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All-you-can-eat seats are almost more than can be stomached

In the right field pavilion, fans are packing away as many Dodger dogs, nachos, peanuts and soda as they can manage.

June 03, 2009|STEVE LOPEZ

You've heard about Dodger Dogs.

Today, a story about Dodger hogs.

On Monday night, I went to the Ravine to see if the recession was driving more fans into the right field bleachers, where a ticket comes with a promise:

All you can eat, no questions asked.

Think about it. You can fast all day, pig out at the ballgame and not have to eat the next day.

On Monday, the Dodgers were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks, who aren't exactly a big draw. But even on a slow night, roughly 850 die-hards feasted on baseball and enough hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn and soda to feed the California National Guard.

Purchased in advance, a ticket to the All-You-Can-Eat Pavilion costs $25. If you were to buy an advance ticket to the left-field bleachers, you'd pay $11, but one hot dog, peanuts and a soft drink would have you up around $25. So the smart shopper heads for right field.

Dodger spokesman Josh Rawitch said that although total Dodger attendance is up 1% this year, it's up 6% in the All You Can Eat Pavilion. "We were just talking about this, and I think the recession might have something to do with it," said Eddie Vidana, usher captain, who has seen more sell-outs this year in right field.

As the game was getting underway Monday, I spotted Robert Ruiz, Juan Avalos and Steve Martinez, who all work at the Porterville Developmental Center north of Bakersfield. They were eating like they'd been sentenced to death and were going for broke on their last meal. Ruiz had polished off two hot dogs, nachos, a bag of popcorn, a soda and a water by the first inning.

Avalos was keeping pace with two hot dogs, two nachos and a soda. Martinez was on his third hot dog and had a tray with four sodas on it, all for himself. L.A. is more than three hours from Porterville, the buddies said, but the endless supply of food makes the long trip worthwhile, even with a $15 parking fee.

"The last time we came, he called in sick the next day," Ruiz said of Avalos, but they couldn't agree on whether it was four hot dogs or six that did the damage.

On the field, meanwhile, Dodger slugger Andre Ethier wound up and tossed a souvenir warmup ball into the bleachers between innings. It floated up like a big scoop of ice cream and landed in the grateful hands of Avalos.

"All you can eat, and a baseball too!" he said.

To be honest, though, these guys were pikers. Several rows down, Daniel Tzec, a Pomona housekeeper, had eaten six hot dogs and one order of nachos by the second inning. He also had quaffed three beers, which cost extra, unlike sodas or water. Tzec looked like he was running out of gas, but he insisted otherwise.

"It's just a little rest," he said, and he may not have been kidding. Four more dogs, on very short leashes, were cradled next to him on a cardboard tray.

As I talked to Tzec, I began questioning my support for universal healthcare. Do I really want to take on the burden of medical care for someone who's inclined to eat six hot dogs in two innings? According to the Farmer John website, a Dodger Dog has 240 calories, 200 of them from fat, as well as more sodium than the Salton Sea. Do you get a souvenir defibrillator with your 10th dog?

One of the ushers told me she'd seen people eat themselves sick in right field, and when the ballgames are over, fans have been known to smuggle more peanuts and hot dogs past security and out of the stadium. There's no way to prevent it, one guard said, so they don't even try.

Despite my rush to judgment, I must say there's something exhilarating about the idea of living without self-control or the desire to develop any. When I saw Paul Galle lift his girth off the bleachers and head under the stands for refills, I noticed that he was smiling like a thief, as if he couldn't believe the Dodgers and Levy Restaurants, the stadium concessionaire, were foolish enough to let him plow through their buffet of saturated fat to his heart's content.

He said he was still hungry after two nachos, one popcorn, two bags of peanuts and eight hot dogs.

Eight hot dogs?

"Actually that's four double dogs," said Galle, who's in his 30s.

And what exactly is a double dog?

Galle, a schoolteacher from Chino Hills, explained that he gets the maximum allowable four hot dogs on each trip to the concession stand, then throws away two of the buns and stuffs the extra dogs into the remaining buns. With less bread, he's able to eat more meat.

Galle has it down to a science at the condiment station, where he nimbly makes the dog transfer, tosses spare buns, and loads up with ketchup, mustard and relish.

"That's unfortunate," he said as one bun split under the weight of two dogs, and he substituted with a backup bun.

By the way, his ticket to this little orgy had cost him just $17.50 on EBay.

"I don't know if that's a recession-buster, but it's a great deal and an awesome value," said Galle, who said he weighs 320 pounds but tries not to think about it.

"I wouldn't weigh myself for a week after coming to Dodger Stadium," he said. "I'm not a glutton."

Yes, he said, he feasts on life, lives in the moment and offers no apologies.

"I'm very existentialist," he said. "I was a philosophy major."

His father, the much slimmer Richard, told me Paul had recently shed 25 pounds to get in shape for an Alaskan cruise in July. They're going with two friends and decided they couldn't all fit into one cabin, so they reserved two. Richard said his son is a good-hearted guy, but he needs to do something about his insatiable appetite.

"All he can say is, 'Oink,' " said the father.

"Thanks, Dad," said the philosopher, who ate 12 hot dogs (or six double dogs, I should say) before calling it quits by the seventh inning.

The Dodgers lost, by the way, 3-2. But out in right field, that was beside the point.

--

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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