Going to a sports bar in L.A. to watch the Dodgers win their first World Series title in 32 years was the communal celebration you’d expect during a pandemic.
LOS ANGELES — You have to give Dodgers fans credit for being consistent. Even if they don’t have to navigate the nightmare that is rush hour traffic around Dodger Stadium, most of them still didn’t arrive to watch the potential clincher for the World Series until at least the third inning.
To be fair, the game started just minutes after most people finished work at 5 p.m. And rush hour traffic through the rest of the city has resumed to distressingly normal levels. But it was still amusing to sit on the outdoor back patio of a popular Culver City sports bar on Tuesday night and watch four groups of two at first pitch swell to 25 people by the end of the game, with stragglers steadily filing in through the seventh inning after most of the game’s dramatics had already taken place.
Perhaps those late arrivals were watching the early stages of the game from their homes, where most are still working over seven months into this pandemic. You can hardly blame them if that’s the case.
If you go to a sports bar to watch the local team try to clinch a championship, a large part of the appeal is interacting in the closest setting you can get to a game-day atmosphere and perhaps making some new friends with the same rooting interest.
Los Angeles watering holes had a tough task in trying to facilitate those kinds of neighborly delights for their customers during the city’s recent run of pandemic-era title wins. They’ve done the best they can while adhering to local regulations regarding social distancing, only seating people outside on makeshift patios and placing tables at least six feet apart.
The environment at Rush Street felt safe enough to encourage a group of essential medical workers, who did their best to liven up the atmosphere with liquor shots and chants, to come out to a bar for the first time in months. The experience was certainly more fun than watching by myself at home, which is really all you can ask for these days. But the rowdy sense of togetherness that’s usually present at these communal watching parties was missing, to a degree.
Sure, the game’s most exciting moments elicited a strong reaction. Mookie Betts’s sixth-inning double down the line delivered the shot of adrenaline that’d been absent up to that point. The subsequent wild pitch that brought home Austin Barnes to tie things up and the groundout that scored Betts to give Los Angeles the lead filled the autumn air with cheers and applause.
It was also, however, a sad reminder of the mess in which we find ourselves. I was able to secure a table upon arriving moments after first pitch without a fuss. The constant buzz you’d want to be present for the team’s first World Series title in 32 years was nowhere to be found. Through the first several innings, the biggest reaction from the hometown fans came after a busboy dropped a glass. The first “Let’s go Dodgers!” chant didn’t break out until the bottom of the eighth. One fan donning a Betts jersey understandably turned down an interview request during the game because he was too nervous, then understandably declined after the game because his girlfriend told him they shouldn’t be interacting with others, even with masks on.
And while it was a heartwarming moment to see Dodgers fans celebrate with their personal groups after Julio Urías struck out Willy Adames, the collective feeling of ecstasy seemed to wear off within a handful of minutes after the final pitch. Most people soon looked downward at their phones in silence to share their joy with those who were far away rather than the fellow fans around them. It did not seem like a raucous release 32 years in the making.
Obviously, there were always going to be some citizens throwing caution to the wind into the night across L.A., but none of the people I spoke to planned on moving to the streets to paint the town blue—especially with the backdrop of Los Angeles County health officials partially pinning a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases on the postseason successes of the Lakers and Dodgers.
“We will stay here and drink our drinks while most of L.A. probably won’t be able to control themselves,” said Nancy Fagoaga, one of the high-spirited medical workers who offered me a shot upon completion of our between-innings interview.
Another patron named Asher Keiso sat by himself, listening to Los Angeles native sons Snoop Dogg and Tupac through ear buds while nursing glasses of sauvignon blanc to calm his nerves throughout the game. He said he was supposed to come with a couple of nurse friends who get held up at work, but decided to show up anyway. His father had groomed him to root for the Dodgers during the Orel Hershiser days that produced the team’s most recent title.
“I think I’ll be happy if they win,” Keiso said about 30 minutes before they, indeed, won. “I’m not gonna burn a police car or anything. I’ll probably smoke a joint to be rebellious in public.”
That laid-back, Californian vibe seemed to reflect most of the fan base. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Los Angeles sports fan outwardly complaining about what’s unfolded over the past few weeks. Likewise, there are few with opposing allegiances who’ll empathize with Dodgers fans. But even after the shattering of a decades-long title drought, some must’ve been returning home feeling a little wistful about what could have been.
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