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LAMENTATIONS OF MY DAY-LONG VISIT TO THE HOME OF THE DODGERS FOR A COLLEGE BASEBALL DOUBLEHEADER, INCLUDING A RENEWAL OF THE UCLA-USC RIVALRY ON THE DIAMOND

 

If there’s any place in America’s second largest city that I’m extremely familiar with, it’s the place where the Los Angeles Dodgers have called home since it first opened in 1962 amid great fanfare.

I’ve attended so many games in Chavez Ravine, located a few miles north of Downtown L.A. – whose skyline behind the home plate area as you enter and exit the place is quite spectacular – that I feel I can give tours of that iconic ballpark as the next Dodger game I will attend will be my 50th, going back to the first time I laid eyes on that quadruple-decked palace: June 18th, 1978, the day I turned eleven.

I remember that momentous occasion quite vividly; my mom, myself, her friend and three of my cousins sat near the right field foul pole on the field level to watch Davey Lopes steal four bases and Don Sutton shut out the Montreal Expos, 5-0.

I know that pales in comparison to some fans who attend fifty games a year, but as I have sat in every section and have even stood on the field more than once, I am steadfast in my belief that I have just as much an intimacy with that stadium (which incidentally is the largest in Major League Baseball with a capacity of 56,000) as any thirty year season ticket holder.

Approaching my late forties, after being inside Dodger Stadium so many times I get a pang of nostalgia whenever I go through the turnstiles now.

That was the case on March 8th, when I went to what former manager Tommy Lasorda  famously called “Blue Heaven on Earth” for a doubleheader of college baseball that the Dodgers had started in 2010, which always involves UCLA and USC in one of the two games in a showdown of crosstown rivals on the diamond.

It had been a couple of years since I had seen the place, but I noticed that it looked different from when I first viewed it in person over three and a half decades ago, so I was looking forward to seeing those changes for myself.

As the first game of the double-header featured two top-tiered teams, Texas Christian and defending national champion Vanderbilt, I got to Dodger Stadium at around 10:30 in the morning – the match between Vandy’s Commodores and TCU’s Horned Frogs starting an hour later – and after I had settled down in my field level seat and watched the first inning, I took a walk around the park.

One thing was for certain: the place had changed since my first encounter there in those disco days of ’78, the first obvious difference being all the advertising that permeated the stadium…

When I celebrated my 11th birthday there, and throughout the 1980s the 90s, the only ads at Dodger Stadium were the little round orange Union 76 balls that sat on top of the message board over the left field pavilion and the scoreboard over the right field pavilion.

Now it takes on the average of two innings to read the signs covering the outfield fences and all around the message and scoreboards touting entities such as Subway, Time Warner Cable, and of course the obligatory ad urging fans to (responsibly) imbibe beer; Budweiser and some other brand whose name I forget in this case.

I liked some of the changes, one being the numerous shops selling Dodger gear.

But other changes were not exactly to my liking, the biggest one being the fact that while the concept and emphasis seemed (at least to me) to be strictly on baseball back in the 70s and 80s, now it evidently seems to be on the almighty dollar and a ballpark atmosphere that’s not unlike a circus.

A prominent example of this was in trying to buying tickets to a game, which has gotten quite a bit more complicated since my formative years as not only have the prices gone way up in the classic tradition of 21st century inflation, but now prices vary greatly depending on the day and the opponent; I noticed this as I was talking to a booth attendant about sales after I found out that individual game tickets, which I was hoping to buy, were not available, forcing me to go online at a later date.

And speaking of the almighty dollar I was disappointed to find that the Dodger Dog, in iconic and essential part of the Dodger Stadium experience, costs an average of six dollars with the jumbo Dodger Dog, which I have always gotten as it contains more meat, going for over seven bucks.

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USC right fielder AJ Ramirez being congratulated by left fielder Bobby Stahel after scoring one of the Trojans’ eight runs

 

I understand that like ticket prices, concession prices inevitably go up over the years due to inflation and assisting in team profits and paying the high salaried players that the Dodgers have, but I double dog dare anyone to tell me that seven dollars is not too much for a hot dog.

However…

Despite all of that, I found myself having a very good time at the ballpark, even considering what happened during the second game of the double-header as after eight years of futility in not making the postseason and finishing at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference, USC’s Trojans have shown a resurgence and much to my disappointment (yes I’m biased, I admit it, but being a UCLA alum it’s understandable) served notice to their rivals from Westwood, completely outplaying the UCLA Bruins in an 8-4 romp in front of over 14,600 enthusiastic and intense fans.

I won’t go into any game details except for the fact that another problem was exposed for the now 11th-ranked Bruins (they were the #6 team in the nation going in, but they sure didn’t play like one against ‘SC) in their loss.

Last season, coming off their first national championship, they had significant problems with the bat as their two best hitters were injured all year.

This year, they showed that they have problems on the mound as out of the five pitchers that UCLA used, I wasn’t impressed with the first three as they reminded me of Charlie Brown while the other two guys only pitched an inning each, the 8th and the 9th, when the game was pretty much decided.

Looking back, the biggest thing I noticed was in the atmosphere surrounding this showdown as USC showed that they not only wanted it more on the field, their “Trojan Family” wanted it more as well as not only did a sizable portion of their band show up, but their entire spirit squad, including all of their famous white sweatered Song Girls, was positioned behind ‘SC’s dugout.

Meanwhile, UCLA sent all of one yell leader. One.

And the task of providing motivational music to the Bruin Nation was left to the UCLA Alumni Band, who did more than hold their own against their south of Downtown L.A. counterparts as far as playing their horns and the spirit that they showed.

But despite that, it was clear that the Trojans were determined to “Beat The Bruins” on the diamond after losing to them in so many other sports this year, including football for the third straight season and in basketball and women’s tennis earlier in the week.

On top of everything else, their fans cheered louder and were a bit more animated than their Bruin counterparts, particularly when head coach Dan Hubbs was arguing an interference call in the 4th inning.

All right, here’s my bottom line…

Even though my Bruins greatly disappointed against their private school rivals, I enjoyed my time at Dodger Stadium as I was there all day; the game between TCU and Vanderbilt, which the Horned Frogs won 4-2, was a better played game that went to the wire.

Of course I fully plan to go to at least one Dodger game this year as I want to make it an even fifty times that I’ve seen L.A’s iconic “Boys in Blue”.

Especially since I am one of the approximately seven million people in the greater Los Angeles area who are unable to watch them on TV.

But that’s another story…

In the meantime, here are some highlights from USC’s statement triumph over UCLA:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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