Fans share their allegiance to Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp during a game… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
You can always find people in L.A. who cut against the grain. They surf when they should be at work or fill up their frontyards with exotic plants their neighbors hate.
This summer, though, the ultimate nonconformists may be Dodgers fans.
Supposedly, the Dodgers are dead. The stadium is empty, fans chased away by the horrific parking-lot beating of Bryan Stow on opening day.
Tell that to 61-year-old Chuck Rundle, who continues to occupy his usual seat on the top row of the top deck.
"I've been coming to these games for 50 years," said Rundle, 61, a helicopter technician from Hawthorne whose mischievous grin peeks through his long white beard. "Think I'm going to give up on them now? I grew up with these guys."
Rundle described his relationship to the team, the stadium and the people who work there as "a fellowship thing."
I ran into him on my own expedition to Chavez Ravine. Last Friday, I took my 6-year-old daughter to watch a game. On Tuesday, I returned on my own. Both nights, I was joined by thousands of people, including many parents and families.
Sitting there among them, with my daughter in a new pink Dodgers cap on my lap, I realized why I like going to Dodger Stadium. It's not so much to see the Dodgers win or to lay eyes on superstar athletes. I go, as many others do, for the memories. And to keep alive a tradition.
That's something the McCourts haven't managed to destroy, despite their divorce drama and poor stewardship of the team.
Seven-month-old Mateo was decked out in a tiny Dodgers windbreaker on Tuesday. "It's his first game," said his mother, Paola Orellana, 23, an L.A. native and a lifelong fan. Mateo sucked on a bottle of formula, and bounced in the air when his mother celebrated a Dodgers home run. When the Tigers fans behind him yelled at the umpire, he squinted quizzically.
Mateo's father is in the Air Force, Orellana told me, and was recently deployed to Afghanistan — but he was there in spirit, where any dad would want to be, alongside his boy at his first game. I pointed out to Paola that her son probably wouldn't hold on to the memory. "No," she told me. "But I will always remember."
From a distance, Dodger Stadium looks more or less the same as it did when this ill-fated season started. But inside it felt like 1967, and not just because the Dodgers are playing as poorly as they did that year (when they finished seventh).
With fewer people, a larger percentage of the crowd seems actually to care about the Dodgers and the stadium's many beloved ballgame rituals. The place feels more innocent.
"It's always been about family," said Adam Molina, 27, perched on the top deck with four generations of his East L.A. family: his daughter Molly, 4; his wife, Delfina; his mother; his stepfather; and his stepfather's father, Ernie Carmona, 72.
Carmona remembered taking his son Gabriel to a game not long after Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. "I told him, 'We are going to see the greatest pitcher who ever lived,' " he told me. But the legendary Sandy Koufax had a bad outing that day and was pulled after a single inning.
"Koufax was like that," Carmona said. "Either great or terrible."
I saw a lot of LAPD officers roaming the stands, but they did nothing, in my opinion, to detract from the family feel of the place. Most had the polite smiles of the "Adam-12" era. "It's like they picked out the ones with personality and sent them all here," Rundle told me.
Out in the parking lot, where cops on bikes cruised between the cars, I ran into two guys rushing to get to their seats before the first pitch.
"When I was a kid, I'd come with my family and throw a football in the parking lot," said Anthony Bloch, 34. On Tuesday, he showed up with his friend Bo Greene, a father of five who recently brought one of his daughters.
"She looked around and couldn't believe how massive this place was," Greene told me.
When I asked Greene and Bloch what they missed about the old days at the stadium, they said what I heard from everyone: lower prices.
Note to the McCourts: Keep pricing out the families, and you'll end up eating away at the family atmosphere. What's happened to the Dodgers is a case study in how pure greed can nearly kill something old and good.
"It used to be a family event, where you could get away with spending 40 bucks," Bloch said.
Now parking alone costs $15 and flashing ads fill the stadium. And yet watching the game remains essentially the same.
"It's still 60 feet, six inches from the mound to home plate," said Jeremy Gersen, 35, who told me stories of sneaking into the stadium as a teenager when the gates opened after the seventh inning.
Baseball is the kind of game that gives you a lot of time to daydream. And as the innings slowly shuffled on by, I began to commune with my own memories.
I relived the thrill of being 8 years old and getting a signed baseball-shaped sticker from Wes Parker as he stood in a booth on Autograph Day.
I remembered the plastic helmet I got on Helmet Night — how I'd wear it playing streetball, and the cracking sound it made when it slipped off my head and hit the pavement.
My daughter sat on my lap, and we watched the peanut vendor flip a bag around his back. When James Loney hit a line drive, we could feel the crack of the bat in our chests.
"See those palm trees, out behind the bullpen," I told my daughter. "They've always been there. Since I was a kid."