LOS ANGELES -- Die-hard Giants fan Henry Yu will walk into Dodger Stadium on Thursday proudly wearing orange and black, just as he has done for the past 20 years whenever the Giants play their archrivals.
"I always heard the same thing from Dodger fans: 'How many World Series titles do you have?' " Yu said.
This year, for the first time in the half-century of this West Coast rivalry, Yu and the rest of Giants Nation -- yes, it really qualifies as a nation now -- need not shrink away in silence.
The Giants are defending World Series champions. And Yu is literally waving it on high. He paid just more than $1,000 to hire a plane to fly over the stadium for an hour beginning at 3 p.m., trailing a banner with the message, "Dodgers still suck. From SF champs fans."
"This is for all the Giants fans like me," Yu said, "who've taken so much verbal abuse over the years."
The Giants always could be proud of legends and Hall of Famers such as Willie McCovey and Willie Mays, but Los Angeles had those five World Series titles: in 1959, '63, '65, '81 and '88. Until last year, the Dodgers had made four postseason appearances since the Giants' previous playoff berth in 2003.
Current Giants such as Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey downplayed the significance of beginning their title defense in their enemy's den -- maybe because they're still too young to understand the significance.
"It means something, believe me," said announcer Mike
Were Giants players jealous of those Dodgers teams that won it all?
"You think?" said Rick Monday, a Dodgers announcer and member of the 1981 world champions.
Monday offered a deadpan answer when asked how the atmosphere might be different at Chavez Ravine now that the Giants will stride on the field for the first time as defending champs.
"It's opening day for the Dodgers, and the Giants happen to be in town," Monday said, before breaking into a smile. "We were all happy for Bruce Bochy and the Giants organization. In the first few weeks of April, it looked like it was going to be a long, long season for the Giants. It turned out it was. They played all the way to Nov. 1.
"It makes opening day all the more intense. It adds more flavor. It's healthy for the rivalry."
It makes for an interesting situation for new Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. Never before has a Los Angeles manager faced a Giants teams that was the defending champion. Mattingly will be in that position while making his debut on the bench.
"Why not?" Mattingly said. "Bring it on. Let's go."
There's one player caught in the middle: New Dodgers infielder Juan Uribe, whose home run won the NL pennant for the Giants last season but who spurned their offer and instead signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the boys in blue.
"Tell Lincecum to throw me a fastball. I'll be ready," Uribe said. "Changeup? I'll be ready for that too. Bam!"
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti signed Uribe because he needed a run producer who could play multiple infield positions. But you had best believe Colletti also saw the value in stealing an important piece of the Giants' World Series team; Colletti also went hard after Aubrey Huff before the Giants re-signed him to a two-year, $22 million deal.
"Understanding we're rivals, it makes you feel good to see good people and friends of yours experience winning a World Series," said Colletti, who was Giants G.M. Brian Sabean's top lieutenant from 1997-2005. "That said, you always start fresh. Opening day is a rivalry game. It's a divisional game.
"What they accomplished in 2010 won't have any impact on 2011."
While the Giants are favored to repeat as NL West champs among many experts, they won't have an easy road back to the postseason. The Colorado Rockies have a good rotation, a strong bullpen and perhaps the two most explosive offensive players in the division in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
The Dodgers are coming off a disappointing 80-82 season, but they retain many of the young core that took them to consecutive NLCS appearances in 2008-09.
Colletti pointed out that dating to 2007, only five NL teams have played for the pennant. The Phillies advanced to the NLCS three times. The other four teams all came out of the NL West (Dodgers twice, Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks once).
The wild card also has come out of the NL West in three of the past five seasons.
"It's been an underrated division for a long time," Colletti said. "It's a division that requires you to pitch and requires you to execute. In the NL West, I have to believe that more games go either way from the seventh inning and on than any division in baseball."
In other words, the Giants should enjoy their strut into Chavez Ravine. They can look up at Yu's banner during batting practice and have a laugh. But when they button up their road jerseys, the time to crow is over.
"The A's and Dodgers have played that World Series trump card over the Giants for years and years," Krukow said. "Now the Giants are walking into Dodger Stadium as World Series champions, and it hurts those Dodger fans. It really does. It's what this rivalry is all about.
"But once that first pitch is thrown, it's all over. It's in the history books, and you'd better move on. You can't walk around crowing like a morning rooster.
"The 2011 season is a new season, and you cannot rest on your laurels in this game. If you do, you'll get your butt kicked."
For more on the Giants, see Andrew Baggarly's Extra Baggs blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/extrabaggs.