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Almost Perfect
2005-07-15 10:36
by Ken Arneson

I was at Dodger Stadium last night, so I missed watching Rich Harden's near-perfect game. But rest assured I had one eye on the scoreboard the whole evening. Dodger Stadium out-of-town scoreboards show don't show hits, but they do which team is up. The Rangers' half-innings passed so quickly that I actually did wonder whether Harden might be throwing a no-hitter.

I'm a bit sorry I missed Harden's performance, but I'm sure I'll have another opportunity. With his stuff and his young age, he's probably more likely than anyone alive to throw a no-hitter in the future.

This was my first visit to Dodger Stadium. The thing that struck me is the contrast between the stadium and the city it represents. So much of L.A. is ugly, ugly, ugly: mile after mile of perfectly straight streets with nothing but man-made landmarks to guide you: freeways and apartment buildings and a gazillion mini shopping malls, each with a beauty salon, a donut shop, and a billboard for the latest motion picture. Our drive to the Dodger Stadium was something completely different: we avoided the freeway for the most part, and went through Griffith Park, a lovely area with trees and hills and small winding roads. At the end of one of these winding roads, we arrived at Dodger Stadium.

It became immediately clear what makes Dodger Stadium special for L.A. fans: it's beautiful. The trees, the hills, the flowers planted around ballpark, and the green grass of the field itself: it's a quiet oasis in a desert of noisy asphalt. What a relief this place must be for L.A. fans from the constant bustle of the valleys nearby.

And in that sense, the architecture of Dodger Stadium suits its surroundings. The design is remarkably simple; there are no artificial asymmetries calling attention to itself--it doesn't need them. It's surrounded by the asymmetry of nature itself.

My two companions who had grown up in L.A. both lamented how much advertising had creeped into the ballpark, but as a first-time visitor, I wouldn't have noticed it as anything unusual. The Coliseum and SBC Park both have far more ads. But after they mentioned it, the ads on the outfield wall did indeed seem to detract from the beauty of the park. They could have been placed more tastefully.

We sat in the third deck, between home plate and first base. We were up pretty high (and I can't imagine what it must be like in the deck above us), but the sight lines were good.

On the down side, the ballpark shows its age in several ways. The different seating sections are segregated, making it difficult to explore the ballpark. And the seats themselves were horribly uncomfortable.

They tell me that they're going to put in new seats next year, and honestly, it couldn't be too soon. I couldn't sit straight up in my seat. My seat had a downward slope, and not only that, but it was extremely slippery. It was like sitting on a slide. My butt kept slipping forward, which made me slouch backward and bend my neck almost to my chin to keep my eyes on home plate. I had to choose between this upper back pain and lower back pain: sitting on the edge of my seat without back support. I chose the lower back pain. Fifteen hours later, I can still feel it.

It didn't help that the leg room was minimal, too. I'm 5'10", and I felt like my legs were squeezed; I can't imagine the discomfort if I were 6'4".

On the recommendation of Jon Weisman, I tried both a Dodger Dog and a Super All-Beef Dodger Dog. The beef dog was nothing special. The Dodger Dog tasted very similar to the hot dogs they serve in Norway, but without the hard, crunchy skin. Blah. If you're going to eat a hot dog that tastes like that, you might as well have the skin. It was like eating an Eskimo Pie without the crunchy chocolate coating. The experience is missing something.

The game itself was fairly entertaining. It was a good pitching matchup, Jason Schmidt versus Brad Penny. Schmidt was obviously still not himself, throwing 90-93mph on his fastball instead of his usual 95-98. But he's a smart pitcher, and he knows how to get people out anyway.

I suppose the one thing I'll remember most about the game was Brad Penny getting thrown out of the game. He was safe at first on a bad throw, but got tagged out by Ray Durham after taking a step towards second base. I can't recall ever seeing that called in a major league game before. Penny threw a pretty good tantrum after he got thrown out. I only wish that Tommy Lasorda had been the manager to follow Penny's tirade. Jim Tracy doesn't do tantrums nearly as well. Managerial tantrums are becoming a lost art. Go kick dirt, dudes!

If I remember anything else about the game, it'll be that the Dodger fans put the kiss of death on their own team. Ken's Axiom #23: if you start the wave when the visiting team is batting, the visiting team will inevitably start a rally. All that noise makes any minor threat seem like a big one, it makes the situation seem more pressure packed than it is, and it gives the wrong team the psychological advantage. The Dodger fans got a really big wave going in the top of the 7th (a very impressive wave, actually), and sure enough, the Giants immediately started a rally. Omar Vizquel said thank you very much, and launched a home run that plunked right off the netting of the foul pole, and that was the difference in the game.

I'll post some pictures after I get home. I got some good ones of Jason Schmidt's delivery from above.

Update: Slideshows are now available.

2005-07-15 14:24:00
1.   Bob Timmermann
So you were in the Reserved Level, aka blue seats? Yeah, those seats are in really sorry shape. I will be there Saturday (I have a 12-game package) and my seats are EXACTLY like you describe. And they are uncomfortable and I'm 6'5".

There aren't too many scenic routes to Dodger Stadium. The prettiest route would go through Echo Park, but the residents there didn't really like all the traffic, so that's a tough one to find.

Of course, the surrounding area by the Oakland Coliseum (as I remember it from my year in Berkeley) is not exactly the most scenic either.

Were you coming to Dodger Stadium from the San Fernando Valley? That's not exactly the most scenic area of Our Fair Metro Area (albeit it's my birthplace.)

2005-07-15 17:23:34
2.   Ken Arneson
Yeah, blue seats, and yes San Fernando Valley (Van Nuys).
2005-07-15 18:28:41
3.   Kenny
Ken, please elaborate on those Norwegian hot dogs. From your cursory description about the crunchy outside, my mouth already waters.
2005-07-15 18:57:28
4.   Ken Arneson
It's not worth letting your mouth water about. Norwegian (and Swedish, for that matter) hot dogs don't taste that good; beef is expensive in Scandinavia, so hot dogs and hamburgers tend to be made of cheaper meats like pork and chicken.

But they have a hard edible coating (it doesn't really taste like anything) that gives it some texture that makes the taste bearable. Really, you're not missing much.

2005-07-15 23:53:16
5.   Bob Timmermann
Speaking as a guy who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, the L.A. area is nicer looking than Van Nuys would make you believe. The San Fernando Valley in the summertime is not a place for the faint of heart.
2005-07-16 16:18:39
6.   Vishal
the seats have been there for decades. word is that they're getting replaced this offseason, i believe.
2005-07-16 16:23:48
7.   Vishal
ps. i hate the stupid wave, but the pavilion drunks, kids, and tourists seem to love nothing better than to keep standing and sitting repeatedly. that and batting beach balls away from the ushers. watch the game, people!

other than that, chavez ravine is heaven. also, i believe the dodger dog trademark thing is that they are smooth and soft, rather than rubbery and tough.

anyway, i'm glad you had fun at the game, ken.

2005-07-27 13:16:38
8.   ElysianPark62
Thanks for your report, Ken. As a lifelong Dodger fan who's been going since 1972, I'm always eager to hear other people's takes on the stadium.

BTW, not all of L.A. is ugly, ugly, ugly. If you were in the Valley, that says a ton about why you made your observations. (Sorry, 818 folks.). There are so many great areas that you would forget you're part of the second largest city in America.

Try hitting Palos Verdes and the South Bay beaches, Pasadena, La Canada-Flintridge, Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Will Rogers Park, just to name a few. If you liked Griffith Park, you would like those places. A great thing about southern CA is the varied topography. Get out of the Valley and explore. And don't rely on touristy places, either! Ask locals!

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