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Hot Dogs, Cheering Fans--All's Well at the Game

August 02, 1993|JACK SMITH

Dodger Stadium is beautifully situated. The trees of Elysian Park rise above the fence in center field. Blue mountains stand beyond. The day was heavily overcast and I was afraid the game would be rained out. "You think it will rain?" I asked Peter O'Malley. "No," he said with an owner's assurance. Not a drop fell.

An old man feels secure at a baseball game because the rules have hardly changed since he was a boy. "For it's three strikes you're out" is still the way it is.

Leaving before the seventh inning, we missed "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," but I'm sure they sang it with the usual feeling of security. Almost nothing has changed, that is, but that silly designated hitter rule, by which a hitter may be designated to hit for the pitcher. Fortunately it has never been adopted by the National League, and remains an American League aberration.

It was the Saturday the Dodgers beat the Mets 5-4. We left at the end of the sixth inning. At that time the Dodgers seemed to have a safe lead, 4-1. But like many of the spectators, we heard the final innings on the freeway, with Vin Scully.

We were dismayed when the Mets tied it up 4-4. The ending was rather ignominious for the Mets. Pitcher Anthony Young entered the game in the eighth inning with a 4-4 tie. He pitched two scoreless innings, then loaded the bases and walked in the winning run. It was his 27th straight loss. Not everybody leaves a ball game happy.

O'Malley served a buffet lunch. It was optional, but you could also have a Dodger Dog, which was another bow toward tradition. My grandsons had both the buffet and the Dodger Dogs, which I was tempted to do also.

"This is the only way to see a ball game," said my grandson Casey, who earned his credentials as a baseball player by breaking an arm sliding into second base. "I'm going to work hard and become a major league baseball player and earn a lot of money and buy my own team."

If he can make $3 million a year, he might do it.

When I first sat down, O'Malley said I had a chance to tell him what he had to do to the team to produce a winner. Of course I knew. Get a few more players like Jody Reed, Mike Piazza and Brett Butler and get rid of a notorious deadbeat whose name I won't mention.

If only Sandy Koufax were 29 years old again.

Since I am in rehabilitation, I need all the therapy I can get. What could be more therapeutic for an old American male than an afternoon baseball game?

It was my daughter-in-law Gail's idea. She said she wanted to get tickets to Dodger stadium for me, my wife, her, our son Curt, and our two grandsons, Casey, 14, and Trevor, 10.

It seemed like an expensive outing, but she wanted to do it. My wife called O'Malley's office to see what facilities they had for wheelchairs, since I am now obliged to use one.

To our unbounded surprise and delight, Mr. O'Malley invited all of us to come as his guests and sit in his box. What a joy!

The invitation raised some ethical questions for me. Should I allow myself to be entertained by a businessman? But I easily dismissed them. What man could resist a chance to sit with his family in the owner's box?

Since Gail is a physical therapist, she had no trouble getting me into my chair and into the stadium, parking me directly behind my seat.

Immediately I was overcome by that powerful nostalgia that baseball parks inspire in me. Everything is familiar. The green field, the brown base paths, the colorful grandstands, the crowd.

Few exercises are more graceful than the pregame workouts. The lovely skill of the players, the languorous moves, the easy throws, all coordinated like poetry in motion.

Those workouts alone are enough to convince a spectator that baseball players are athletes of superhuman skill. They almost seem worth $3 million a year.

At Dodger Stadium even the singing of the national anthem is traditional. Lowell Bassett sang it with a clear and ringing fervor, going into "land of the free" without a flat. As usual the crowd stood respectfully during the anthem, saluting it with a burst of applause.

Intermittently the organist played familiar songs. The theme song from "High Noon" ("Do not forsake me, oh my darling") and "Some Day My Prince Will Come" from "Snow White."

"Some clubs have gone in for rock, " O'Malley said, "but not the Dodgers."

It all contributed to the sense of nostalgia. That all was right with the world. That it was orderly and safe. Now and then a beach ball floated down from the seats to be whisked away by a field keeper. That was about the only vandalism they had at Dodger Stadium, he said.

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