Thursday, June 25, 2009

Justin's Review: Dodger Stadium

Ballpark Design:  With the closing of Yankee Stadium last year, Dodger Stadium is now the third oldest ballpark in baseball (having opened in 1962), and its age certainly shows in many ways.  The concourses are narrow and have very low ceilings, the ramps and escalators between levels make you feel like you're walking in to a cave, there isn’t a lot of room for concession stands, and the different seat colors look like something straight out of the seventies.  However, there definitely are some positive aspects of the stadium – most notably, the concourses on the first two levels are completely opened to the field, something I was shocked to learn, considering the stadium was built so long ago.  The pavilion seating sections out in the outfield are also among the most unique and recognizable parts of any ballpark, and the hills that serve as the backdrop behind the stadium (with big white letters on top spelling out “THINK BLUE”) provide a pretty setting, as long as you are not sitting high enough to see the miles of parking lots beneath them.  Some other unique things about Dodger Stadium – the front seating sections on the bottom level have tables in front of each seat (which looks a little bizarre); the very top deck looks very far setback, although it doesn’t stretch all the way around the stadium, limiting the number of bad seats; and the retired numbers located under the pavilion roofs ringing the outfield add a nice touch. Still, the stadium is clearly old and lacks many of the fan friendly features new parks have. C

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The scoreboards weren’t impressive – one video screen in left field and a matrix board in right field, neither of which were quite big enough to capture all the stats we would have liked to see.  Because there isn’t enough room on the main boards, they have to use two auxiliary boards located in the outfield wall to show pitcher stats and pitch counts/speeds, forcing them to only be able to show out of town scores between innings.  While I’m glad that they prioritized information about their game over out of town scores, it’s unfortunate that they don’t have more scoreboard space.  The sound system itself wasn’t much better – all the sound came from a center field speaker tower, ala old Yankee Stadium, making it hard to hear at times.  However, what sound/music they did play, I really liked – maybe because it was a lot of the same music the Yankees have used for years in their home games (did Torre bring the Yankee Stadium sounds to LA with him?).  And most importantly, they played “Don’t Stop Believing” in the middle of the 8th inning and everybody sang along, which I loved. C

Food/Drink: Very unimpressive.  There wasn’t much room for food stands in the concourses, and what was there was not all that good.  Every stand sold very basic stadium food (hot dogs, peanuts, soda), and not much else.  The much advertised Dodger Dog was one of the worst stadium hotdogs I’ve ever had.  To make matters worse, the people working at the concession stands at each place that either of us went didn’t seem to really know what they were doing, causing long lines and delays. F

Fans:  So far, you probably don’t think I liked our Dodger Stadium experience, right?  Well, the fans alone made up for many of the negatives.  Before our visit, I had heard many bad things about Dodger fans for years – the biggest criticism being that they show up late and leave early.  Well, the first part of that was certainly true – probably only half of the capacity crowd was there when the game started, and it took until the end of the third inning before the stadium really looked full.  And a few people did leave early, although not nearly as many as I would have thought.  But when the fans were actually there, they were as involved in the game as any fans we’ve seen so far, staying loud throughout, cheering with 2 strikes, and just generally making a great atmosphere.  In that way, it reminded me more of a Yankee Stadium crowd then any other stadium I’ve ever been to.  However, it was very different in some ways as well, most notably because despite the fact that the fans were focused on the game, they were also constantly fixated on things happening within the crowd, including the wave (which started up at least once an inning) and the dozens of beach balls that were bouncing around in the stands.  I don’t see these as particularly big negatives, since it didn’t really seem to keep the fans from following the game, but it did make for a unique atmosphere. A-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Coming from NYC, which is in so many ways its polar opposite, I may be biased, so let me put it simply: I really dislike Los Angeles.  I don’t like that it is a giant city of freeways, that you have to drive to get anywhere, that there’s no real downtown, that there is almost no walkable space in the city, that the weather never changes, that the whole city (even if its just a stereotype) has this weird beauty/celebrity obsessed culture, and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that there are also many positive things about living there, and I’m happy for people who like it – I just could never live there.  As Woody Allen (in Annie Hall) said about moving from NYC to LA, “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.”  As for Dodger Stadium itself, it suffers from all that LA lacks, being more or less only reachable by car.  That being said, it is located right in the middle of Los Angeles and is relatively easy to get to (at least by LA standards).  So that’s something. City: D/Neighborhood: C

Game: A close, tense game that stayed interesting until the final out.  What a change from our last few games!  The Oakland A’s and the Dodgers exchanged runs in the third inning (the Dodgers scoring on an Orland Hudson solo shot), before the Dodgers took the lead in the 5th.  Nomar Garciaparra tied the game in the 7th with an RBI single, and the Dodgers responded in the bottom half of the inning with a Mark Loretta RBI single to take a 3-2 lead.  The A’s threatened, getting a runner on in the bottom of the ninth, but a Ryan Sweeney double play ended the game and gave the home team the victory. B+

Overall: Despite a subpar stadium, a city I don’t like, and a lack of food options, Dodger Stadium was one of my favorite experiences yet, simply because of the energy and excitement of the fans.  With fans into it, the game never got boring, and the flaws of the actual stadium disappeared.  I guess the lesson here is that even an imperfect stadium can be a great baseball experience with a good game and great fans. B+

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