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Friday, July 18, 2003
Updated: August 15, 2:33 PM ET
Hanging with Dem Bums

By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This is the eighth report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.

LOS ANGELES -- When I was a kid, I was a member of the Dodger Pepsi Fan Club. For something like four bucks, they gave you a T-shirt, a hat and top deck seats to a handful of games. I remember proudly wearing the hat and the shirt to those games, and sitting in the highest row behind home plate, up against a giant concrete column with the Dodgers logo on it.

REPORT CARD
Dodger Stadium
Capacity: 65,000
Opened: April 10, 1962
Surface: Grass

Our Ratings:
Seat comfort: 4.5.
Hot dogs: 4
Concessions: 3
Signature food: 4.5
Beer: 3.5
Bathrooms: 3.5
Scoreboard: 4.5
P.A. system: 4.5
Fun stuff: 2
Souvenirs: 4.5
Tickets: 4
Exterior: 4.5
Interior: 5
Access: 3.5
Ushers: 4
Trading up: 2
Fan knowledge: 4
7th inning stretch: 5
Local scene: 4
Wild card: 9
Total: 82.5

I loved those seats. They were up there, but they were good baseball seats -- in tight over home, looking out at the fans in the pavilions, and beyond them to the sunset mist settling in on the chaparral hills behind the park.

The other night, I went back to those seats (for the first time in 27 years) for part of the game, leaned my head back against the hard cool of the concrete column and stared happily out at the outfield grass.

It was sweet. It felt like nothing had changed.

And that's the whole Dodger Stadium story, really -- it's more-or-less the same as it ever was: a pristine, 41-year-old, sun-splashed jewel, tucked up in the Los Angeles hills, a place where baseball in the warm night air is the thing.

No wacky sideshow diversions, no post-modern self-conscious "character." Just a simple structure carved into the hill, an open-air theater waiting for the drama of each game (which lately means waiting to see how the poor Bums will scratch out their one run a night) to unfold.

So if you like umbrellas in your drinks, you might want to head somewhere else. But if you like the smooth, subtle pleasure of sipping brandy from a snifter, make your way to Chavez Ravine.

The Ratings:

1. Seat comfort: Truth be told, the seats are getting old (you can feel them sagging a bit), but they're still comfortable, and shorter-than-usual armrests leave your knees room to move. The best part of the seats, of course, is their color. The top deck is red, upper-reserved seats are blue, loge seats are orange, box seats are gold. It's the pattern you see in all the baseball movies, it's the pattern that catches the light, it's the pattern that gives the place its identity. It's a comfortable pattern. For me, it's home. Points: 4.5

2. Quality of hot dogs: Old-timers wax poetic about the legendary "Spicy Dogs," which were taken off the menu in 1981. What's left are the Farmer John Dodger Dogs, and the people are split on these: Some say they lack character and punch, others say they have the perfectly understated twang of the grill about them. I side with the latter crew. Two dogs with mustard and relish every time. 4

DODGER STADIUM BUDGET
Here's what Page 2's Eric Neel spent during his day at Dodger Stadium:

Cab rides: $12

Ticket: $10

Dodger Dogs (2): $7

Coke: $3.50

Beer: $8

Malt: $3.50

Peanuts: $5

Total: $49

3. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: Domino's, Carl's Jr., Subway. Blah, blah, blah. 3 (Would have been only one point, but they still sell those Carnation chocolate malts in a cup -- the ones with wooden spoons -- that aren't exactly good, but are definitely irresistible ... plus the big bag of peanuts is truly big)

4. Signature concession item: It's the Dodger Dogs. Rumor has it they're soaked in beer, before being boiled, and then grilled. That's a lot of love for $3.50. My score above is a bit stingy. Let's say ... 4.5

5. Beer: Miller, Bud and Coors, etc. at the regular stands and Heineken, Fosters, etc. at the "Beers of the World" stand. Only thing remarkable is the $8 price tag on the imports. 3.5

6. Bathrooms: The park shows its age a little here. Some tile erosion, some dim lighting. Clean, but not plush. (And just so we're clear: Troughs never impress.) 3.5

7. Scoreboard: The scoreboard is quaint, right down to its orange LED names and numbers. But it's also rectangular and small, which is cool, because you see the hills behind and around it. The star attraction is the DodgerVision screen stationed above the left field pavilion. High-res highlights, and up-close-and-personal shots of fans in the stands. They put folks' faces on the big screen all game long -- more than I've seen at any other park -- which makes the night feel like a family affair. 4.5

8. Quality of the public address system: Very clean, very clear, very loud. This is good when the guy's introducing, "Paul LoDuca ... First Base," or when the song is Wild Cherry's "Play that Funky Music White Boy" or the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun." It's excruciating, however, when the song is Scandal's "The Warrior." 4.5

Eric Neel
The back says, "My dad went to Dodger Stadium and all I got was this lousy t-shirt".
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: There ain't none. This is fine. Keep baseball at the center of things. I'm down with that. But there was a weird officious vibe coming off the ushers and security folks when I started asking whether they had speed pitch, etc. "I can't answer that," one woman told me. "You'll have to speak to customer service," another said. Had a kind of Twilight Zone feel about it, like I was stumbling onto some deep, dark secret. Talking to these folks was something to do besides the game, but it wasn't really very fun. 2

10. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: The Eric Gagne "Game Over" shirts ($15) -- some with suede fringe mimicking his goatee -- are mighty fine, especially on my little girl (pictured here). Other highlights include a boxing Dodger puppet ($20) and original stadium seats for only $1,059. 4.5

11. Ticket price/availability: They range from six bucks for the pavilions and top deck to $35 for field boxes. I walked up an hour before game time on a Sunday night and had no trouble. I settled on $10 outer reserved seats (which were up a ways and down the third base line) because you can't move out of the pavilions once you're in them. 4

12. Exterior architecture: Elegant, clean lines. And I love the way it's cut into the hill, except for the hundreds of stairs, which require you to climb to get to the cheap seats. A modern park would have escalators for such a thing. This park is a classic -- wear tennnies. 4.5

THE GRADES
Grades for ballpark we've visited so far on our summer tour:

Pac Bell (Giants): 93
Camden Yards (Orioles): 92
Edison Field (Angels): 84
Kauffman Stadium (Royals): 84
Wrigley Field (Cubs): 84
Dodger Stadium (Dodgers): 82.5
Comerica Park (Tigers): 82
Fenway Park (Red Sox): 81.5
Safeco Field (Mariners): 81.5
Jacobs Field (Indians): 81
Turner Field (Braves): 81
Pro Player Stadium (Marlins): 78
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox): 74
Yankee Stadium (Yankees): 73.5
Bank One Ballpark (D-Backs): 72
SkyDome (Blue Jays): 67
Qualcomm Stadium (Padres): 58
Tropicana Field (Devil Rays): 56
Veterans Stadium (Phillies): 53.5
Olympic Stadium (Expos): 49

Complete rankings by category

13. Interior architecture: You can see the game from the concourse as you walk the park. You can see the surrounding hills as you sit in your seat. You can see the larger-than-life photos of former greats on the outfield wall. And you can see into the bullpens through peek-a-boo fences. 5

14. Access: The freeway snarl in and out of downtown L.A. is notorious, but once you're through whatever interchange you need to get through, getting to the park is pretty easy. Getting out of the park? That takes an advanced degree in physics and a flair for crisis management. Two words of advice, (courtesy of our good friends in Led Zeppelin): "No Quarter."

I actually took a cab from a downtown L.A. hotel this time. It cost $8 to get there and $4 coming back, because I shared a ride with guys in from Canada who were staying downtown for some kind of techy networking conference.

Starting next month, folks will also be able to ride the Gold Line train in to the park from points east, including Pasadena, which means this score is on its way up. But for now, it's ... 3.5 (including bonus half-point for the Union 76 gas station located right in the Stadium parking lot)

15. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: Cheerful and helpful (unless, of course, you ask about a speed pitch), dressed in khakis and navy polos, looking all Dodger-Blue relaxed. They also wear headphone-and-mic units, and there are a lot of them. I mean a lot. At every entrance, aisle and doorway. Looking all Secret-Service alert. You feel safe, you feel cared for, and you also feel a little intimidated. 4

Eric Neel
Eric Neel manages to get a little closer to the field.
16. Trading up factor: Very tight (see above item on ushers) until the eighth. Then I managed to get here. (See picture at right) 2

(By the way, I can only show you what "here" looks like because a fine, upstanding young man named Andrew bailed me out with his digital camera when mine went on the fritz. Thanks, Andrew!)

17. Knowledge of local fans: The standard line is that the Dodger faithful are late-arriving, early-leaving, apathetic and uninformed fans. The standard line is tired and untrue.

They're not apathetic and uninformed. (And they've got Vin on the radio.) 4

18. Seventh-inning stretch: Organ music. And everybody singing along. It's like church is what it is. And you know I have to give church a ... 5 (because if I didn't, my grandma would come looking for me)

19. Pregame and postgame bar and restaurant scene: It's Los Angeles for crying out loud. There is no one scene, and the hip spots in the city shift all the time, and it doesn't matter, because you can go anywhere you want anyway. But if it's me, here's the plan: Pregame is the city's best tacos and salsa at Taco's Delta on Sunset and postgame it's a wind-down drink and some nosh at The Shortstop, also on Sunset. 4 (no tailgating allowed at Dodger Stadium, by the way)

20. Wild card: The night air in Chavez Ravine is a rare and wonderful thing. It's true, the city isn't perfect -- there's a little smog, some crime, some traffic, some wacky separatist politics -- but the way the night wraps itself around you, the sense you get, just from feeling it on your skin, that nothing bad could happen just this minute in just this place -- that's a Dodger Stadium blessing, and you receive it and you are grateful. 9

TOTAL SCORE FOR DODGER STADIUM: 82.5