Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One constant in a changing city -- Dodger Stadium at twilight

At twilight, a show of natural beauty plays out against the hills.
(Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times) August 19, 2003

It's a show of natural beauty played out against the hills of Elysian Park and the downtown skyline -- and it's best seen from some of the stadium's cheapest seats.

Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2009

The stars come and go. They bleed Dodger Blue one year, and another color the next. They send home runs over the fence and win a space in our hearts -- and then they do something dumb like fail a drug test.

Manny Ramirez was earning $25 million this year until his suspension last week. But the Dodgers don't need to pay that money to keep this fan. What I go to Dodger Stadium to see doesn't cost owner Frank McCourt a penny.

I go to Dodger Stadium for the twilight.

Over the years, the Dodgers have delighted me, but they've disappointed me many times more. The twilight, however, rarely fails to make the trek up and down the hills of the old Chavez Ravine worthwhile.

It's a show of natural beauty played out against the hills of Elysian Park and the downtown skyline -- and it's best seen from some of the stadium's cheapest seats.

A lot of things have changed in Los Angeles since Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962. But the experience of settling into your seat for a night game after a day of suffering down in the city below is the same as it's always been. We leave behind hot asphalt and smog for the cool air and comfort of watching a slow game unfold in a dry valley.

In a city that allows few things to grow old and familiar, twilight at Dodger Stadium is the same steady friend we've known since our childhoods.

I'm deep into middle age now, but when I go up in the general admission seats, or the slightly "better" seats of the reserve level, it's the 1960s and '70s all over again.

Beyond left field I see the white cube of the Police Academy, tucked into the bottom of the hillside. From this distance, it resembles a rustic country cabin, its familiar tile roof disappearing in the fading light.

In my memory, Joe Torre isn't the manager -- he's a much younger guy who plays third base for the St. Louis Cardinals. The man in charge of my team is lanky Walter Alston, who heads with slow strides out to home plate to hand his lineup to the umpire.

On the mound, future Hall of Famer Don Sutton throws his first pitches through the field's last squares of daylight. The sun is dipping behind the left-field stands, but its last rays are reaching underneath the upper deck's wavy roof.

Later, the sky turns a darker shade of blue and Johnny Bench of the hated Cincinnati Reds comes to bat. He smashes a twilight home run, and I have to squint to watch it disappear over the center-field fence.

Fenway Park has the Green Monster, and Wrigley Field its brick and ivy. We Dodgers fans have the deep-orange sunlight glistening off the palm trees behind the bullpens. Those older ballparks are widely worshiped for their history. But to my mind, the panorama at Dodger Stadium is just as worthy of reverence.

Dodger Stadium is a symmetrical bit of Space Age, mid-20th century hopefulness, but it's plopped in a very old corner of the city. It occupies a chunk of real estate where a barrio of tumbledown houses once stood, a neighborhood of mostly unpaved streets that looked a lot like a rural village.

"It was a little town, where everybody knew each other," says Helen Yorba, 74.

As a child in 1940s Chavez Ravine, Yorba played hide-and-seek and kick-the-can on the streets. "We didn't have TV then, so we ran around outside," she says, remembering the neighborhood she left at age 16.

Yorba's family house on Effie Street had a porch and a little lawn, and looked out on the hills of nearby Elysian Park.

The city never did allow developers to fill those bare Elysian Park hillsides, thank God. So even though her home is gone, we can still enjoy that same bucolic view.

From the general admission deck, we can buy a beer and spend a few minutes savoring the view to the south, watching the skyscrapers of downtown cast shadows over the Eastside.

We baseball fans inherited Chavez Ravine from the mostly Latino families that lived there. And just as they sat on their porches and watered their postage-stamp lawns, we sit in our plastic chairs and watch the groundskeepers water the outfield as the heat of the day lifts with each passing inning.

For much of the season, night games start a little before sunset. And during the dog days of July and August, a cool night at Dodger Stadium is a gift, even if the Boys in Blue are last in the standings.

Nightfall arrives in the middle innings. A cross-section of L.A. fills the stands, from the exclusive boxes near the dugouts to the plebeian benches of the pavilions. The distant mountains and even nearby hillsides become silhouettes and then fade to black

The floodlights come up and the field is bathed in the artificial light of a theater -- as it should be, because in the late innings, the sporting drama of baseball takes over.

You may remember Dennis Eckersley stepping out from underneath the palms still out there in right field, leaning over the bullpen. He walked up to the mound to pitch, eventually, to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

"High fly ball into right field," Vin Scully announced as the ball climbed in the night. "She is gone!"

Every Dodgers fan knows that bit of history. A few years later, I witnessed another memorable moment, during a seemingly routine midseason game against the Giants.

On Aug. 17, 1992, Dodgers pitcher Kevin Gross took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. All around me, small groups of fans were heading for the exits.

"He's throwing a no-hitter and you're leaving?" I asked incredulously. From my reserved-level seats, I could see other fans running across the parking lot to get to their cars. As Gross recorded the last out, several cars were already zooming past the gates.

Perhaps those fans had come mostly for the sunset, the twilight and the beer, and didn't care enough about the game itself to endure the traffic afterward. The Dodgers' next home game is May 18, against the Mets.

I have no idea who will be pitching. I do know, however, that the sun will set at 7:51 p.m., about 40 minutes after the first pitch.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Natinal Joke


Paul here. Phil had something special planned for today, but it’ll have to wait, because there was a uni snafu for the ages last night in DC.

Actually, it was two snafus, because two Nats players — Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman — both had “Natinals” (note the missing “o”) on their jerseys.

Now, jersey typos are nothing new (I chronicled lots of them in an ESPN column a while back). But to my knowledge, this is the first time two players on the same team have sported typos in the same game, which surely qualifies as an unprecedented level of uni-ineptitude.

For those keeping score at home, the Nats are clearly leading the league in uniform miscues. On Monday, they sent Wilfredo Ledezma out on the field with an upside-down “N”; on Friday, they wore those blue clown suits with red helmets and sleeves; and now this. Good thing the team in our nation’s natin’s capital plays such solid ball on the field to make up for — uh, wait, never mind.

Both players switched to properly spelled jerseys during the game, but by then it was too late. The TV guys talked about it, two different Washington Post writers blogged about it, and it was even mentioned in wire service photo captions. Anyone know if it got the SportsCenter treatment?

I’ve already heard people saying things like, “Their seamstress should be fired.” But a team’s local stitcher doesn’t put the team insignia on the jersey — that’s Majestic’s job. Yo, Majestic people, I know a bunch of you read this site. So once you all stop shitting bricks and back-dating the paperwork to make it look like you didn’t work on the Nats’ jerseys, could someone please let me know how this could have happened? (Update: There’s a semi-explanation in the last three grafs of this item, but it still doesn’t explain how these jerseys got through Majestic’s quality-control process, or how the entire Nats team — including the clubhouse staff and Dunn and Zimmerman themselves — didn’t spot the problem.)

The best explanation comes from reader Cary O’Reilly, who writes: “When you consider that so many of Washington’s players and team personnel used to be with the Cincinnati Reds, it makes perfect sense — they’re the ’Nati-nals!”

The saddest part about this fiasco is that it overshadowed what should have been the uni story of the night: Josh Outman’s second start of the season. You’ll find a gallery of his magnificent stirrup stylings here.

(Big thanks to all who contributed pics and info from the Nats game, including David Raglin, Matt Kernan, Andrew Stebbins, Ari Cohen, Chad Dotson, David McGee, Bryan Mullican, Daniel Steinberg, Paul Soto, and of course Phil.)

Special Saturday Ticker: Big thanks to Tyler Kepner for writing about “I’m Calling It Shea” on his New York Times blog. … Major, major douchebaggery story out of Cleveland, where the City Stars (a USL soccer team) will be playing in Bedford High School’s Bearcat Stadium — except that it will be called Middlefield Cheese Stadium during City Stars matches. The good news is that Middlefield Cheese is a local operation, not a giant corporate monolith, but this is still completely ridiculous, especially at a high school facility, which should be as advertising-free as possible (with thanks to Chuck Nolan Jr.). … Dwayne White recently checked out the Ted Williams Museum at at the Trop and got shots of Teddy Ballgame wearing an unfamiliar uni number and an autographed baseball with an interesting history). … Did you know that members of two political groups in Thailand broadbast their affiliations by wearing red and yellow shirts? Fascinating. … Here are the track uniforms that the Japanese team will be wearing at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin (with thanks to, of course, Jeremy Brahm). … Most of you probably know that there used to be a minor league team called the Atlanta Crackers (not to mention a Negro League team called the Atlanta Black Crackers — one of my favorite team names ever). But check this out: Here’s reader Wallace Baine as a 1972 Little Leaguer. … Nick Adenhart wasn’t the only one who died in that car crash. The Mira Costa High School baseball team has added a memorial patch for 2002 grad Henry Pearson, who was in the car with Adenhart (with thanks to Matt Shevin). … Genius move by Brandon Yarian, who got this screen shot from the webcast of Friday’s Tribe/Yanks game. Five different team logos on the screen at one time! … Really interesting find by photo historian Dave Eskenazi: a cap that’s blank except for a letter on the brim. Never seen that before. The player is Charles Burke of the 1922 Vernon Tigers. … UCLA spring football news from Erkki Corpuz, who writes: “After an injury to senior TE Logan Paulsen, the coaching staff decided to switch OT Nate Chandler to TE, requiring him to change jersey numbers from 68 to 44. Now there’s a bit of confusion on the field, since the offense has two players wearing 44: Chandler and senior WR Alex Pearlstone. From the looks of Pearstone’s shorts, he might be the one asked to change his number when the real season starts.” … Excellent early-1980s softball stirrups here (with thanks to Jason A. Tirotta). … The Orioles’ solid-orange uni lives on — as a bobblehead (great find by Zevi Lowenberg). … Well, it’s good to know someone gets to wear the Mets’ blue cap and pinstriped jersey. That’s the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. Anyone know why they gave him No. 10? … Kenny Crookston found this LP in a thrift shop. Note the logo patch. … Some guy attending yesterday’s Cubs/Cards game was wearing a collared dress shirt with a 1970s Cubs road jersey treatment, complete with a uni number on the back (as spotted by Tim Donovan). … “Last year for Christmas, I scanned my family’s slide collection,” says Barry Badrinath. “One picture, taken either in late 1986 or early ’87, shows of my brother’s old friends in a crazy striped Eagles hat. A buddy of mine thinks the hat was originally a giveaway at local MAB pain stores. I can’t confirm that, but it looks like there’s a sponsor’s logo on the left side of the hat.” … “I was at the Mets game on Wednesday,” says Thomas Carter. “The security staff for Citi Field are dressed in maroon. Many fans asked, ‘Why would they dress security in Phillies colors?’” … The TD Bankworth Garden in Boston is getting a shorter name (with thanks to John Muir).

posted by Paul Lukas on 04.18.09 @ 8:42 am