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Two Dollars and No Sense

Latest incident between fans and security at Dodger Stadium shows the problem of cheap-seats promotion, but some say it's merely a sign of the times in baseball

May 05, 2005|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Could reducing the price of the least expensive Dodger tickets by $4 alter the dynamic of the dyed-in-the-blue crowd so dramatically that unruly fan behavior disrupts the game and borders on the criminal?

Team officials are reviewing security procedures and considering dropping the popular "$2 Tuesdays" promotion after an ugly incident that occurred before the sixth inning of the game Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals.

"We hope that recent incidents in the ballpark are not a growing trend," Marty Greenspun, Dodger chief operating officer, said Wednesday. "However, we are prepared to take all necessary steps and actions to ensure all of our fans have a safe and positive experience."

Fans in the $2 seats beyond the right-field wall littered the field with debris in response to the arrest of two teenage boys who jumped into the outfield by first leaping from the pavilion stands onto a protective covering near the visitors' bullpen. They eluded a posse of security guards for a few moments, drawing howls from the pavilion crowd, which began jeering the guards when the boys were carried off the field.

The game was stopped for six minutes to clean up paper cups and plastic water bottles strewn in the outfield. A brief hush came over the crowd, but within minutes the cheap seats again resembled an open-air "Jerry Springer" show.

Heated verbal exchanges and mildly obscene chants continued throughout the game. Overburdened security personnel were the objects of derision for their fruitless attempts at corralling beach balls and for escorting unruly fans to the exits.

Experts say fans who normally wouldn't engage in inappropriate behavior often join in when it appears others are getting away with it.

"There comes a point where you can't laugh along with the ringleaders," said Leonard Zaichkowsky, a Boston University professor who has studied fan behavior.

"It becomes an emotional contagion. A mob mentality starts to form."

The boys who ran onto the field were charged with trespassing and released to the custody of their parents, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Dodger security officers said that about 10 of the boys' friends responsible for much of the debris-throwing were ejected.

No fans were removed for fighting, but security officers said several brawls had to be halted the first time the promotion was held. About 14,000 of the discounted tickets were sold each of the last two Tuesdays, significantly boosting attendance on traditionally sluggish nights (the Dodgers' announced attendance Tuesday was 41,190). Team officials insist the misbehavior has nothing to do with the promotion, but stadium security personnel said otherwise.

"They call it 'Fight Night Tuesdays' now," said a security guard working the top deck of the stadium, another area where tickets sold for $2. The promotion includes all 6,600 seats in the outfield pavilions -- where no alcohol is sold -- and more than 7,000 seats in the top deck and outer portions of the general reserve level where beer, wine and margaritas can be purchased.

Security employees would not provide their names because they said stadium staffers have been instructed not to comment to the media. Asked whether the $2 customers caused more problems than fans who normally pay $6 for the same seats, two security guards working in the pavilion threw back their heads and laughed. "Absolutely," one said.

The top deck crowd was mostly young adults, while the pavilion was peppered with a broad range of fans from children to seniors. Although the atmosphere in both sections was decidedly more lively than the more expensive loge and field levels, the majority of the $2 patrons watched the game without incident.

Most of the misconduct takes the form of persistent obscenity and confrontational attitudes on the part of a handful of patrons. Many fans say that segment is growing, however.

"I don't believe $2 Tuesday has anything to do with the rowdy behavior," said LAPD Sgt. Chuck Urso, who has attended games since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

"More than ever I have seen a criminal element and local goons at the ballgames. It's gotten out of hand quick. Loving that team and organization as much as I do, I hate to see that."

Major league teams have tried to attract young adults to games since research showed that interest in the game was dwindling.

"Baseball is trying to bring in the next generation of fans," ethicist Michael Josephson said. "But they have to be careful. By changing demographics, they might turn off longtime fans.

"What they allow, they encourage. They can't let the game be dragged down by the lowest element. It should be a family event."

Attending a major league game has rarely been a gentrified experience, however. A frothy beer, a mustard-slathered hot dog and riding the umpire are time-honored traditions.

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