Frank and the Never Mind Dodgers

Sharky and Bones, from Disney Junior's "Jake and the Never Land Pirates", throw out the first pitch of the Dodger/Rockies game, Saturday, August 27, 2011

I made it my mission this summer to avoid last year’s errors in terms of planning activities to keep my preschooler, Kate, busy on a more or less regular basis.  For instance, I vowed start taking my little girl to baseball games.  I posted elsewhere about her first ballgame, a trip to Los Angeles  Anaheim to see the Angels.

A nice "get" for this 4-year-old!

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed at ballgames, dating back to my early years of baseball fandom, was checking out the souvenir stand for any available swag.  My girl scored a retro-Angel cap from the mid-1970s on that trip, in addition to a souvenir bat.   Then, later on, when we got together with family friends down in San Diego, not only was it Padre Mini-Bat Day down at Petco Park, but she also scored an extremely cute little pink Padre cap–exactly the sort of thing that makes the wife happy in terms of accessorizing.

Had we the time to get into the team store, I am convinced I could have found many more random items to start turning my little I bribed the girls to get this photo!girl into a Padre fan before we’d even left the stadium.  Of course, this is notwithstanding that, much like our earlier visit to Anaheim, I had to get Kate to pose photos to get any sense of even “feigned” interest by our kid in what was actually taking place on the field (at right, for instance…).  But, without my own ancient allegiance to the Orioles, Petco Park alone, would have made me a Padre fan.  Not surprisingly, given that both the O’s and Pads could claim some lineage of sharing Larry Lucchino, former team President/CEO for both franchises (and now the same for the Boston Red Sox) and the man often credited for the unique look of both teams’ home fields, the shared DNA between the ballparks in Baltimore and San Diego might have explained the attraction.  I know for a fact that if we lived in San Diego, or were closer, I would consider some sort of ticket package to get me to that ballpark far more often.  I attended a few Padre games at Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm), and this experience was far, far superior.

Earlier in the summer though, Katelyn had expressed a strong desire to see the Dodgers.  I think that part of it had to do, somewhat, with her former preschool teacher, herself a big Dodger fan, who shared pictures of her family in Dodger gear, and talked enough about the games that Katelyn would have absorbed that information.  In addition, I also know my daughter, who often prattles on in her random fashion, tends to answer questions similarly, i.e. if you ask her the same question in rapid fire succession, you’re likely to get different answers.  Thusly, Dodgers became her “first choice”, followed by the Angels.  (The Padres never figured, if only because going to one of their games hadn’t been yet on the radar in the early Spring.)

But then came Bryan Stow.

Given circumstances, I felt that wannabe Los Angeles Anaheim was a better choice for a mid-week game with my little girl, given that I would be taking her by myself.  Petco Park was a family affair.  Finally, when my best friend and I decided to try to get together, the idea of taking our respective daughters (he has a 9-year-old) to a Dodger game seemed like a logical conclusion.  Once, he and I had shared a block of games from a package of season tickets.  Now, with our own respective families keeping our focuses inward, the chance at baseball games together has dwindled to 1 or 2 a season, if that.  With the Dodgers home towards the last weekend of August, that became our likely game target.  Interestingly enough, both were giveaway days, and, even more interesting, the Colorado Rockies were in town–just like they had been the previous month in San Diego.  After deciding that a “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” bandanna was somehow more attractive than a Dodger lunch box, I basically had my ticket marching orders.

Off to Stub Hub.  If you’ve never used the site, it’s a worthwhile visit if you’re ticket shopping.  Going through the team gets one full-priced tickets, and not necessarily in the best locations.  The Angel game, with seats in the Terrace level, was only $10 per ticket for $28 seats at an Angel/Ranger match-up.  Petco Park’s Toyota Terrace Pavilion seats ran me $20 per ticket for $26 seats.  Given the needs of a preschooler’s attention span, I wasn’t necessarily looking for the most expensive seats for a day game, especially considering that sitting in the shade would also be a priority.

But I wasn’t prepared for the 94 cent tickets I found.  Granted, it was Top Deck seating (normally $6-$12) but I’d sat there before, and unlike the View Level in Anaheim, I’ve liked the seats. The entire Stub Hub experience this time  recalled a search for Reserve Level tickets from a June column by the LA Times’ sportswriter Bill Plaschke: 

“Two dollars and fifty-five cents!”

The price was giddily shouted by my son as he scanned the computer, and I quickly scolded him for joking.

I wasn’t trying to buy a six-pack of soda. I wasn’t trying to buy a bowl of soup. I was trying to buy a reserve-level Dodgers ticket for last Wednesday’s afternoon game against the Cincinnati Reds.

“Be serious!” I told him.

“Two dollars and fifty five cents!” he shouted again.

I questioned him further. He wasn’t kidding. He had found three Dodgers tickets on the StubHub resale website for $2.55 each.

The typeface was small. The message was giant. Admission to one of baseball’s most venerable stadiums for a game involving one of baseball’s most enduring franchises was being sold for the price of a pack of hair clips.

My focus for my search, given shade needs, was the Loge Level.  With list price ranging from $30-$100, I was finding a decent selection of seats between $20-$30, eventually settling for 4 tickets at $10 a piece, right by a concession stand and the aisle–key components for a preschooler who has already shown she likes to wander about the stadium during the game.

Of course, Katelyn, finally wrapping her head around the idea that we were going back to a baseball game, immediately wanted to wear her pink Padre cap.   Mindful of Dodger fans, I decided that I wanted to be able to avoid having her wind up on life support.  We left the cap at home.

And for the most part, it seemed like everyone else had the same idea.  Much as Plaschke observed himself, the parking lot entering the park was nearly deserted, and our parking spot near the LF Pavilion was, at most, 200 yards from the entrance to the Loge Level on the third base side.  It was eerie, and while Dodger fans are known for being traditionally late arrivals, we were less than hour before game time.  I couldn’t help but think that the stroller ordeal and the long parking lot walk my wife and I endured with our then-infant Katelyn at a Dodger game back in 2008 would have been made much easier with this sort of access.

For a dying franchise to be handing out skeleton logos seems almost like piling on.

While I continued to try to wrap my head around a 56,000 seat stadium with more seats than people, Katelyn was enjoying the Disney Junior aspect of the visit.  I was just more suprised to see, after a time, that nearly as many adults as kids were wearing the red Jake bandannas.  The giveaway guidlelines mentioned “14-and-under”, so I could only conclude that perhaps, given Dodger fans lately, that they were referring to emotional age in addition to physical age.

Our seats were actually better than I could have expected–far better than the same spot that Katelyn and I had sat for the Angels/Rangers matchup in July.  But the nice view from these seats also basically gave us a nice view of even more seats.

Dodger fans are notorious for late arrivals, but this was ridiculous...

My best friend and I were impressed with the seats, despite the woeful attendance.  Chad Billingsley, the Dodger starter, was matched up against Kevin Millwood of the Rockies.  The latter had been a victim of last year’s terrible Oriole team, and had struggled to make it back to the big leagues before Colorado had resuscitated him and put him into their rotation.  Millwood was pitching well, while Billingsley was not, although to his credit, Billingsley was able to keep his team in the game.  It was labored though, and every inning became an ordeal, as the game grew longer, taking nearly 90 minutes to get out of the 3rd inning.  Throughout, I kept looking to see if the seats we’d seen empty at the start of the game would fill.  They would not.  This was not a late-arriving crowd, this was a fanbase that was staying away.

Voting with your feet implies movement.  On this day, there was none to be seen.

Fortunately, having a 4-year-old who is still establishing her critical biases, meant she was perfectly happy with junk food and my decision to bring her Mobi-Go game to keep her busy over what was becoming an increasingly long game.  Once upon a time, I would have been keeping score, but even today, it would have been maddening to try to generate a game narrative with a game that seemed interminably long between pitches (Millwood doesn’t work fast, and Billingsley’s struggles made him slow down as well.) and wasn’t played well once action happened.  Mark Ellis, the Rockies’ second-baseman, in particular had trouble with the sun behind second base.  And Juan Rivera, the Dodger (and former Angel) left-fielder played his position with little in the way of urgency, although he did manage to throw out Rockie catcher Chris Ianetta at second base trying to stretch a single into a double.

As it was, the time came when I decided to get Katelyn a Dodger cap, ostensibly to go with her caps she had gotten in Anaheim and San Diego.  But as this post points out, as the writer had been at the game the night before we came, searching for a cap that fits at the Ravine is no longer a given. 

At this point, my employee friend explained that the team has been having problems with it’s merchandiser, Facilities Management Inc. You might remember that on August 10th, that merchandiser, FMI, requested protection from the Dodgers in federal bankruptcy court. It turns out, we learned after talking to a few retail salespeople around the stadium, that FMI stopped ordering new merchandise for this season three months ago. Due to low attendance (gate attendance is even worse than the Dodgers’ struggling paid attendance), FMI is not going to make back the $4.5 million it pays for the exclusive right to sell merchandise at Dodger stadium this season. So why sink money into apparel that won’t get sold?

It didn’t help that the employees appeared as indifferent as the stadium’s fans.  While the concession stands were working as hard as they could, especially given that a number of stands were closed, due to the small crowds, at the first souvenir stand, Katelyn and I waited for several minutes for help from the lone employee, who chose to shine us on while she engaged in a talk with another customer whom she likely knew.  We ultimately walked to another kiosk, where, in lieu of an appropriately sized cap–that they didn’t have, we picked up one of those silly water bottles with the electric fan.  It had been a hot afternoon, and it made perfect sense, despite the ridiculous overprice.  The point about souvenirs had been made, however.  The Loge Level stadium store had been similarly picked over.

Sadly, Dodger Stadium has used to be my favorite in terms of ballpark experiences.  The team’s season, while a losing one, is far better than my own Orioles’ had been this year.  But the enthusiasm is gone.  In some respects, it mirrors Katelyn’s observations about the stadium’s lack of television screens hanging from the level’s ceilings, much as she had seen in Anaheim.  Even she could tell that this stadium experience was different.  The Padres’ struggles, by contrast, are accepted and patiently observed.  Fortunately for me, the Disney Junior focus (Jake episodes on the scoreboard, “Choo-Choo Soul” musical interludes) did wonders to keep her happy, but by the bottom of the 8th inning, and the game approaching the 3 1/2 hour mark, my friend and I decided that it was time to go.  I had promised to take my daughter for the day, but I had meant it in the metaphorical, not literal sense.  With Katelyn having missed her nap, and her becoming punchier by the second, it wouldn’t be long before she began singing German drinking songs.

Oh yeah, the Dodgers wound up winning, 4 hours and 39 minutes after the game had started.

And, according to the LA Times today, the stadium’s numbers continue to dwindle. 

It’s been said that Comedy = Tragedy + Time.  In order for tragedy to become comedy, you need time.  Sadly, the poor attendance numbers are indicative that the Dodger situation is beyond that–the fans are not even going to give Frank McCourt the time of day any more.

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