. (Fights) can happen where you get that kind of crowd. Alcohol gets involved, and the rivalry makes it more intense.”

I asked Serrato how many Dodgers games he watches from the pavilion each year.

“Seven to 10,” he said.

And how many times does he see a fight?

“Seven to 10.”

It shouldn’t be that way.

If we, as fans, stay silent, then we, as fans, will suffer – not physically, necessarily, but our overall experience at the ballpark won’t be the same. Do we want chaperones at the end of every row, like yardstick-wielding hall monitors? Are we heading toward a time when there will be metal detectors at every gate in every stadium?

Is this the legacy we want to leave for the next generation of baseball fans?

“When we go to sporting events, if we could bring more respect and compassion into the stadium, I think it would go a long way,” said Ashkon Davaran, the Giants fan whose remake of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” went viral during last year’s postseason run. “It’s a challenging thing to do – stay competitive and remain compassionate at the same time. They seem like they may not be able to coexist. But they can. You can be a hardcore fan but love and respect the other people enjoying sports, no matter what team they’re rooting for.

“It’s simple, really. It’s just people respecting each other.”

This isn’t an LA-only problem. This isn’t a baseball-only problem. This isn’t even a U.S.-only problem. Andrei Markovits, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan and author of the book Gaming the World, said European soccer fans are, on measure, more hostile and violent than American sports fans. If anything, the global scope of this issue should make for an even louder call to action.

We can’t disregard an important constituency in all of this: the players. Fans want to know their heroes. The allure of spring training, followed by the 162-game season, is that we can see the players up close over an extended period of time. But that is a privilege, not a right. If you were a superstar player, might you shake your head at Stow’s story and think twice about signing autographs next time?

Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., who sat in the stands throughout his father’s Hall of Fame career, believes fans are “bolder” in their actions today. He thinks – and I agree – that the Internet has something to do with that. Fans seem to forget that rules are different in the stands than they are in anonymous message boards.

“I think they do,” Gwynn said. “They’re going back and forth, and they can forget real fast that there are consequences to your actions in this world. You can type what you want and there may not be consequences. You get out here, there’s going to be consequences.

“Enjoy the game, root for your team, even talk a little trash. But know that there’s a line that can’t be crossed. What was proven by hurting that guy? What was proven by that? Now you’re a wanted man, somebody’s hurt, and it didn’t prove anything. God willing, they recover. They’re still going to be Giants fans and still not like the Dodgers. Nothing was (accomplished by) that.”

As fans, we sometimes feel like our favorite teams and players let us down. This was different. We let ourselves down. And in all 30 ballparks, it’s time to show that we’re better than what happened Thursday in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium.