Game 9: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

It’s time for Dodger baseball.

The West Coast Tour begins at Chavez Ravine in a contest between the two teams that first brought baseball to the left coast in the 1950s: the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a rivalry going back 130 years and 3,000 miles.

The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers were cross-town rivals for two decades before the Orioles left Baltimore for the Bronx in 1903 to eventually become the Yankees. For 35 years, the three teams split the Big Apple into three strong and proud fan bases – especially in Brooklyn. But in 1958, westward expansion caused MLB owners to dream of new vistas as well and the Giants and Dodgers – to the shock and chagrin of their passionate fans – bolted from their busy neighborhoods for SF and LA.

When the Dodgers first landed in LA, they played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for four years and promptly winning the World Series in 1959 thanks to one of the best 1-2 starting pitcher combos to ever play the game: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

In the 1940s, there was a low income development proposed for an area just north of downtown Los Angeles. It was populated by a few poor Mexican-American communities who, in ethically questionable fashion, were forced to leave the area so the city could expand into the hills surrounding the burgeoning city. After the housing development fell through, Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, purchased the land as the new site for his ball club.

Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962 and today looks almost exactly as it did 51 years ago, and the Dodgers work hard to keep it looking pristinely old school every year. I’ve heard they repaint the seats every off-season and that they employ a gardening crew for the outside of the stadium. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and its hilltop location puts it (literally) one step above most.*

* – Some baseball fan from Colorado is fidgeting wanting to make a “mile high” reference. I see you, Rockies. But you’re not on a hill, and that’s my point here.

It is the oldest ballpark in the MLB not named Wrigley or Fenway, and it survives as the only unmodified ballpark of its generation (along with Oakland…but we’ll save that compare/contrast conversation for Sunday).

The only bummer about Dodger Stadium: traffic.

Oh my. Now I’m from Kansas City, which is one of the most vehicle-accessible cities in the nation, so the traffic in Los Angeles is something I flat out don’t understand. How do they not have a better public transit situation? Where the heck is everyone going? Is there any time of day when the roads aren’t completely congested?

Our trip to the ball park was from UCLA to Chavez Ravine. Which is __ miles according to Google Maps. It took us well over an hour to get there.

I’ll never complain about my 15 minute drive out to Kauffman Stadium again.

The crazy traffic causes a slightly transient attendance too. About half (no exaggeration) the ballpark arrives late and leave early. It’s a nightmare. Granted, we were seeing the home team take on a hated division rival, but still, it’s a Thursday. Announced attendance was 43,068.

2014-inflatable-chairIt was Inflatable Chair Night last night. Which, as you might expect, turned into a somewhat poor decision on the part of the Dodgers’ marketing department as dozens of chairs became beach balls and started bouncing around the stands.

In the 1970s, when Bill Veeck was the GM of the Chicago White Sox, he was always trying to came up with goofy gimmicks to draw more people into the game. The players wore shorts as their uniform for part of a season. He hired a midget to play for his team once to make the strike zone smaller. But his best blunder was Disco Night at Comiskey Park – they gave away EP records to all the fans, and all the records turned into frisbees launched around the ballpark and all over the field. They had to cancel the game halfway through for safety concerns.

This wasn’t as bad as that. But how didn’t they see this coming?

One older gentleman near me with headphones on was NOT amused by the crowd’s antics. He was all business and kept his arms crossed clearly fuming over all the action.

As I looked around, I noticed quite a few Dodgers fans sporting the headphones/earbuds. The reason is an obvious one: Vin Scully.

Vincent Edward Scully got his start into professional broadcasting when Red Barber hired him to do radio broadcasts for CBS in the late 40’s. The story goes that Vin was broadcasting a Red Sox game on a freezing cold day at Fenway. There wasn’t a press box for him to call from, so he called the game the roof. And since he had planned on being in the box, he hadn’t brought a coat or gloves either.

Yet he never once mentioned being so cold on the air.

Red Barber, who called the Brooklyn Dodgers games back then, was so impressed that he tabbed young Vin to be his successor as the voice of the Dodgers when they made the move out west. Vin has been with the team ever since.

To many, myself included, Vin Scully’s voice is baseball. It’s smooth and rich, insightful and clever, and baseball fans across the nation turn on Vin’s call of a late night Dodgers game after their own team’s game has concluded back East.

Vin’s voice is pumped into the concourses of Dodger Stadium throughout the game, which actually makes the concessions and gift shops a little less rowdy while listening to his soothing call.

Speaking of concessions. I wasn’t there for more than 5 minutes before getting a Dodger Dog in my mouth. It felt a bit overhyped to me, but it was delicious none-the-less. I added mustard, onions and ketchup, and dripped a giant glob on my jacket around bite number 4. I paired it with a Dos Equis, which felt appropriate considering the past and present Latino culture around Chavez Ravine.

20140509-074417.jpgThe Dodgers are an impressive franchise. Six time World Series champs, 8 Cy Young pitchers in 11 Different seasons, plus 12 Rookie of the Year awards.

Names like Jackie Robinson & Branch Rickey, Koufax & Drysdale, Kirk Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Tommy Lasorda, and Vin Scully are legendary in Dodger history. And today the team – with the financial help of Magic Johnson and others – has one of the better (and most expensive) lineups and pitching rotations in the MLB.

What intrigues me most about this team – and this Giants /Dodgers matchup – is the struggle that took place back east after the teams skipped town in ’58.

Suddenly, the teams that had been foundational for the game and had created passionate fan-bases in NY, had lost their identity overnight. Now what do we do? Who do we root for? How do we follow a team that’s suddenly 3.000 miles away?

A couple options:

  1. Try to follow your baseball soul from across the country.
  2. Root for the Yankees.
  3. Quit on baseball for a decade until the Mets show up.

None of which are quality options, but those were the choices New Yorkers were stuck with.

I wonder how this translates into how we react when our life, our relationships, our job, or our faith gets tough. Do we abandon our beliefs or our communities when we are abandoned? What happens to our commitments when those we’re committed to don’t return their loyalty*?

* – Side note: when we pulled into the parking lot for the game, the song “Loyal” by Chris Brown & Lil Wayne was playing on the radio. Terrible song, but an odd coincidence…

Our options are fight, flight or freeze.

Which is what Brooklyn and New York fans were presented with as well. Fight the move and keep trying to follow the team from a distance. Run away from the pain and become a Yankees fan instead. Or freeze for a decade in hopes that someday a successful franchise (or the Mets) will once again be in their midst.

Fight. Flight. Or freeze.

Personally I’m a runner. If something gets too painful or difficult, my gut tells me to move on to something else more fun or exciting. On the positive side, I’m always seeking new adventures, but on the negative, I often don’t give those experiences enough time to sink in and transform me.

I can sometimes be a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, and it takes intentionality and effort on my part to dig deeper into things to extract meaning. It’s more painful that way, sure, and it would be way easier to move on to something new (read: tonight’s game in Seattle!), but sitting in the moment longer allows transformation and depth to transform me.

Or maybe it’s a divorce or a friendship turned sour that makes us face these options. Which is your gut move? Do you have one?

Perhaps there’s a bonus option of simply sitting in the pain instead of running, fighting or being paralyzed by it. What happens when we acknowledge pain and allow it to sit with us for a time? Can that bring about transformation? Is that beneficial?

I was chatting with my friend, Tim, about this just a couple days ago. He and I are similar in that we seek new experiences and run from pain. He said some faint brilliant: “When we run from pain, we are afraid. But when we stop running and let our pain “catch” up to us, we are no longer afraid.” Isn’t that great? Instead, we’re growing, learning and maturing. We are being transformed into something new.

I’d love to get some insights on this from some old school Brooklyn fans about this experience and how they dealt with the struggle. How does one align themselves after being abandoned like that? Very interesting stuff. Excited to explore this more in depth later.

For now, on to the game notes.

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Game Notes:

Starting pitching was terrific both ways in this one.

Ryan Vogelsong went 7.1 innings, 5 hits, 1 run for the Gigantes. He was perfect through 3.1 innings until Puig broke it up with a hard grounder to Brandon Crawford’s left. Crawford got a glove on it, but couldn’t make the play. I’d’ve given him an E6, but the home scorekeeper gave Puig the hit.

Josh Beckett was just as solid going 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 1 run. Beckett walked a few early, but settled down and really only made one mistake the whole evening when he hung a curve to Brandon Hicks who hit it over the 360′ sign in left field.

20140509-074330.jpgIt doesn’t show up in the box score, but Brandon Crawford defense was probably the difference in the game. He made 2 different diving plays at short, in the 4th and the 9th, that robbed two singles. The one off the bat of Hanley Ramirez in the 9th was backed up by a Brandon Hicks highlight dive too off Gonzalez’s bat, and if those balls had gotten through the infield, it would’ve been 1st and 3rd with 0 out for the Dodgers, bottom 9. Instead, Kemp struck out to end the inning and the Dodgers went quietly

It’s a bummer when games like this are decided on something lame. Last night the Dodgers bullpen walked the bases loaded with J.P. Howell and Jamey Wright pitching. Giants scored two on a sac fly and a single to break the tie and take the game 3-1.

Also, it’s important that I mention that I did purchase a Dodgers foam finger.

Nine Down. Twenty-one to go.

Up Next: Seattle Mariners.

-apc.

The West Coast Tour

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Let’s recap.

The tour began in Cincinnati for the Opening Day. Then it came home to Kansas City and over to St. Louis for the home openers in the two ballparks where I feel home. Then the tour took me east to west across the southern part of the country for what I called The Smorgasbord Tour: Atlanta, Arlington, Houston, Arizona and San Diego.

Exploring each of these ballparks, talking with the fan base, experiencing the traditions and taking in the the atmosphere, have sparked some significant conversations and with each visit, I find that the book I am working on is slowly being framed in new ways.

Opening Day was so full of hope; visiting my “home” ballparks was an exercise in self-discovery which then spilled over into Atlanta, Arlington and Houston. Arizona sparked the the concept of conversion, and the green space in San Diego began planting thoughts of creation and Creator, gardens and Gardener.

And after two weeks back home, it’s time for the fourth phase of my ballpark tour…

The West Coast.

Tomorrow evening, my wife and I depart for Los Angeles, then on to Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco.

Here’s the list of ballparks, games and probable pitching matchups I’ll be seeing this week…*

  • 5/8 – San Francisco @ LA Dodgers (Vogelsong vs Beckett)
  • 5/9 – Kansas City @ Seattle (Vargas vs Maurer)
  • 5/10 – Washington @ Oakland (Roark vs Gray)
  • 5/12 – Atlanta @ San Francisco (Harang vs Lincecum)

* – Originally, I had the Angels on my list for tomorrow night, but a flight mix up is getting me to Los Angeles a few hours later than I had planned. Thankfully, my sister-in-law graduates from UCLA in mid-June and I’ll be back in the area to catch the Halos then. Phew.

Lots to love in this lineup.

First of all, and this is no offense to those I’ve already visited, but I think the ballparks are about to up their game immensely.

Dodger Stadium is the oldest ballpark not named Wrigley or Fenway.

Safeco Field is one of the more intriguing destinations. The roof is so unique, and Seattle just feels so far away.

I got to walk through AT&T park a couple winters ago. It was actually set up for a NCAA bowl game. Gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the Coke bottle and giant glove beyond left field have served as my Facebook banner ever since (image above).

And then there’s Oakland.

O.Co Coliseum is widely understood to be the worst ballpark in the MLB. The sewers backup in the locker rooms a few times a season. It’s one of the last football-convertible ballparks around, and the giant moveable grandstands in center field – known as Mount Davis, named after the late Raiders’ owner Al Davis – is a complete eye sore. The foul territory is enormous and pretty much anywhere you sit places you way too far away from the action.

However, I’m excited to see Sonny Gray in person. He was just tabbed as the AL Pitcher of the Month for April. He’s 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA so far this season. If the same Nationals team shows up in Oakland that did (or didn’t) in Atlanta, it should be a fun game to cheer for the home team.

I get to see the Royals play again. This time in Seattle and this time it’s Vargas instead if Ventura. Bummed it’s not King Felix too. Can’t win em all.

When Clayton Kershaw was making his comeback from injury, it started to look like he was going to get his first start back around this week. Instead, it’s tonight, and we’ll see Josh Beckett instead against Vogelsong. Still should be a solid matchup, but honestly, the mystique and excitement of seeing a game at the Chavez Ravine makes the game itself less crucial. However, If Yasiel Puig isn’t back from his encounter with the outfield wall by Thursday, I’ll be pretty bummed.

Finally, the marquee matchup of this week: Aaron Harang versus Tim Lincecum. Harang has been phenomenal – he threw 6 innings, 5 hits, 1 run when I saw him in ATL. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner, hasn’t been great yet this year, and it’s probably his haircut that’s the issue. Really excited about this one.

Get ready for another series of ballpark posts from out west…and probably prepare for some late night ball game live-tweeting too.

-apc.