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Sense of Place

Fans Behind Bars : Even a Wholesome Place Like Dodger Stadium Has to Have a Jail

October 05, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER | Scott Ostler is a syndicated sports columnist for The Times.

The Dodger organization likes to think of its stadium as the Disneyland of baseball--a wholesome, family-type place. The concept of a Dodger Stadium jail doesn't fit that image.

"Please don't call it a jail," says Bob Smith, the Dodgers' director of stadium operations.

"How about 'slammer'?" I ask.

"It's just a holding area," Smith insists politely.

I let the matter drop, but figure if we have to call jails "holding areas," we're going to ruin a lot of good country-and-Western songs.

The Dodger jail is part of the stadium security office, which is between the two upper decks, behind home plate. The entrance is around the back of the stadium, and the only obvious connection with baseball is a TV monitor that carries the ballgame, which nobody here seems to watch. The field is visible through a single small window, but the view is cut off by the upper deck. All you can see are the batter's feet, the home-plate umpire's legs and, when he squats, the entire catcher.

Security is a large, bleak room furnished with metal desks and a row of tattered, mismatched chairs. On the wall is a fading bumper sticker: "The Fuzz Is Your Friend."

The holding cells are two bare-naked rooms that look suspiciously like jail cells. The larger is 7 by 9 feet, with a concrete floor and a ceiling light bulb. The metal door has a window with vertical steel bars covered by a sheet of clear plastic, because sometimes the occupants want to spit and holler.

The other cell is smaller and has no bars on the window. Both cells are painted pale yellow, not Dodger blue.

If this was a jail, then Bob Pixler and Jerry Sparks would be the jailers. They coordinate stadium security, and they usually determine who gets locked up and who doesn't.

Pixler and Sparks are pleasant, middle-aged guys. They are moonlighting L.A. police detectives who usually work in high-crime areas. By comparison, this Dodger job is a piece of cake.

"It's a lot more relaxing here," Pixler says, relaxing.

Pixler and Sparks prefer quiet nights. This happens to be one. During the first inning, two scalpers are led into the office in handcuffs. They are uncuffed and instructed to fill out "contact cards" that will be kept on file to identify repeat scalpers and other scofflaws. Their tickets are confiscated.

"We don't always cuff 'em, but sometimes they bolt," Pixler explains. "Those two are regulars. I recognize the one guy. Some of 'em you see every home stand. We used to arrest 'em (the scalpers), but the problem's not as great now. We try to limit arrests."

Baseball is a stat-crazy sport, but the Dodger security people don't keep jail statistics. Or at least they don't give out the numbers. How many are jailed every season? What was the busiest night ever? Such questions are met with a shrug. "We might go through a home stand without an arrest," Pixler says. "If it's a bad game, one or two. A lot of times we'll just ask 'em to go home."

"They become very humble after a few minutes (in a holding cell)," Sparks says, "when they realize, 'I guess I'm really in trouble.' "

Some really are in trouble. It's often a judgment call by Pixler and Sparks, but the worst offenders are cuffed and locked in the Dodger jail. An LAPD paddy wagon then picks up the prisoners and transfers them to either the Rampart or Wilshire division for booking or release.

The most common jailable crimes seem to be vandalism, fighting and drunkenness. Most offenders stay in the holding area a couple of hours at most, until they cool off or get shipped downtown. No overnight guests. No meals. No piped-in Vin Scully. And no one has ever escaped.

In the sixth inning, word comes over the radio that Bob Smith has spotted trouble with rowdy fans on the blue level and has shut off beer sales there. A fan walks in to complain about the shut-off. A man calls and threatens to sue the Dodgers for cutting off his beer.

Pixler and Sparks sit at their desks, killing time, discussing news events, handling phone calls, waiting. They ignore the game on TV.

Finally, in the eighth inning, some action. Four men in their 20s are herded into the office by four security cops, an usher and a plainclothesman--another moonlighting L.A. cop. The cop directs the gentlemen into the smaller cell and joins them for a chat.

To call these four fans scruffy would be charitable. One wears a T-shirt that reads "Cali bleeping fornia." These fellows had nice front-row seats in the second deck, but they had bad hands. They kept dropping things, like beer and cigarette ashes, onto the fans below.

Inside the cell, even with the door open, the Fumblefingered Four seem quite humble. They do a lot of mumbling and shrugging.

" You're the ones that caused beer sales to be stopped in the sixth inning," the cop says, reproachfully. Like a teacher scolding his third-graders, the officer works the four, trying for a confession or a snitch. No luck.

"What's happening in the game?" one of the detainees calls out. "Can we get a baseball check?"

"No!" the cop barks.

The men are held about 15 minutes. No fans show up to press charges. Finally the four are ushered out of the cell and down the hall. They are released into the night, and they shuffle off quietly.

The parking lot isn't a great place to be, not when you can hear the cheers from inside as the home team pounds out a big win. But it beats doing time in the Dodger jail.

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