LOS ANGELES – When the San Francisco Giants left here seven weeks ago, they left one of their own behind.
Bryan Stow, since airlifted to a Bay Area hospital, opened his eyes this week. I wonder what he saw.
His children, I hope. His family. A future that looks nothing like the ceiling of a hospital room, nothing like the cold confusion of friends – allies – lost in a molten crowd, or the rage of two punks and their staggering violence and cowardice.
Doctors do not know what remains of Bryan Stow, the 42-year-old paramedic savagely beaten in a Dodger Stadium parking lot. They have spoken of an "epic struggle" to keep him stable, so he may continue a fight he did not ask for, that he evidently turned his back to.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck (at microphone) announced the launching of the billboard campaign Tuesday.
In Los Angeles, we see what perhaps Stow did not.
Their faces are expressionless, carved by an artist's pencil from fleeting glimpses by witnesses asked to put a chin and cheekbones on horror. One is bald, the other shaved close, one has dark eyes, the other hazel, one has a mustache, the other a goatee, one is Hispanic, the other might be.
In a city of nearly four million people, they are out there. Or were.
What we know of them lies in a hospital bed, where every day is opening day, March 31, 2011. What we know of them is suspended over freeways and bridges and crowded boulevards, bolted to the sides of buildings, hoisted atop steel poles and fastened to our consciousness.
They hide on 200 billboards across L.A. County and soon will cower on 100 more. They shiver behind enabling friends who secretly must weigh a life made richer by a $200,000 reward over that of the company they keep and a droning conscience.
Ray Baker, a 40-year-old businessman, came to Los Angeles nine years ago from Dayton, Ohio. His employer – Lamar Advertising Co. – holds season tickets at Dodger Stadium. Unbowed by the recent ownership turmoil or on-field unsightliness, Lamar Advertising maintains suites at the ballpark. Baker, as a vice president and general manager at the company, but first as a baseball fan, helps organize office outings to watch the Dodgers.
As the May event drew near, he asked one of his employees if he'd be attending.
"No," the employee said, regretfully. "My wife won't go to Dodger Stadium."
"How come?" Baker asked.
"She's worried about what happened there," he explained.
In the days and weeks that passed, Baker watched games on television. The place looked vacant. He read that attendance was down. He wondered how this was happening.
His office manager, a long-time Dodger fan, had attended opening day at Dodger Stadium, had been in the ballpark the night Stow was jumped, and hadn't returned.
Baker read about the manhunt. He felt for the family, for the children of Bryan Stow.
"It's not right," he thought. "Dodger baseball is synonymous with L.A. It's a big deal. What can I do?"
Lamar Advertising has some 5,000 billboards in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Curious one morning and feeding a gnawing helplessness, he checked his inventory, knowing spring would be slow, that there would be vacancies, that the busy summer months were weeks away.
Baker contacted his corporate lobbyist, who put him in touch with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to discuss donating the billboards. Lamar had 200 sites available that day, and another 100 would come free shortly thereafter.
One of the billboards, near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Marion Avenue a half-mile from Dodger Stadium, looks like the rest. "WANTED," it pleads across the top, "Attempted Murder at Dodger Stadium." It offers a reward, lists a phone number, and bears the police sketches of the two alleged attackers.
The billboard fills a space beside Manuel Lopez's second-story law office, across the street from Friend's Car Wash and O + J Auto Repair. In the middle of the afternoon, it looms over the early arrivers to Dodger Stadium, and the schoolchildren in their baby-blue Converse sneakers, and those few taking a late lunch at La Esquinita Restaurant. Further down the road, more billboards announce the proximity to Dodger Stadium, to Matt Kemp(notes) and Andre Ethier(notes) and Clayton Kershaw(notes) in impossibly white uniforms.
But this is the billboard that speaks to the people of Echo Park and Silver Lake and Chavez Ravine, the neighborhoods that curl up with and around the ballpark. This, and 50 others in the neighborhood, and 150 others around the city, with more to come.
Baker wouldn't say what the billboards are costing him.
"I don't think that's important for the real reason it's getting done," he said. "What's a shame is it takes a tragedy to bring people together like this. And to make people sit down and do what's important to you, and do the right thing. It's so easy to do what you need to do every day and mind your own business.
"It's about finding out who these people are. Hopefully, we'll convince them it's not going away. So, turn yourself in."
Fans arriving at Dodger Stadium for Wednesday's game against the Giants received a flyer with artist sketches of the attack suspects.
Hours before the Dodgers and Giants played Wednesday night, dozens of squad cars dozed in the stadium parking lot beyond the center-field wall. Later, they'd circle the lots, their blue and red lights ablaze. Police presence at the ballpark borders on military, but, yes, the Giants were in town, and so too came the hard reminders of nearly seven weeks before.
In L.A., there's hardly any missing them.
"Beaten up over a T-shirt," he sighed. "There's no room for that."
During a weekend musical gig in Santa Cruz, Giants third base coach Tim Flannery had been approached by several people who know Stow.
"Makes me sick just thinking about it," Flannery said.
If Bryan Stow saw anything at all this week, let it have been hope. And let it have been the comfort that a lot of other folks haven't given up either.
"There's two ways this can feel any better," Baker said. "The first is Bryan Stow walking out of a hospital and having a normal life. On the other hand, if justice was served and there could be some finality to that, some closure to it, that could also help the process.
"I mean, that could have been me. That could have been any of us."