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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

National Pastime? In L.A., It's Lining Up for Dodger Dogs

April 15, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

So here we are at L.A.'s favorite restaurant, Dodger Stadium, on a fine April evening, with a full moon rising over right field and that new Arizona team in town for dinner.

It is the third inning and a few of the fans have already arrived.

"Where is everybody?" my lovely and patient older daughter asks.

"Just wait," I say. "They'll be here."

It is a terrific night for dining outside, a soft spring night. Even on the field, things are going well.

"Nice hit," I say as the pitcher, of all people, singles up the middle.

"Nice bunt," I say, as the next batter sets down a perfect bunt.

"Another bunt!" I yell, as the following batter bunts yet again.

This is good baseball, two perfect bunt singles in a row, loading the bases for one of the game's greatest sluggers.

"Piazza!" the little red-haired girl next to me yells.

"Piazza!" her little friend screams.

Out on the field, Mike Piazza swaggers to the plate. Some fans are booing him. Others are cheering him.

"Why are they booing?" my older daughter asks.

"Something about money," I say.

The first pitch is low, but Piazza swings anyway.

"Strike one," the umpire says, and several fans moan, especially me.

"You OK, Daddy?" the little red-haired girl asks.

"Just watch the game," I say.

The next pitch isn't low, and Piazza clubs it over the wall, the ball glancing off the center fielder's outstretched glove at the very last moment, if only for effect.

"What an inning," I tell my older daughter. "A single by the pitcher, two fine bunts and a grand slam. That's excellent baseball."

"Sure, Dad," she says. "Can we eat now?"

I really don't want to go to the snack stand. I've got a bag of peanuts next to me. And I'm feeling that little tingle baseball fans feel when they sense they are part of something special.

"Sure," I finally say.

So I head up the aisle, taking two steps at a time, the way fans do when the game is going well.

Now, as every fan knows, they do an excellent job at the Dodger food stands. It hardly ever takes more than 45 minutes to get a hot dog and a Coke, sometimes a little longer if you want nachos too. But I've never spent more than two hours in line there. Three hours max.

Though badly outnumbered, the people behind the counter do their best, quickly filling soft drinks and pumping out nacho cheese.

The woman serving our line pumps the nacho cheese furiously, then stops, then pumps some more. She pumps as if she has some sort of rotator cuff injury.

"This line is sure moving slow," the guy behind me mutters to his pal.

"Sure is," the pal says.

Inside, the crowd roars, but the people in line remain patient. We shift from foot to foot, trying to keep our toes from falling asleep.

"Are we moving?" the guy behind me asks.

We glance at the other lines to make sure they aren't moving also, to make sure we haven't made a wrong choice. To our relief, they are not moving as well.

"Need more dogs!" a person behind the counter yells to the workers in back. And as if by magic, someone immediately doesn't appear with more Dodger dogs.

"Need more cheese!" someone calls while pumping on the nacho cheese. And as if by magic, someone immediately doesn't appear with more nacho cheese.

"This is really taking a long time," the guy behind me says.

"I wonder what goes on back there," his pal says.

I explain to them that back behind the kitchen, just outside the door, there is a guy with one tiny hibachi, grilling all the Dodger dogs.

He is sitting in a lawn chair and listening to the game on the radio, getting up to turn the hot dogs between innings or at pitching changes.

"Got three more!" he'll yell every once in a while, and a co-worker will appear and whisk the three cooked Dodger dogs away to food counters across the stadium.

"That's a good system," the guy behind me says.

"It was developed by the DMV," I explain. "Each year they fine-tune it. And then it moves a little slower."

As we wait, people in line are getting acquainted. Next to us, a young man proposes marriage. In another line, two others discuss divorce. And in the front of our line, a woman appears to be sitting down.

"I think she's in labor," the guy behind me says.

"I think I'm in labor," his pal says.

"Maybe you're just hungry," I say.

Inside, the crowd roars.

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays.

His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.a

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