I suppose that answers this question; SoSG Steve Sax is definitely one lucky guy. My experience at the Stadium yesterday for the Dodgers 2009 Home Opener wasn't just goose-bump filling, as Opening Days always are. No, it also ended up being historic (watching Orlando Hudson hit for the cycle for the first time since Wes Parker in 1970), masterful (Chad Billingsley's incredibly efficient 11K, 0BB performance augmented by a key bunt in the fateful fourth inning that blew the game wide open), celebratory (with Andre Ethier and Hudson providing plenty of opportunities to get the fans charged up with home runs--including two from Ethier). And did I mention, victorious?
But enough about that, let me try and convey some of what it was like to be there. (Orel has added enough great photos, that I had to be a bit more selective.)
SoSG Alex Cora and I of course got there early and braved the long slog up the hill to the Sunset Gate. Parking, by the time that we had gotten shoved into Lot 1, was still sporadic and full of people tailgating out the backs of their pickup trucks. This time, however, there were no cops to be found despite the fact that most of the people were getting loaded well before game time--and when a couple of Dodgers security people were spotted zipping around on three-wheeled segway wanna-be's, they weren't doing anything to stop anyone. AC and I didn't stick around to hang out with the beer guzzlers in the parking lot, but it was a little concerning; though I suppose it could have been worse--we could have been in Lot 6 with knife-wielding fans.
Seriously, McCourt needs to upgrade his non-existent security staff at Dodger Stadium, both outside and inside Dodger Stadium. This is a problem that has worsened in particular over the last three years. But that's another rant for another day. Hopefully, in the meantime, no one will have to die before McCourt does the right thing.
Speaking of McCourt, Frankie himself was zipping into a gated section harboring his wife Jamie, Dodger VP of Public Relations Josh Rawitch, and the fine folks at KABC 790 Ken Levine and Josh Suchon. Rawitch was looking dapper indeed, given the pressures and mayhem of Opening Day.
Josh S. even stopped to say hello to the Sons of Steve Garvey. Hello, Josh Suchon!
Inside the stadium, there are still traces of old-school goodness, like the promotional calendar that hangs above the long escalators leading from field level to the loge level. I love how every placard is individually hung from hooks and how they update the chart to remove past promotions after every homestand.
And then, you turn a corner, and find traces of new-school crap, like posters trying to shill Dodger-branded blue water. Puh-leez. Even if you're going to sign this license, must you shove it in our faces (along with the hefty price tag)?
Dodgertown was indeed the new slogan for the year; in the team stores, $40 worth of purchases got one a Dodgertown t-shirt as well. I should note that the Opening Series t-shirt design never fails to disappoint, as once again the shirt (only one design available) looked AWFUL. I'll rant on this later, too. How hard is it to hire a freelance designer once a year, to make a couple of t-shirts that people might want to wear?
As it turns out, Eric Karros was there! But it wasn't SoSG Eric Karros. No sign of anyone wearing a Delino DeShields jersey, by the way. Though my section did get up in arms mostly about a guy wearing a red Angels cap, chanting the requisite intellectually-stimulating "Angels Suck!" cheer incessantly. Come on, people. The Angels are not our enemy. The Giants are. Why not pick on the idiot wearing the Aaron Rowand jersey instead? Must an Angels fan be the target of your mockery, when better targets persist in their hideous Halloween colors?
My first Dodger Dog of the year was gone in about ten seconds, barely giving me enough time to take this shot. Note the beer in the upper left corner--still $10 for a cup of domestic beer; I didn't recall any change or discounted price. Total damage: four beers, one Dodger Dog, one malt, and a bin of garlic fries split with Alex Cora. Not a bad outing, if I do say so myself.
And then, slowly, the place starts getting filled up. A buzz fills the air. People are humming with excitement--or maybe that's just the poor folks penned into center field like future veal cutlets (and apparently not even allowed on the warning track this year, sad to say). There are a lot more advertisements on the outfield wall, but the one that stands out is San Manuel Casino--hooray, the Dodgers are supporting gambling in their "family friendly" environment!
Jet Blue also brought out a portable jetway staircase, which I thought at the time was going to be the only viable artery from the loge level down to the field level, a further enforcement of Frank McCourt's class system vision for Dodger Stadium. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised that this was a setup for one of the better ideas I've seen--having the Dodger players walk through the crowd to take the field for their introductions, rather than hop out of the dugout.
I have to say, this was brilliant, and a worthy follow-up to last year's field of dreams parade of Dodger legends. AC was lucky enough to slap hands with James Loney as he took the field, and I sprinted over to the next section to welcome Brad "Merry" Ausmus, Orlando "O-Dog, the Cycle Man" Hudson, and Juan "Please Don't Hurt Me As I Walk Down This Aisle" Castro. I have heard, though I have not confirmed this firsthand, that in his post-game interviews, Hudson attributed his historic cycle-registering day to his slapping SoSG Sax's hand during player intros. I'm not surprised that I was the catalyst for O-Dog's breakout performance...after all, I was feeling LUCKY, remember?
Since the players were introduced in numerical order, big #99 Manny Ramirez came last, echoed by deafening cheers from the crowd as well as streamers shot from the stadium. It was a sight--really, a well-orchestrated event. (The jetway staircase was used to introduce a couple of players, including Hong-Chih Kuo, from the Dodgers bullpen area--these guys didn't walk through the left field pavilion, but rather popped up at the top of the staircase and came down the stairs.) (Also interesting was that Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, and Andre Ethier all got great cheers, Martin's coming while he was warming up Chad Billingsley in the bullpen. Martin acknowledged the cheers by raising his gloved hand, but when Bills was introduced right after Martin, Chadley gave no such acknowledgment--his Royal Thighness was clearly in the zone and couldn't be bothered with such frivolities. Good thing, too!)
The new starting lineup introduction graphics are pretty basic, with a boring sans serif font and a much quicker pace between players than what I recall from last year. Plus, there's a lot of use of red as an accent color, which is a little weird for fans of Dodger blue, but perhaps is designed to underscore patriotism? Okay, I'm nerding out here. Did I mention that they sell Dibs now, a small bucket of which runs a stratospheric $6.50 (check out the vendor's shirt button)?
There was the prospect of a bad omen at one point during the pre-game festivities, after they let out hundreds of white doves on the field and one of them appeared to have crashed into the Diamond Vision (click on the next picture for a larger image; you can see the speck in the middle of the next photo--it looks like a cursor arrow). It sat there for about two minutes, motionless, before flapping its wings a couple of times (thankfully, it's still alive!) and then working its way out of the LED screen to fly away. Whew! A dead dove smack dab in the middle of the Diamond Vision screen would have been a pretty bad omen for the Dodgers' season (though on the positive side, fans in the left field pavilion might have gotten some fried poultry as a late menu add).
In the "bad ideas" category is one inter-inning interstitial called "The Kaiser Permanente Jr Dodgers Exercise Minute." This video is absolutely awful, with poor production value highlighting shots of two kids and an adult asking fans to stand up, stretch, and take a couple of steps, while a moronic 1980's era synth song evoking the Hamster Dance song plays in the background. Interspersed real-time shots of kids in the crowd showed more befuddled looks and complete inertia that it seemed to be almost counter-productive, as confusion led to a more sedentary nature of the crowd. Maybe it was just because I was on my second bucket of overpriced Dibs, but seriously, if this is the price of fitness, I'm siding with the couch potatoes. Please, stop playing this interstitial video. It's embarrassing. Just stick to the frickin' blooper reels, will you? (Though in the "good news" category is that I think they've finally exiled the brain-numbing hat shuffle, unless I missed it. It's about time.)
My last shot is of Hudson as they applaud his historic cycle on Diamond Vision. Way to go, O-Dog! (Though to be honest, I thought you might have been out at third base, not that my vantage point was very good.)
And way to go, Dodgers. Opening Day romps over the Giants are always fun to see even when the drubbing is out of hand before the fourth inning is complete. Randy Johnson was chased so early, his 7.00 ERA jumped to 11.42. And the only other San Francisco jersey-wearing folks in my section got up and left before the seventh inning stretch, walking up the aisle with grumpy faces to a chorus of appreciative boos. Just another case of San Francisco Giants fans leaving early, I suppose.
What a great game to attend. I roasted in the sun and loved every minute of it. Opening Day 2009 is in the books, and it was probably better than I could have scripted, and undoubtedly the best Dodger Opening Day to which I've ever been. I do feel lucky, indeed.