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California wins the Series! But which California?

By William A. Babcock / October 18, 2002



LONG BEACH, CALIF.

Octobers are predictable in the United States. Leaf peepers caravan through Indiana and New England. Minnesota and Wisconsin residents savor their few remaining days of Indian summer. Upstate New York communities prepare their snowplows for the coming onslaught.

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And baseball fans in all but two of the nation's cities cry foul. Why? Their baseball teams did not make this year's World Series.

In Seattle, they're wringing their hands that their team choked in the second half of the season. In Atlanta, folks are resigned once again to having a team that still can't quite get to the big dance. In New York City, Yankees fans – baseball's most knowledgeable and obnoxious adherents – find themselves in speechless disbelief that the brass ring has eluded them. Don't even mention the Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox, the sport's lovable, perennial losers.

But while there may be little or no joy in most of the nation's Mudvilles this October, California is pulling out all the stops as the Golden State prepares for baseball civil war. Never mind that the economy has tanked, that President Bush's saber rattling has reached cacophonic proportions, or that world terrorism goes unchecked. Anywhere from four to seven baseball games are about to be played on California soil, and the line has been drawn in the Pacific Coast sand in this war between the state.

Actually, northern and southern Californians have been divided for many years. But this year the schism seems more pronounced, as those in well-worn Birkenstocks are pulling for the San Francisco Giants, and the La-La Land crowd is rooting for the Anaheim Angels. The only point of agreement is that in the end, a California team will win the World Series.

It's not that all of Northern California's baseball fans usually root for the Giants. After all, San Francisco's cross-town rivals, the Oakland Athletics, have a sizable following. Nor do all of those in the south cheer for the Angels, as the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers have many die-hard fans. But in a state resplendent with baseball riches, old rivalries have now been set aside.

Team loyalties and logic have nothing to do with it. Nor has National vs. American League rivalry. We're talking geography here. Forget for a couple of weeks that the Giants' Barry Bonds has been surly for most of his career and has been widely criticized for supposedly being steroid enhanced. Bond's now the adopted darling of the northern crowd.

And then we have the lowly Angels, who have not managed a post season win in the franchise's entire 41-year history and have been overshadowed most years by their Los Angeles National League neighbor. This week everyone in the south seems to be sporting the Angels' colors – red caps, red shirts, you name it, as long as it's red – and the team shop in Anaheim has lines usually reserved in these parts for Hollywood openings.

By any logical assessment, California should be two states. Both the population, edging toward 35 million, and land mass are huge. Secession conversations seem as prolific as perfect, sun-filled days, and there has been talk this year of breaking off pieces from what now is Los Angeles. The fastest growing population of students at California universities tends not to be Caucasians or Asians or Hispanics, but "other," where, for example, a teenager's mother is Filipino and father is Argentine.

In addition to questions of identity are issues of natural resources and the environment. How to irrigate the state's "valley" farms, where the water should and will come from, and whether to shore up or tear down existing dams. How to save redwoods, the state's native golden trout, sea-run salmon, and numerous species of wildflowers, while accommodating an unending onslaught of developers and immigrants.

If these aren't enough problems for any 10 states, throw a gubernatorial election into the mix, pitting a largely ineffective Democratic incumbent with a Republican whose agenda seems to have fallen off the right end of the political spectrum.

So as folks in the rest of the nation's 49 states put up storm windows, pull out winter coats, and tune into football and basketball games, people here have their October priorities well set. At least for the next couple of weeks.

• William A. Babcock is professor and chair of the Department of Journalism at California State University, Long Beach.

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