Home away from home

May 14, 2014

As a kid, Sundays were family days in my household. We started off with church in the morning then to breakfast afterward and after that, it was straight back home for sports.

As the day progressed more family members would arrive and they didn’t come empty handed. They brought 24 packs of beer, carne asada, homemade potato salad and homemade chili. We were just waiting for the game to start.

With a Laker or Dodger game blaring from the living room TV set, great food all around, and younger cousins and me trying to sneak in sips of beer here and there, and the enjoyment of having all of my family under one roof, it wasn’t difficult to see why Sunday was a great day in my family.

Take a good look around Los Angeles and it’s clear that the majority of the occupants in this city are Latinos. Some arrived decades ago or others within the past 10 to 20 years.

However, regardless of when they arrived, there is always one thing that we all have in common – our love for sports. Generations of Latino immigrants have marked their arrival in L.A. by embracing our local sports teams. There might have been struggle of adapting to the new way of life in a new country, but there was always the doors to Dodger Stadium and the Forum were always wide open.

Many of the Latinos in L.A. don’t really have a choice of what teams to root for when they first arrive here unless they already have a good knowledge of American sports. But the teams we have here aren’t that bad to pick from.

We have our six-time major league baseball championship team of the Dodgers and our 16-time national basketball championship team of the Lakers and the Clippers.

Aside from those teams, we also have the professional hockey team of the Kings and two major universities with UCLA and USC. With all these great franchises set up around the city, picking one isn’t a difficult choice.

Like many of those Latinos, I myself am one of those second-generation fans that have been here for more than 20 years and, in that time, I have followed in the footsteps of my older family members and joined the ever-growing army of being Dodger and Laker faithful.

I was provided to a ringside seat in terms of experiencing what Latino families and the way we rooted for and celebrated our teams.

Once everybody in the family got together on the weekend, the first topic of conversation was always about a midweek game or great play that was missed. And this wasn’t just back when I was younger, this continues to this day and of course having a couple packs of beer and the barbecue going has always been part of it, too.

When new family members would arrive in L.A., it wasn’t long before they caught on to what teams to root for and knew it wasn’t wise to speak bad about the Dodgers or Lakers. However, a few family rivalries were born that same way. I can recall uncles and cousins deciding to cheer for the rival teams or just a different team all together.

Whether we were all watching a Raider game and someone decided to become a Rams fan on the spot or someone changing Dodger blue for Angel red, it always happened. But, at the same time, it was these rivalries that made the game even that much more special. We weren’t yelling and cursing at the television anymore – we were yelling at each other.

Even if part of the family was divided when it came to sports teams, that didn’t mean we wouldn’t have a great time together. Just having everyone under one roof and enjoying the moment as a family was what made it all worth it. The overall feeling of just being a fan and rooting for your team was always fun and still is.

Growing up in Hawthorne gave me the advantage of experiencing the Lakers and Kings firsthand since the stadium they called home, The Great Western Forum, was so close I could have ridden my bicycle up to it even though my parents would never let me. Los Angeles sports teams have always been a huge part of my family and continue to be to this day.

One of my uncles is a chef in a restaurant and doesn’t speak very good English other than talking about anything that has to do with food in the restaurant or how to make it. However, if you get him talking about the San Diego Chargers, he’ll name every player on the offensive line and share what defense in the NFL has been dominating recently.

The Latino fan base has a large impact on teams in the city. According to Dodger marketing demographics, the Dodgers attract more than one million Latino fans in a single season. That’s 42 percent of their fan base.

About half of the seats at games are filled with Latino fans. You see us with groups of friends, you see us in families, you see a boyfriend and girlfriend, you see us all wearing that Dodger blue and you see us proud.

We’re proud to be at Chavez Ravine on that sunny midday game, calling out of work sick because we got free tickets at the last minute or huddled together on the infield for Friday night fireworks after the game.

Latino fans being everywhere at Dodger Stadium is the way it’s been for about three decades now starting back in the early 1980s with “Fernandomania.” Fernando Valenzuela was a Mexican pitcher discovered by the Dodgers scouting team in Mexico when he was 19.

When he arrived at Dodger Stadium and made his debut, it was the start of something magical that’s been going on for more than 30 years. Latino fans filled the stadium and gave L.A. a new heartbeat in those years and it’s continued up until this day with Latino players on the Dodger rosters.

Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe, and Hanley Ramirez have all made a connection with the Latino fan base that’s much stronger here in the city from the charity work they do to just showing their face in the community.

Tickets at $20 (and for the good seats), beer for reasonable prices, and a stadium that was so alive you felt it almost had a heart beat every time there was a called strike or an out is what Dodger Stadium is all about. Those days are what paved the way for Latino fans now and what allows us now to take that trip up to Chavez Ravine and enjoy a game on a warm summer night.

The Latino community as a whole is great for L.A. and its teams. It gave the teams a deeper sense of togetherness with the community. From “Fernandomania” in the ‘80s to the “Renew Blue” motto that is going on now after the Guggenheim partners bought the team and Earvin “Magic” Johnson as the new face of the organization, it is clear to see that the Latino fan base for the Dodgers is going strong and will always have a big part to play in the ball club.

The Lakers have been a championship franchise for decades in the NBA. Latino fans have been a huge part of the Lakers fan base for decades but it wasn’t until “Showtime” came to The Great Western Forum in Inglewood that it truly exploded.

With Magic Johnson leading the charge for the Lakers at the Forum, the fan base in the city just grew and grew to the huge following we have today. Like my uncle with his NFL knowledge, my father-in-law is almost the same way. His English isn’t very good. He immigrated to L.A. in his early teens and even though he loves soccer more than any other sport, he can sure chop it up with me about the 1980s Lakers.

Like many older Latinos here, he can remember the days when he would go to the Coliseum to watch the then Los Angeles Raiders play and he makes sure to make fun of me for being such a Kobe Bryant fan as opposed to the “Showtime” Lakers of the ‘80s.

He can name all of the starters for the Lakers from the ‘80s as well as some of the bench players. Although the Lakers and Kings have since packed their bags and moved to the Staples Center downtown, the following of Latino fans has not backed down, it’s just grown over the years.

There is even a certain time of the year the NBA has adopted as “Latino Nights” in which teams go as far as changing their team names from English to Spanish.

No matter how many fans L.A. teams may have, it’s safe to say that many of those fans are Hispanic and for some franchises, it is almost half of the total fan base.

We will always have a love for sports and an even deeper love for teams right here in our own community and as long as our family roots are dug in deep with the home team, we will never stop cheering them on.