A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pride And Poise

Are you a dirtball?
Don't be offended; it's actually a compliment. It's the recognition signal that members of the Bay Area Dirtballs (B.A.D., for short) use to identify each other.
According to the rules, if somebody asks you that question and you can't produce your official Dirtball membership card, you have to buy drinks for the house.
I met them about 25 years ago. The Raiders had just moved to Los Angeles, but that didn't faze the Dirtballs. Ever faithful, they would fly, 40-50 strong, to L.A. for the home games, wearing T-shirts specially made for each trip. I still have my shirt from the 1985 home game against Denver, which reads, "Look out, Elway! Here come the Dirtballs!" (The Raiders won, 31-28.)
Their first headquarters was the Solano Club in Albany. Later, they moved to the M&L Club, then the Little Alaska, and finally to their present home, the Blue Moon Saloon in El Cerrito.
On game days they'd meet at the bar at 8 a.m. and start pounding the beers. A bus would pick them up at 9 and take them to Oakland airport for the flight to LAX, where another bus - stocked with beer and an ice chest, of course - would be waiting to take them to the game.
After the game, they'd repair to their home-away-from-home, the Stick'N'Stein in El Segundo, where they'd celebrate the Raider victory (or mourn the occasional loss) until it was time for their flight home to Oakland.
Once, they were on the bus to LAX when they realized that Vern Silva of Pinole was missing. So they doubled back to the Stick'N'Stein, where they found Vern stretched out under the pool table, fast asleep.
Every trip after that, when they arrived at the Stick'N'Stein they would find a pillow and blanket waiting under the pool table for Vern, in case he wanted to give a repeat performance.
Now, I know this makes them sound like a bunch of rowdy drunks, but that couldn't be further from the truth. These are nice, down-to-earth guys - and gals - who like to have a good time, enjoy each other's company and support worthy local causes, including blood drives and Toys For Tots.
And not all of them are Raider fans. As the years went by, some 49er fans found out about it, and they became Dirtballs, too.
When the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995, most of them bought season tickets. But, as Gertrude Stein discovered, there was a different there there.
"It was a whole different crowd of fans," longtime Dirtball Gary Manuel (aka "Bear") says sadly. "That's when the thug element came along.
"Before, it used to be a big meeting place. We'd all meet in Section 121 at halftime and have fun. Sure, there was some pot smoking and drinking, but there were no problems, ever. Then the gang element took over, and gradually all of those people I know let their season tickets go."
So now they watch the games on TV at the Blue Moon Saloon. Some of the oldtimers have passed away, but new Dirtballs are joining up all the time.
"We now have grandchildren of Dirtballs who are Dirtballs," says Jerry Johnson (aka "J.J.").
If you want to meet them, just drop by the Blue Moon after any Raider game. They won't be hard to spot.