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The party's over for tailgaters at Dodger Stadium

LAPD and security officers crack down on the traditional opening day party in the ballpark's parking lots before the game. Regular participants deplore the action.

April 14, 2010|By Carla Hall
  • Terry Romero, who has been to every opening day since Dodger Stadium was built, criticized the effort to curtail tailgating.
Terry Romero, who has been to every opening day since Dodger Stadium was… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

As she stood in a Dodgers Stadium parking lot, Terry Romero pointed to one of the hillsides that shape the urban panorama around the baseball park.

"I sat up on that hill pregnant with my son," said Romero, 63 and trim in her Brooklyn Dodgers shirt -- a reminder of the provenance of the team before it moved to Los Angeles. "I've been here every opening day since they built this stadium."

So of course, Romero, an administrative assistant who lives in Highland Park, was there Tuesday for the Dodgers' home opener. Along with her husband, assorted family members and friends -- all dressed in various iterations of Dodger blue -- she picked a spot in a parking lot, splayed open the back of her Ford Explorer and unwrapped chicken sandwiches and chips and drinks for a casual pregame party. That's when they were descended upon -- by stadium security and Los Angeles Police Department officers.

"Literally one will come from this side and tell you you need to go in and another comes from a different direction," said Romero, exasperated.

"They yelled at me when I pulled out a chair," said Denise Salazar, 29, as she stood next to Romero.

"I thought L.A. was in a budget deficit. But they have enough L.A. police to come here and harass us?" Romero said. "We're just trying to celebrate opening day."

Fans who consider tailgating hours before a Dodgers game as cherished a tradition as attending the game itself found ever-present Dodgers security and Los Angeles police officers approaching by bike, in carts and on foot to tell them the party is over.

"We're trying to tailgate," said Ray Barbosa, standing in a parking lot next to his GMC Sierra. ("The only thing big enough to carry a party," said his friend Tom Lerma.) "That means we've been visited four times in seven minutes."

Some security officers just inquired about alcohol -- forbidden in the parking lots -- or gently suggested fans move into the stadium.

"You can take your food," said one to Barbosa and his friends before motoring off and leaving the group to linger and keep up the tailgating for a while.

Others were a little more direct.

"Gentlemen, we need you to go in," said one security officer to Roberto Ortiz, 30, an assistant chef at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey as he and friends picnicked on tuna salad tostadas and Coke and Gatorade.

"It's a Dodger tradition. We've been doing this since we were in high school," Ortiz said. "It kind of deters us coming early. We'll just stay home, barbecue and watch it on TV."

Tailgating -- with or without alcohol -- is not allowed in the Dodger Stadium parking lots. In years past, fans say, security officers looked the other way unless they were unruly or drunk. Last year, the Dodgers made a pointed effort to crack down on drinking in stadium parking lots.

"It's always been a rule, but it's only recently been enforced in the last couple of years," said Carol Mitchell, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer working Monday as a security officer for the Dodgers. She said people had been generally calm and cooperative. So she has tried to be equally low-key.

"If they're kind of eating their sandwiches, we just say 'go ahead and finish and make your way inside'. . . . We don't want to make someone's experience bad before they get inside."

And there were definitely tailgaters imbibing -- discreetly, more or less. "Cheers! Want one?" asked Floyd Younkin, a construction project manager, 46, offering a beer as he stood with friends near a Nissan Pathfinder full of goodies. The group smoked cigars, listened to the Eagles wafting out of the SUV and laughed as they told stories about attending opening day together for more than two decades.

"We all grew up together," Younkin said. "This is my wedding party."

"We're keeping it mellow," added Dave Baker, 46, a hospital administrator. "We have chips, sandwiches. If we're drinking beer, we just keep it on the down low."

Even Terry Romero confessed, "I had a small wine cooler."

Getting hassled about tailgating won't be enough to deter Romero from returning to the stadium, her son Robert, 45, predicted as he rubbed sunblock on his bald pate.

"She's going to be that crazy old lady you have to wheel here."

carla.hall@latimes.com

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