By Eric Neel
Page 2

Way back in April, I said a stupid thing. I said I was so sure "Barry Bonds -- we call him Barry Bonds, Daddy" would hit .400 this year that if he didn't, I swore I would go to Dodger Stadium on the last weekend of the year dressed in Bonds gear and black-and-orange face paint.

Eric Neel
According to the DVD extras, this is exactly how Darth Vader went bad.

Like the old line from "Plan 9 From Outer Space," let me just say, "You see? You see? My stupid mind. Stupid. Stupid."

Stupid because hitting .400 is, you know, really hard to do, even if you are the Giants' left fielder.

Stupid because I knew opposing teams were going to walk him more often than a fox terrier with a bladder infection this year.

And most of all, stupid because if you wear Giants colors on your back and your face in the cheap seats at Dodger Stadium, you stand a real good chance of getting your butt whupped.

So like I said, I'm not too bright.

But that doesn't mean I'm not a man of my word.

Last Friday night, I was there in the right-field pavilion seats, surrounded by Dodger Blue faithful (the people who, on any other night, are my people), made up in black-and-orange, and feeling like a bullseye.

Eric Neel
"I paint my face ... support the team" -- David Putty

Here now for your viewing pleasure, some documentation.

I got dressed for the game at my friend Matt's house. I had a beer. I heard stories from Matt about guys getting mauled the last time the Giants came to Dodger Stadium. And I tried on T-shirts and looks of idiocy, terror, and bemusement. It was decided that this T-shirt was too subtle. But the look was spot-on.

Matt's friend Ken said, "Oh, that's perfect," or something to that effect. I cannot tell you how far from perfect this felt. I can, however, tell you that at this precise moment, I am thinking seriously about hopping the fence in the background and running as fast and as far as I can, stripping my clothes away until I run free, like Mowgli, and live among the creatures of the concrete jungle forever.

Once the face painting started, I insisted on an L.A. "tattoo," on my forearm, hoping, should my body be found in a Chavez Ravine dumpster, that people would know my true colors. It didn't work. About 10 minutes after I put it on, it had been almost completely erased by my shirtsleeve.

Eric Neel
It may be getting closer to Halloween, but there's no room for black and orange in L.A.

T-shirts and hats are nothing. Face paint is for real. You put on face paint, and you cross all sorts of lines. You put on face paint, and you're all in. You've marked yourself as a sort of crazed geek for the team whose colors it is you sport (which means, among other things, that women instantly find you pathetic and repugnant). But more than that, you've dehumanized yourself by way of a mask. It's easy, when you're wearing face paint, for people to look at you and not see you, to look at you and not for one second think that you are a flesh-and-blood person beneath the paint. Which means it's easy for people to look at you and think nasty, violent thoughts about you. The looks I got on the drive to the stadium, the glares out of car windows and on street corners along Sunset and up to Elysian, were truly horrifying.

My friends Matt and Ken told me before I came by the house that they'd be going to the game with me. After seeing my Giants gear, they changed their minds. Something "suddenly came up." My buddy Wes stuck with me and came to the game -- and agreed to photograph whatever went down.

Eric Neel
Tune in next week when Eric Neel goes to Cheers! in Boston wearing his Jeter jersey.

Shelly Smith was interviewing folks outside the park. She asked what the hell I was up to. I explained. She laughed nervously and quickly moved away from me.

I found I was looking over my shoulder quite a bit. You do this a lot in Giants gear at a Dodgers game, especially when you're surrounded by people talking about how funny it would be to beat the crap out of you.

There were a lot of people making threats like this. In the bathroom, guys were saying, "I'd better not find you out in the parking lot when this is over." At the concessions stand, smiling young ladies were shouting "Giants Suck!" Down the aisles and across the rows, guys were pushing blue foam Dodger fingers in my chest, questioning my masculinity, disparaging San Francisco's homosexual population, and suggesting, out loud and in front of everyone, that perhaps my parents were never married.

Eric Neel
Sure, Barry does seem a lot cooler after your team wraps up the NL West.

I want to tell you there was a playful edge to all this. I want to say I was never really worried. But the truth is, my stomach was in knots and my back was done up tighter than a bridge cable for much of the night. My eyes scanned the perimeter like a secret service agent looking for Travis Bickle. Time couldn't pass fast enough for me.

I found one friend -- complete with Dodger blue wig. He was chanting "Barry Sucks! Barry Sucks!" and then he looked over at me, and with a little pity in his voice said, "Nah, man, Barry's cool" and put his arm around me for a picture.

At a certain point, I was just looking to survive the night. There was a game going on, and it was a big game, but I couldn't tell you much about it.

There were chants of "Giants Suck" going up throughout the ballpark all night. Eventually, they found me.

Eric Neel
The scramble to catch Bonds' 700th homer had nothing on the guys attacking this shirt.

I waited eight-plus innings before I gave anyone around me a clue as to why I was here and why I looked the way I did. But in the ninth, I explained the bet to the crew around me.

I promised them my shirt if they'd spare my hide. They let me go and had their way with the shirt.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I capitulated. I gave in too soon. I denied myself (and you) the fun and games of making my way through the post-game parking lot.

True enough.

Eric Neel
More proof that there's nothing a couple hot dog napkins and a Dodger jersey can't fix.

But here's the thing: There were fights breaking out all over the bleachers Friday night. Guys were looking for them and finding them, starting them and finishing them. As often as the fans stood up to see a play on the field, they were standing up to get a better look at a scrum in the stands.

And the energy was moving like ping pong balls on mouse traps in one of those junior high science flicks about catalytic reactions, just hip-hopping all over the joint, one storm leading to another and then another.

And here's the other thing: My health insurance doesn't cover beat-downs.

And here's the last thing: Screw the Giants. And Barry, too. This is who I am.

And these are my people.

Go Blue!

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column appears weekly.




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THE DARK SIDE