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SPENDING THE DAY IN THE NINETY-PLUS DEGREE HEAT OF THE DODGERS’ ICONIC BALLPARK ON THE OCCASION OF MY FIFTIETH DODGER GAME

 

It should be obvious that much has changed regarding the third oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball – only the Red Sox’ Fenway Park and the Cubs’ Wrigley Field are older – since my first visit to Dodger Stadium on June 18th, 1978, my 11th birthday (which I remember quite well and fondly, but we’ll get to that).

After all, I had written about such changes when I was there in March for the annual college baseball showdown between UCLA and USC.

But being that the game I attended on Sunday between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds was the 50th time I viewed the “Boys In Blue” in person, I couldn’t let that milestone go by without writing about what would turn out to be a long and hot  – 93 degrees(!), but well worth it – day in Chavez Ravine.

I made a particular point of attending Sunday’s game – heat or no heat – due to the fan fest called Viva Los Dodgers that the team runs two hours before the game on Sundays in the parking lot behind center field.

Lots of promotional free stuff such as towels, tote bags, pens and sunglasses from various vendors abounded, which I took full advantage of; by the time I left the fan fest my free Dodger tote bag, courtesy of Time Warner Cable (get a deal with Direct TV done TWC, so I can watch the Dodgers on the tube!), was appropriately filled.

And I even got an autograph from a former Dodger as Al Ferrara, an outfielder with the team during the 1960s, was there greeting fans and being very jovial. I had gotten Tommy Davis’ – who still owns the Dodger record for most RBIs in a season – autograph on a previous occasion, and it was fun hearing from Ferrara about how he and Davis knew each other as kids in Brooklyn.

After I left Viva Los Dodgers I headed for one of the stadium’s many entrances on the left field reserve level, where I had my seat. Those Dodgers must have been clairvoyant, because their free giveaway was something that, considering the 93 degree heat blanketing downtown Los Angeles that day (Dodger Stadium is located just a few miles north of there), was something that the 47,388 fans desperately needed:

Squirt bottle fans.

I wasted no time in filling my squirt bottle fan with water and using it as soon as I found my seat, and I also wasted no time in going to one of the many concession stands to buy an ICEE, a cold frosty drink common at 7-Elevens that I always partake in during heat waves.

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The Dodgers’ rookie center fielder Joc Pederson being congratulated after hitting the game-tying home run in the fifth inning.

 

The ICEE machine at this particular stand was not running as properly as it should, taking forever to fill up the cup, but as an illustration of how nice and helpful the Dodger Stadium concession workers and staff are, the guy filling my ICEE was very apologetic about the whole thing, talking about how he felt bad that the machine was sub-par and letting me have my drink for free.

One thing I wanted to mention was when I went to the “Top of The Park” gift shop, located (of course!) behind the stadium’s top deck, to buy a game program, as I was looking around the place I came across some Dodger souvenir batting helmets, blue with the interlocking “LA” in the front.

I remembered feeling that I had come full circle, because it was helmet weekend that first Dodger game I attended in 1978 and I received, along with three of my cousins, a free Dodger helmet. It brought back some good memories, such as sitting on the field level down the right field line, seeing right fielder Lee Lacy turn his head to us when my cousin kept yelling his name, watching Davey Lopes steal four bases and Don Sutton throw a shutout, beating the Montreal Expos (who are now the Washington Nationals), 5-0.

But getting back to 2015…

As was said, the heat was of the pronounced kind, with even the great broadcaster Vin Scully commenting about how hot it was as I always make it a point to take a radio and headphones along to Dodger games to listen to Scully, who calls the first three innings on a simulcast before going strictly to TV.

There was a pre-game performance of roughly twenty cheerleading squads featuring girls ranging in age from four to high school in the outfield an hour before the first pitch. As I was drinking my ICEE I noticed, on one of the squads, someone dressed in a horse mascot. I found myself remarking to somebody how I felt sorry for that kid in the costume, as hot it was; I hoped he or she wouldn’t faint or get heat exhaustion, because even on cool days those mascot outfits are like wearing a winter coat.

I chose the left side of Dodger Stadium because I know it would end up in shade in the game’s latter half, but by the fifth inning I had to move to an empty seat a few rows up from where I was, where it was already shady.

Not that I was blaming the Dodgers in any way, but despite the squirt bottle fan, the two snow cones and frozen lemonade (which I recommend) that I had bought, I couldn’t take that sun anymore and simply had to find relief.

I suppose I should mention Dodger Stadium’s most famous food, the “Dodger Dog”, as  it would be wrong to write an article like this without doing so.

Although I didn’t partake of this iconic hot dog during this particular game due to dietary reasons, I’ve eaten enough of them over the years to say that they’re recommended as a quintessential part of the Dodger experience. They come in various sizes and flavors; I have always gotten the jumbo Dodger Dog because they had more meat than the regular dog, and have always put mustard and onions on it.

Many other food options abound, from pizza to LA Taqueria, which features tacos and nachos, and like at other sports venues the prices are high – $6.75 for a bottled water and $6.50 for a little ice cream cup?

I remember thinking “I don’t think so!”

As for the atmosphere…

That’s the aspect of Dodger Stadium that has changed the most in my view in a “Sign of The Times” kind of way, as the Dodgers have put a huge emphasis on keeping the fans entertained.

Two young ladies appeared on the two video scoreboards every inning doing various promotions and other things like showing cute babies, cap shuffles, a Dodger Dog car race and a cup-stacking thing as well as having small chats with fans.

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 16: Pitcher Zack Greinke #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is congratulated by third base coach Lorenzo Bundy #49 after hitting a solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the fifth inning at Dodger Stadium August 16, 2015, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 16: Pitcher Zack Greinke #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is congratulated by third base coach Lorenzo Bundy #49 after hitting a solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the fifth inning at Dodger Stadium August 16, 2015, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

 

Three other things I noticed:

1. There has been a longtime policy against beach balls being allowed at Dodger Stadium, but that is the most abused ballpark policy rule in all of sports as there are always several beach balls batted around, and Sunday was no exception. I remember getting in a bit of trouble for hitting a beach ball with a mini-bat around ten years ago, but luckily I wasn’t ejected for it.

2. As there were a group of young folks – including some very good-looking young women – sitting behind me in the first few innings drinking beer and having a grand and glorious time, I thought, “I bet I’m the only one in this section who saw Johnny Bench (being that the Reds were the opponent and Bench is one of the most famous Reds of all time) play.”

I didn’t necessarily feel old, but more like a longtime big league veteran who has seen a lot of things in baseball, which in a way I was as far as being a fan.

and…

3.  In the latter half of the contest I saw a father showing his five or six-year old son (from the looks of him) what was what on the field, how a catch in the air was an out, who the players were, things like that; a time-honored baseball fan tradition if there ever was one. It was quite nice to see.

All right, the inevitable question:  How did the game unfold?

It went well; Joc Pederson and Zack Greinke hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth – it was the first time I saw a pitcher (Greinke) hit a homer in person – and the Dodger ace was dealing as usual as he enhanced his bid for the Cy Young Award, the Dodgers winning 2-1.

I stayed for an hour or so after the game, moving to the field level for something the team did called Christian Faith Day, which featured Dodger stars like Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez voicing their thoughts on what following the Lord means to them. Like everything else about the day, it was very nice seeing and hearing these standouts taking about what’s really important to them.

As I headed home, I remember thinking, “That was a long day.”

Actually, it would be better described as a full day as I certainly got my money’s worth of what former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda calls “Blue Heaven on Earth”.

And it was certainly a memorable way to mark my 50th Dodger game.

 

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One of the entrances to Dodger Stadium, near where I sat for the game.

 

 

 

 

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