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Having a hot time at Camelback Ranch

T.J. SIMERS

The best seats at the Dodgers' new spring training complex come with all the amenities, including the possibility of skin cancer.

March 02, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM SKIN CANCER CENTRAL — If only my dermatologist could see me now, and she certainly will once Sunday takes its full effect.

I went online and bought a $100 ticket for the Dodgers' first game in the middle of the Sahara, a beautiful spring training shrine rising in the middle of nowhere, but still the desert.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt kept referring to the grand opening of Camelback Ranch in a morning news briefing as a "celebration," but frankly, it was the lure of sitting behind home plate with a cellphone to my ear, waving to Plaschke back home and a free scented towel that brought me here.

And the answer to your obvious question is mango. The soaking wet, freezing, white towels feature a hint of mango, L.A.'s Larry Goldstein sitting in front of me but looking more like Lawrence of Arabia by the third inning, covered in washcloths.

The first thing they did here in Phoenix for the rich, besides charge $5 for parking like everyone else, was pass out yellow wristbands to separate you from the unwashed.

As much as I liked feeling privileged, I might never remove it, although I worry it might not carry the same impact at home.

However, I'm a little perturbed -- wandering back and forth as I did between my $100 seat and a special eating area designated for the rich, but still forced to use the same bathroom facilities as someone who could afford only to sit on the grass.

They also gave everyone who paid top dollar a gift, a Joe Torre bobblehead, a godsend really, because it could have been his book.

I have an editor in Russ Stanton who collects Dodgers bobbleheads, which ordinarily wouldn't bode well in these difficult newspaper times for a columnist who has been known to refer to the Dodgers as "choking dogs."

I figure if I bring Russ back another doll to play with, we probably won't hear from him for a good while.

You would have thought they'd sell out this celebration, the first game to be played here, but they drew 11,280. Does Manny sell it out? Sorry, couldn't help myself.

They can seat 13,000 in this new, good-looking joint -- 202 of those seats the top of line, yet only 70% or so were occupied for the first game despite a free buffet, water, soda and sunscreen, which didn't work given the oven burns on my face.

Everyone has to pay for alcoholic drinks, which didn't seem to stop anyone in the crowd. You watch the Dodgers enough, and you'd understand why.

John Carroll, the guy sitting across the aisle, paid $45 for his ticket, but as he pointed out, his seat didn't have a cushion or a cup holder, and he was buying his own food. Something to think about if you want to take the wife along.

The rich folks had cup holders, eight in a nine-seat row, seven in an eight-seat row, but it wasn't really a problem because the personal service promised was never really delivered. And you thought I wouldn't be able to work a reference to Andruw Jones into another story.

A few sections down I had already paid $30 for a seat for the Bagger, but then he called to cancel. Obviously, I'm a big believer now in deferred payments and avoiding the son-in-law.

Everyone, of course, wanted to know what's up with Manny, and earlier the media had met with McCourt, his chair sinking to the floor when he sat down and him wanting to know if I had anything to do with it. Doubt if he'd make such a crack to any of his other Home Plate Club paying customers.

The media kept asking about Manny, McCourt kept talking about the Camelback celebration and when it was over I just wanted to know if McCourt would be joining me in the stands.

"Rick, Rick," he yelled, looking over my head and suddenly noticing Rick Monday at the other end of the room -- like anyone ever notices Rick Monday, but using him now to make his escape from Page 2.

Never did see McCourt, maybe the heat was too much for him, and we could have had so much fun sitting together swapping stories about our wives and what characters they can be.

Now if I had the money, and the Dodgers worked on providing just a little better service, I'd recommend this.

It's easy to see why some people would be willing to pay so much for an up-close and personal look at the Dodgers, because by the sixth inning they were looking at Nos. 83, 77 and 87 -- numbers they've never seen before.

Those are numbers usually reserved for the Arizona Cardinals' offense, so it had to be a thrill.

"I'm here because I'm a Dodgers fan," said Erik Belmal, who made the trek from L.A. "Some people work to survive. I work to be a Dodgers fan."

Then he began singing a song to James Loney to the tune of, "Oh, I wish I were an Os-car Mayer wie-ner." If he ever records it, I just know the editor who plays with Dodgers dolls would love it.

Russ Garcia and his wife, Natalie, also love the Dodgers and proved it by paying for this experience. They live here, have a license plate that reads "Dodgrz," a dog named Dodgers, and a cat called Koufax.

I kept hearing it all day, "I love the Dodgers," maybe the biggest price Page 2 had to pay for a seat here, but given such devotion I can understand why folks would go for this.

I know I was thrilled to be close enough to yell at Juan Pierre, and I can't think of anything more fun than that.

As for the Dodgers, I hear they lost. I left before the ninth inning, our heroes ahead 2-0, but that's me, just your typical Dodgers fan.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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