Fans at Dodger Stadium watch the season opener against the San Francisco… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
There is no buzz like a ballpark buzz, and I'm not talking about the beer so much as the feeling you get when you first spy an April outfield, green as a leprechaun's soul.
This is sacred ground I'm talking about, as American as Appomattox, and we probably shouldn't give it up without a fight — even amid its current troubles.
Don't abandon the ballpark, is what I'm saying. Don't give up the fort.
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It was never about the game itself — baseball. If baseball were so enchanting, you'd get more than 30 fans at a high school game.
No, baseball is more like roof jumping, it requires a good crowd. It's about mustard, pretzels and the zing you feel in your fingertips on a stand-up triple. A garden party. A big sweaty group date.
Sure, the inmates are frightening at times. I've sat in every province of Dodger Stadium, some more desirable than others. I've had great evenings in the upper deck, high above the Western Hemisphere, surrounded by working-class families who kept the kids under control and respected their neighbors.
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I've had lousy experiences in the primo seats behind home plate, as some zoo-eyed twentysomething, spilling out of her jeans, ordered yet another Captain and Coke. Is that an argument for doing away with the Dugout Club? No, it's an argument for doing away with sloshy twentysomethings. But I can only do so much.
Point is, no one will ever mistake Dodger Stadium for an opera house. Swine are everywhere from the best seats to the worst. Good people are everywhere too, from the worst seats to the best. A ballpark is sort of like society that way — civil most of the time, with moments of Vesuvian unrest. As long as the good outnumber the bad, we've still got a chance. Close call, sometimes. Like a play at the plate.
But don't abandon your ballpark. What next, you abandon the beach?
Of course, the expense of adding more muscle can't be good for anybody (except the muscle). For, every buck you spend on cops is a dollar you can't spend on a Troy Tulowitzki. Rangy infielders are revenue generators. Rangy cops, not so much.
But there's too much money to be made at Dodger Stadium not to clean it up. TV deals are pending. Families are making summer plans. Hence, for the next couple of months, 90012 might be the safest ZIP Code in Los Angeles. You watch. Chief Beck has done everything outside of mobilizing the National Guard.
Why stop there? Like Manny Ramirez, Arnold Schwarzenegger is out of work. I'd give him the left-field pavilion, with orders to Taser the first hooligan who threatens anyone. Most fans would support that.
Yeah, many fans have grown weary of the cruddy language, the public intoxication, the bobble-headed thugs. Branding is everything these days, and the Dodgers are in danger of losing what's left of their old family vibe. The answer lies, in part, on what my buddy Peter calls "fluid management," how much you drink vs. how you handle the consequences. The biggest bouncers in town, Beck and Bratton, would do well to focus on this one issue.
Me, I'm not a big believer in excessive beer control. Beer doesn't brutalize people, people do. But since we can't ban people from the ballpark, perhaps it is time for a nondrinking section. The Coliseum banned drinking stadium-wide and they seem quite able to still hold football games. I wouldn't go that far. But fans should have the option of goon-free zones. And maybe there should be an exclusive section for the loudmouths who can't complete a sentence without cursing. Section F-bomb.
This isn't just a gang thing. I wouldn't recognize an 18th Streeter from a UCLA sophomore, and neither could you. It's an idiot thing. Cretins come in every flavor. I think that's somewhere in the Constitution. Freedom of screech. But when they cross the line, send 'em to the stockade. Ban 'em for life.
Here's one last reason you can't quit the ballpark: Year in and year out, our heroes — Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson — never quit.