To quote the Dos Equis, Most Interesting Man In the World: “I don’t often write Major League Baseball Stadium reviews here at Aaron Torres Sports. But when I do… they almost always become legendary.”
No seriously, it’s true.
To this day I still get e-mails about my Idiot’s Guide to Camden Yards, mostly from people attending the stadium for the first time and looking for advice (as if I’ve been there more than once). And after I did my recap of a semi-inebriated, half-forgotten day at Marlins Park, more questions, comments and tweets centered around the theme of “Wait, did you hook up at the stadium??” than anything to do with baseball. And for those wondering the answer to that question, sadly, it’s no. Still, it was a legendary day none the less.
Today though, my ball park review of my first trip to Dodgers Stadium Monday night will be nothing like those last two. If you’re looking for me to discuss every little nuance like I did at Camden Yards two years ago, that isn’t happening here. And if you’re hoping for me to detail a crazy night of alcohol-infused madness like I did with Marlins Park, well sadly you have again come to the wrong place.
Nope, I won’t be doing any of that, for one simple reason: In my first trip to Dodgers Stadium, I really didn’t have the opportunity to take in the full ballpark experience. I didn’t get to walk around the concourse for an hour before the game like I generally prefer to do when visiting a new stadium, and didn’t get a chance to check out Dodgers Way behind the outfield walls either. That stuff just can’t happen when your buddy randomly calls you at 5:15 and says “Hey I got an extra ticket for tonight, want to come?” And it definitely doesn’t happen when you don’t leave the house until 6 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. Not in LA, not on a Monday night, and not in rush hour traffic. Not unless you have access to Kobe Bryant’s private helicopter anyway.
Speaking of which, that’s something that I think needs to be addressed right away. Los Angeles sports fans get a bad rep for being a late arriving crowd, a reputation I experienced as an outsider and believed right up until I moved here a little over a month ago. Only after being here awhile, not only have I changed my opinion on the subject, I’m actually sympathetic to the fans. Simply put, LA traffic sucks, and it’s basically impossible to get anywhere during rush hour. Whether it’s to the gentlemen’s club to avoid spending the evening with your wife, or a Dodgers game on a Monday night, if you’re only budgeting an hour to get through traffic at 6 p.m., well, you’re just not going to make it on time. It really is that simple.
As a matter of fact, if I’ve learned anything since arriving here, it’s that being late isn’t even a quirk of the city, but basically a culture trend at this point. Essentially, everyone is pretty much late, for everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business meeting, baseball game, wedding or funeral, if you’re supposed to be somewhere at 5 p.m. and get there by 5:20, you’re almost always in pretty good shape. Understand that’s not a laidback California thing but an “our infrastructure wasn’t built with the idea that by 2012 every man, woman, child, grandparent and the occasional household pet all owned their individual cars” thing. The idea of getting to a baseball game for the third inning is hardly a foreign concept, but an accepted reality.
(Fun fact: It wasn’t until after I wrote the above passage that I found out Bill Plaschke actually wrote a column in Wednesday’s LA Times complaining about… wait for it… yep, that’s right, Dodgers Stadium traffic!! You can practically cut the irony with a butter knife!)
Luckily for Dodgers fans, as best I can tell the traffic is actually the biggest drawback to the stadium. As for everything else, well, it’s really not as bad as I’d expected.
Coming in, I heard the park was a bit outdated, but honestly it wasn’t really all that bad, and certainly nothing the architectural atrocity that Fenway Park or the old Yankee Stadium are. In a lot of ways, it was actually a bit charming, especially after visiting Marlins Stadium in April, a place that you could practically the new paint drying on the walls.
As a matter of fact, after seeing that whole scene in Miami, as well as visiting a couple of the other new stadiums in recent years, it was a bit refreshing to get to Dodgers Stadium, and go to a place that undoubtedly has history and a place where you can just tell by walking in, “cool stuff has happened here.” No, no, no, Dodgers Stadium isn’t a park that was built in the last 15 minutes, or one that prides itself on the pool in left field or the jungle gym next to the visitor’s bullpen. Instead, it’s a place where World Series championships have been won, All-Star games have been hosted, and where legends have played. Now, is the place a wonder of the modern world? Of course not. But that’s not really the point. In a lot of ways, Dodgers Stadium is similar to spending full-price on a pair of faded jeans: Sure it’s not new, but ultimately, it’s not supposed to be. That’s the charm of the place after all.
Moving inside the stadium, well, I can safely say there’s nothing quite like it. Again, I didn’t have a chance to walk around the stadium and embrace the nuances, but once I got into my seat, well, you’d have to be blind, dumb or drunk (or a combination of the three) not to notice the scenery. Boston may have the skyline over the Green Monster, and Chicago may have Waverly Ave, but it’s hard to argue that either of those beats seeing the sunset on the San Gabriel Mountains over the left field wall. Plus, it’s not like I went to the game trying to take in the “beauty of the place.” At the same time, it’s hard to ignore at Dodgers Stadium.
As for the game on the field, well, it wasn’t nearly as pretty. At least depending on which team you were rooting for. The score was 1-0 when I arrived (what can I say, it was that damn traffic!) and the final score ended up at 2-1 after Angel Pagan scored on a single where it seemed pretty clear he got thrown out at home (apparently the NFL isn’t the only one with referee issues). Meanwhile, for the Dodgers, Hanley Ramirez provided the only offense of the night with a solo home run with two outs in the ninth. Otherwise it was about Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw on the mound. The two threw eight innings apiece, and combined for 20 strikeouts. Not to mention about a thousand, “What the heck did he just throw me?” blank stares from the batters. Frankly, it was a little fun to watch an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one thing that’s unavoidable when discussing Dodgers Stadium, and that’s the security. It’s been the black cloud hanging over everything the last few years, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
Look, by now we all know about Dodgers Stadium’s past, and the incident where a Giants fan named Bryan Stowe was beaten to within an inch of his life in the parking lot last season. We all know that the story horrified outsiders and kept local fans away from the park. We all know that in every sense of the word, it was an American tragedy.
And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, that reputation does still linger. Since I got to LA a few weeks ago, whenever I’ve mentioned the Dodgers or the stadium in general you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard things to the effect of “Be careful if you go out there.” Or “I don’t go anymore, I don’t like the atmosphere.” Or “The last time I was there, I was so uncomfortable I left in the fifth inning.” Again, I don’t know what happened in the past, and maybe things weren’t quite as bad as people have made them out to be. All I can tell you is what I’ve heard both on the news and from locals. And most of it hasn’t been very good.
Of course if you follow baseball, you also know that since Magic Johnson’s group bought the team this spring, just as much emphasis has been placed on improving the security around the stadium as the product on the field. It’s no secret that security has been heightened across the board, with more officers, outside personnel and plain clothes cops on the premises than ever before.
And at least on the evening that I was at the stadium, I have to say it was nothing short of remarkable to see the security presence there; I half expected to find out Barack Obama was attending the game or something (I also half expected to hear that Dwight Howard was attending the game too. But that’s an entirely other issue all together). As best as I could tell, not only was there a security presence, but an overwhelming one. There was security when I got off the shuttle, in the parking lot and patrolling the stadium. They were on foot, in patrol cars and golf carts. And even an hour after the game when I was just finally making my way back to the shuttle, there were still guards all over the place. The point of emphasis seemed to be, “We can’t control what happened in the past, but we can impact the present. And in the present, we want everyone to have a great time and feel safe at our stadium.”
Because of it, it definitely led to a different vibe than I was expecting. When the game was over, nobody seemed to be in a rush to their cars, or going out of their way to beat the traffic, but instead, for lack of a better term just kind of hanging around. People stopped to take pictures of the LA skyline. Families were posing at the entrance to the stadium. Groups of young people were mingling and chatting. Again, baseball games are supposed to be entertainment, and this Monday, the game felt like an event that no one was in a rush to leave.
It was a sight I wasn’t expecting to see, but then again, my whole Dodgers Stadium experience was one I wasn’t expecting either.
My only hope for next time?
That I avoid the traffic and get to the game on time.
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