The day dawned bright, hot and loud at Union Station. Trains, buses and cars came and went. On the corner facing Alameda Street, demonstrators sang and danced and drummed and shook maracas in protest of President Trump's decision to rescind the program that protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation. To one side, tents and trucks concealed a film shoot.
Out front, the place had taken a blue hue, with hundreds of Dodgers fans wearing shirts and jerseys with names that reflected the past, present and future of their team: Jackie Robinson and Fernando Valenzuela, Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Julio Urias.
One man walked past with a Cody Bellinger jersey — not on his body, but slung over his shoulder, protected by a plastic bag from the dry cleaner.
This was the staging ground on a recent Saturday for one flank of an invasion of San Diego: four buses from Union Station, three from Pomona, one each from Downey, Thousand Oaks and East Los Angeles, plus fans driving on their own and converging on Petco Park from all points north.
Eight years ago, Alex Soto chartered a bus to San Francisco, a fun way for him and his friends to see the Dodgers on the road. Those road trips became his hobby, and then his full-time job. That first trip had 55 fans. This one, the largest so far, was less a road trip than a mobilization.
Pantone 294 — the fan club’s name references the official shade of Dodger blue — hit it big twice in the past year.
The group invaded Yankee Stadium with more than a thousand fans last September, throwing out what the New York Times called a “guerrilla welcome mat” for the Dodgers, seizing the traditional Yankees fan "Roll Call" as its own and amplifying it by a few decibels, chanting the name of each Dodgers player in the field until he waved.
Then, in July, its volunteers populated a bunker at Dodger Stadium around the clock, manning as many computers as the Dodgers could set up and voting Turner into the All-Star game.
“They’re loud,” Turner said. “They make it feel like a home game when we’re on the road.”
There might be no organization more popular with group sales representatives of the Dodgers’ opponents.
“If you go to Frisco by yourself for a Dodger game, you can feel a little intimidated,” said Josue Hernandez of Los Angeles. “If you’re going with 1,100 people, it’s like going with an army.”
Pantone 294 sold 2,100 tickets for San Diego, one to the guy who brought the Bellinger jersey but put off wearing it.
“I’m definitely going to get messy on the bus,” Sergio Diego of Los Angeles said. “You’ve got to show respect to the jersey.”
As the buses start rolling toward San Diego, old friends and new faces listen as Desiree Garcia, who runs Pantone 294 with Soto, talks about how the group is collecting supplies for families affected by Hurricane Harvey. Three days after the San Diego trip, Garcia will be one of the fans driving those donations to Texas.
And, at the game that night, the Padres will be giving out bobblehead dolls. For the fans that do not wish to keep the bobbleheads, Pantone 294 offers to redistribute them to elementary schools in San Diego. Hey, why would a Dodgers fan want to keep a miniaturized replica of a nodding Wil Myers?
“For most of you,” Garcia said cheekily, “you’re not going to know who that person is.”
After a couple rounds of “Let’s Go Dodgers!” chants, the enthusiasm on the ride fades to a sustainable level. There is a man with a blue sombrero. There are women with blue lipstick and blue nail polish and blue earrings. There are coolers with food and beverages, alcoholic and otherwise. There are people talking in English and Spanish, laughing, and occasionally singing along to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In the song, the lyrics are: “Take me to the place I love/Take me all the way.” On the bus: “Take me to the place I love/To the Dodger game.”
There is one group of 10 family members, another of 15. The ride takes five hours, with traffic stalled from San Clemente to Carlsbad, and yet no one sounds too antsy or upset.
This is not about luxury. Some major league teams offer road trips with first-class hotels and box seats and meet-and-greet sessions with players. Soto and Garcia run Pantone 294 out of a small office in an unmarked one-story building two miles west of Dodger Stadium, selling bleacher seats and T-shirts, independent of the team.
“We’re able to accommodate a different demographic — middle class, lower class,” Garcia said.
You might meet a player anyway. When Pantone 294 visited Miami on the weekend after the All-Star game, Turner welcomed fans aboard a boat cruise, thanking them for voting him into the game.
“He literally shook 360 sweaty palms,” Garcia said.
In 2013, his first year as the Padres’ executive chairman, Ron Fowler told The Times he didn’t mind if Dodgers’ fans filled Petco Park while the Padres rebuilt their team.
“If the Dodgers want to send more people down, come on down,” Fowler said then. “I’m glad they’re spending money in San Diego.”
On this day, Dodgers fans were everywhere, flowing out of Petco Park after the first game of a doubleheader, deliriously running into fans arriving for the second game.
As Pantone 294 members marched the three blocks from a bar to Petco, chanting “Let’s Go Dodgers!” and stopping traffic by spilling into the street, Dodgers fans in a row of other bars along J Street cheered them on. The blue-shirted fans in the bars snapped cellphone pictures of the blue-shirted fans in the streets, and vice versa.
The march included one fan in a wheelchair, a bachelor party, and quite a few kids, including Katy Vargas’ 2-year-old son, Abraham. Her family lives in enemy territory in San Diego; her husband wore a Dodgers flag as a cape and hoisted the boy atop his shoulders.
“He actually sits through a whole game,” Vargas said.
For the Dodgers, this game was a disaster. Starting pitcher Yu Darvish did not last four innings; the game lasted nearly four hours. With little anticipation for victory, the remaining anticipation among the fans group was for the unveiling of the famous and enormous Dodgers flag, the one that flies for a few seconds whenever the group goes to a game and attracts the attention of television cameras.
On this night, the flag would not fly.
The original flag measured 30 feet by 30 feet. The Dodgers, of all teams, took it away. The Dodgers’ flagship radio station bought the group a new flag, 30 feet by 60 feet, so large that it has to be carried into a ballpark in pieces and then put together.
The Dodgers are fine with the flag now, Garcia said. The Padres were not, and their security guards discovered and confiscated all four pieces of it during bag checks at park entrances.
The Padres returned the pieces after the game. The group had been warned not to bring the flag, team spokesman Craig Hughner said. The Padres do not allow flags larger than four feet by eight feet, he said, so as to ensure a fan’s view of the game would not be blocked.
Pantone 294 paid the Padres more than $40,000 for game tickets, according to Garcia, buying out almost all of the right-field bleachers. Garcia said she did not understand how a fan sitting in her group would have objected to a Dodgers flag flying above his or head for a few moments.
“Game on for next year,” she said. “We’re up to the challenge. We have eight months to figure out how the flag will be getting in.”
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