Turn­ing the road into Blue heaven

From San Diego to New York, Pan­tone 294 roots on Dodgers

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Bill Shaikin with names that re­flected the past, present and fu­ture of their team: Jackie Robin­son and Fer­nando Valen­zuela, Matt Kemp and

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 im­mi­grants from de­por­ta­tion. To one side, tents and trucks con­cealed a film shoot.

Out front, the place had taken on a blue hue, with hun­dreds of Dodgers fans wear­ing shirts and jer­seys

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 f lank 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 who 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 of 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 first­class 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 f lags larger than 4 feet by 8 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 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.”

Hayne Pal­mour IV San Diego Union-Tri­bune

JONATHAN RO­DRIGUEZ holds up a sign as the Dodgers’ Pan­tone 294 club gath­ers at a San Diego bar.

Pho­to­graphs by Hayne Pal­mour IV San Diego Union-Tri­bune

IT’S LIKE a day at the beach for Ivan Rivera and other mem­bers of the Pan­tone 294 club dur­ing a re­cent game at San Diego’s Petco Park. The Dodgers’ fans bought out al­most all of the right-field bleach­ers.

ABRA­HAM CASTILLO shows patches on his jacket that sig­nify trips to var­i­ous cities by Pan­tone 294.

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