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Giants-Dodgers rivalry turns ugly off the field again

SAN FRANCISCO —The young man, a plumber’s apprentice, had taken a couple of days off, driving to San Francisco for a reunion with his father and brother. A little before midnight he was dead, stabbed by strangers near a nightclub.

But as word of 24-year-old Jonathan Denver’s killing spread Thursday, it became clear that this was the latest turn in a saga that stretched back more than a century — to the roots of one of the most storied and bitter rivalries in American sports.

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Authorities said Denver was wearing Los Angeles Dodgers apparel at the time of the attack, and was involved in an altercation with Giants fans. The rivalry between the two teams has routinely spilled off the field. At times it has carried a terrible price — as when Bryan Stow, a 42-year-old paramedic, was savagely beaten outside Dodger Stadium in 2011, targeted because he was wearing Giants clothing.

“The fact that anybody got in a beef over the Giants versus Dodgers and someone lost their life — it’s just senseless,” San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday.

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Denver’s father, Robert Preece, is a Dodgers fan and sometimes worked security at Dodger Stadium, the team confirmed.

“The pain that this has caused … is unimaginable,” the Dodgers organization said in a statement. “Words are not enough to describe our sadness.”

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The Dodgers lost, 6-4, Wednesday night to the San Francisco Giants. Denver was there, but left the game a little early. With his father, brother, his father’s girlfriend and another friend, he went to a bar a few blocks from the Giants’ AT&T; Park.

The group was in the South of Market neighborhood, on a stretch of Third Street that is jammed with commuter traffic in the mornings but transformed into a baseball pilgrim’s corridor on game nights — sometimes with thousands of people headed from the stadium to a nearby public transit station.

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The scene can get rowdy, but is almost never violent, said Mitch Brown, 53, a local property manager. The bars that night were full but calm, said Hal Coleman, who was tending bar at Pedro’s Cantina. In fact, a lot of the crowd was Dodgers fans, he said. The Dodgers have had a riveting season and are headed to the playoffs.

“I think Giants fans have pretty much given up on the season,” he said.

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Denver, who was wearing Dodgers apparel, was walking along 3rd Street when he and the others encountered a group of people who were going to a club, authorities said. One of the men in the other group may have been wearing a Giants cap, police said, and there was some jawing between the groups over the rivalry.

The encounter became physical. At first no one was seriously injured, then it erupted again a short time later. It ended when Denver realized that he had been stabbed. He died a short time later at San Francisco General Hospital.

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“Just a good, good kid,” said Cas Smith, owner of North Coast Plumbing in Fort Bragg, Calif., where Denver lived and had worked for about two years.

Authorities said Thursday they were interviewing two men, ages 18 and 21, in connection with the crime. The men, whom Suhr declined to name, had not been charged.

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“They’re not free to go,” he said. “They are talking.”

Police said they have the name of a third potential suspect and the first name of a fourth.

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The Dodgers and Giants first met in the 19th century, with both franchises located in New York, and the rivalry continued when they moved west in 1958. Combined, the teams could offer a full roster of baseball royalty — Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider; Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays.

But the rivalry has at times degenerated into violence, on and off the field.

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In 1965, at Candlestick Park, the Giants’ Juan Marichal attacked Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat. A Dodgers fan shot and killed a Giants fan in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in 2003. In March 2011, Stow, a Santa Cruz paramedic and Giants fan, was attacked in a Dodger Stadium parking lot.

Stow is back home, still recovering from the attack after numerous hospitalizations and surgeries. Several fundraisers have been held for the Stow family, including one this week at AT&T; Park.

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Denver was an unlikely candidate to be caught up in the rivalry.

“I don’t think he was a big baseball fan,” Smith said. But, said Louie Padilla, 63, who lives next to Denver’s father in Alhambra: “He loved his dad very much.”

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This week he asked to take Wednesday and Thursday off work for a mini-reunion. Denver lived with his brother in Fort Bragg, and they were planning to join their father, who was traveling to San Francisco for part of a late-season, three-game series.

Smith praised Denver’s character, saying that he would help an elderly person across the street, and recalling that as a teenager, Denver used to come by his house and pull weeds.

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Denver was planning to become a journeyman plumber, which required five years of training as an apprentice.

Denver was “dedicated to learning the trade,” he said. “He really had a thirst for knowledge.”

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Records show that Denver was arrested twice this year for alcohol-related offenses.

He pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in August, after he was pulled over by a Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy for driving with a cracked front windshield and no front license plate. This month, he was arrested at the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show on suspicion of public intoxication, authorities said.

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Just last weekend, Denver worked off some of his community-service hours associated with those charges at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

“He got all that behind him,” Smith said. “He was just a young kid that made a couple mistakes.”

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San Francisco, and Giants fans in particular, appeared stunned by Denver’s death.

“I don’t like the Dodgers,” said J Wheeless, 34, a San Francisco chef who has a Giants logo tattooed on his left forearm. “But it’s a team. It’s a game — one we all learned to play as kids.... Every time I go to a game, there’s always a friendly banter between fans. I’ve personally never encountered any hatred. I think this is a bunch of meatheads and ignorant individuals.”

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Dodgers fans, too, were unsettled.

Dee Audette, 45, a Dodgers season ticket-holder, flew to San Francisco for this week’s series. She has a tattoo of famed sportscaster Vin Scully on her right arm, and was at AT&T; Park five hours before Thursday’s game — waving to players on the team bus as it pulled into the stadium.

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She said she and her companion had garlic fries thrown at them during the first game of the series, and ping-pong balls the second.

“We just laughed it off because we didn’t want to have any problems. We just want to have a good time,” she said. “We were walking down the street and we were talking to an officer and he advised us: ‘Be careful.’”

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Bonnie Stow, Bryan Stow’s sister, released a statement on behalf of the family: “We are saddened by this senseless killing and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim’s family.”

The Giants organization called the killing “horrific.”

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“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” the team said. “While details are still emerging, we want to be clear that there is absolutely no place in our community for this type of senseless violence.”

The organization said there would be a heightened police presence at Thursday night’s game, and throughout the Giants’ last three games of the season.

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The team also said it would observe a moment of silence for Denver prior to Thursday’s game.

The two teams have played each other more than 2,000 times since 1884, a rivalry that has resulted in a virtual draw — 1,200 wins for the Giants; 1,174 wins for the Dodgers.

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lee.romney@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com

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scott.gold@latimes.com

Times staff writers Joseph Serna in Los Angeles and Dylan Hernandez in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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