Thursday, September 3, 2015

Return to Dodger Stadium

All photos of Dana Point and Dodger Stadium available on Flickr.

Megan and I were in the greater Los Angeles area for a wedding this past weekend, and of course we found time to fit a game in.  Come on, did you think I was going to fly all the way across the country in the middle of summer and not watch ball?  Even though I have been to LA before, I didn't fully understand until this weekend just how spread out the city is.  When we were on the Tour I just attributed the long drive times to the LA traffic, but on top of that, from one end of the metro area to the other is over 100 miles.  That pretty much ruled out any California League game this weekend, since we were in Laguna Beach, which is almost as close to San Diego as it is to downtown LA.  After seeing that the Angels weren't home, we decided on a Dodger game, which was relatively close to where my friend Stu lives in Pasadena.  He and his wife Silvia were down for the wedding as well and we coerced them into going along and driving us up to the park, with a quick stop for some more beach time in neighboring Dana Point on the way.  Thankfully the game was moved to a Sunday night game, which afforded us some relief from the heat, and allowed us to make it up there on time.  When I say "on time" I mean before the 3rd inning when regular Dodger fans show up.  Thanks to their lax efforts even for a nationally televised game, we were still there early enough to obtain the sweet Beats-ripoff headphones giveaway.

We entered the park from the outfield, which was a completely difference experience compared to the last time I visited.  Dodger Stadium is unique in that it is set into a hill, with the outfield entrance being the lowest point of the site, and the area behind homeplate being the highest point, about at the height of the upper deck.  This means that when Erik and I were there on the Tour and entered from the top of the hill, the fa├žade was very short and unimpressive as a result of the drastic grade change.  At Dodger Stadium, the grand entry is at the bottom or "back" of the park, down closer to field level, because there is the height to make a more significant gesture.  It was a much nicer view entering at the top of the park and looking out into the ravine, but here at the bottom I really felt like I was entering a stadium and not an office building.  Walking in from the back also allowed me to circumnavigate the stadium for the first time.  At this ballpark, just like at US Cellular Field or Marlins Park, you are only allowed on the level in which you have a ticket.  The people in the nicer seats can walk up to where the peasants are sitting, but not vice versa.  So on the Tour, being that we scraped by on the cheapest seats at every park, we only got to experience the upper deck.  Now that I have a real job, I could afford the luxury of the main level and got to see the main concourse for the first time.  "Luxury" in this case means $15 cans of Modelo and more than one concession stand.  If you can't pick up the sarcasm, there was nothing too exciting on the main level.  I can't say I expected much, as the stadium is over 50 years old.  It's pretty cramped width-wise and height-wise just as at the old Yankee Stadium, and a lot of the vendors and team shops are set up in carts in the aisleway or have been tacked on, which lessens the width even more.  However, unlike at old Yankee Stadium, you can see the field from most places on the concourse, and I've got to believe this was one of the first stadiums to do that.  I also liked the narrow seating sections that make it so you don't have to to jump over 14 people to go to the bathroom, and I've always liked the expansive "open suites" down by the field.  There have clearly been a lot of nip-and-tuck fixes to the stadium to make it feel more modern, but some things just can't be fixed, such as the shady and tight stairwells tucked in back corners to get to the upper levels.  It took awhile for us to find a stair up to the loge level, but we eventually made it to our seats, with Dodger Dogs and giant cold beers in hand.

I was initially pretty grumpy when we got to our seats - it was hot and the sun was shining directly on us, my friend Stu just spent $60 on a round of piss beer, and we missed what would be the only runs of the game (a 2-run shot by ROY candidate Kris Bryant).  Even as the crowd settled in and Dodgers kept putting up zeroes, I didn't really fathom that anything special was going on.  It wasn't until about the 7th inning when I realized hey, this Cubs pitcher is dominating.  By the 8th inning I was glued to my seat even though my beer was empty and I had to pee.  The crowd - what was left of the crowd after most Dodgers fans left - was on its feet in the 9th to watch the Cubs' Jake Arrieta strike out the side to finish the game.  I couldn't even believe it - I had just seen my first live no-hitter!!!  It was a complete out-of-body experience.  I couldn't even process at the time what had just happened as I walked out of the stadium.  But looking back now at the relative rarity of this feat, I feel very fortunate that I was there to witness it, even though it meant rooting for the Cubs for a few innings.  I still grin ear to ear as I think of it even now as I type this.  So many close calls in my life, and 40+ ballgames a year, and I was finally able to see a no-hitter.  The four of us left the stadium in amazement at what we just saw, and glad we had chosen to take this little excursion after John's wedding.  As a side note, my buddy Stu (who knows practically nothing about baseball) has only been to 2 ballgames this year - this game, and the Cole Hamels no-hitter in Chicago.  I hate him.

Just like all the stadiums I have revisited since the Tour, my opinion of Dodger Stadium has improved, if for no other reason than I got to see more of it.  It's still not one of my top parks or even middle of the pack, but now I at least feel like I've experienced the real and complete Dodger Stadium.  Much like Wrigley Field, no matter how rundown or outdated it might be, there is something to be said for just being in the crowd at a timeless ballpark.  Sharing the evening with good friends witnessing a historic event is something that I will never forget.

park rankings and statistics
(see also original post from 8/14/07): 

aesthetics - 4
views from park – 9
view to field - 7
surrounding area – 3
food variety - 4   
nachos - 5
beer - decreases to 2 ($14.50 for 24 oz can of beer!)

vendor price - 3
ticket price - decreases to 5 ($50 loge level)
atmosphere - increases to 7 (Dodger fans still suck, but it was a no-hitter!)
walk to park – increases to 3 (much nicer from back of stadium)
parking price/proximity - 1 (expensive)
concourses - 4
team shop - decreases to 7 (team stores on main level not impressive)

best food – Dodger Dog
most unique stadium feature – stadium set into hill
best jumbotron feature – incredibly difficult crazy cap shuffle
best between-inning feature – fan vs. Clayton Kershaw naming as many holidays as possible in 15 seconds

field dimensions – 330/395/330
starters – Jake Arrieta (CHC) v. Alex Wood (LAD)
opponent – Chicago Cubs
time of game – 2:42
attendance – 46679
score – 2-0 L (Arrieta no-hitter)

Brewers score that day – 4-1 W

Brewers 58-75, -28.0, -17.5 WC (3 @ Reds, 3 @ Marlins, 4 @ Pirates)
Reds 55-77, -30.5, -20.0 WC (3 v. Brewers, 3 v. Pirates, 4 v. Cardinals)

Twins 69-64, -12.5, -1.5 WC (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Royals, 3 @ White Sox)

Erik - 16 (+21 worked)

Peter - 40

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