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A day in the life of Dodger Stadium

When the game ends and fans leave, the activity never ceases, with seats to be hosed down, uniforms to be washed and a field to be groomed.

April 07, 2012|By David Wharton
  • Manny Martinez Jr., 13, of Fresno stays late to soak up the experience with his father after a Freeway Series exhibition game against the Angels.
Manny Martinez Jr., 13, of Fresno stays late to soak up the experience with… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

The game ran late, as night games sometimes do, so it was nearly 11 p.m. when the Dodgers finally cleared out of their locker room.

With the final players heading for home, clubhouse attendants began gathering crumpled uniforms in a cart. They started two big washing machines going in a room beside the showers.

"A lot of laundry to do," said Alex Torres, an assistant clubhouse manager. "We'll be here all night."

This is the part of Dodger Stadium that fans don't see.

PHOTOS: Pitch to pitch: A behind the scenes look at Dodger Stadium

After the last out is recorded on the field, after the parking lots empty and the lights dim, a new kind of competition begins. Hundreds of workers scramble around the place, racing to prepare for the next day.

Their job is particularly difficult in an aging ballpark that has seen plenty of thrilling moments but not many upgrades over the years. As the clubhouse guys like to joke, the stadium's 50th anniversary this season marks the 50th coat of paint on the walls.

Some of the between-game chores are predictable. Within minutes of the Dodgers' victory over the Angels on Tuesday night, security guards began locking up and concession workers took inventory.

But the sport of baseball requires unique preparations. Torn uniforms must be sewn. Groundskeepers stay late, beginning the delicate task of getting just the right texture and hardness on the basepaths.

Ballparks are among the few places in American culture where people are allowed — if not encouraged — to dump trash at their feet. That leaves a gigantic, sticky mess for Michael Guardado to mop up before sunrise.

"We want people to think of this stadium as being clean and nice when they show up for the next game," the maintenance worker said. "We put a lot of effort into this."

::

The guy who guards the clubhouse door watched every player walk out, checking names off a list.

For the last decade, security officer William Gomez has acted as gatekeeper for the team. He achieved a measure of fame in 2009 for holding off an infuriated opponent, Prince Fielder, who tried to storm the locker room after being hit by a pitch.

Gomez — not an especially big man — planted himself in front of the door and refused to budge.

"It was instinct," he said. "I was just doing my job."

On Tuesday his job was considerably less intense. He stood his post throughout the game — watching on television, keeping score to pass the time — and stayed until the last Dodger departed.

By then, Eric Hansen, the assistant director of turf and grounds, had his crew moving.

The art of caring for a major league field requires more than mowing diamond patterns in the outfield grass. It can take a full 24 hours for a fussy groundskeeper to repair the infield dirt — "the skin" — to perfection.

Immediately after the game, the Dodgers' staff began addressing the ruts that players dug with their feet at the plate and on the mound. They added fresh dirt and tamped it with a steel plate.

Meanwhile, Hansen drove his tractor in tight circles on the basepath, dragging a homemade contraption composed of 2-by-4s and long carpentry nails that churn up cleat marks.

With the Dodgers and Angels set to play at noon the next day, the clock was ticking. "Day games after a night game are tough because we have to shorten up our schedule," he said.

High above the field level, security guards were still closing up. It can take two hours to check and lock all the doors in the stadium.

Beatrice Lopez needed almost as much time to shut down her concession stand on the top deck, counting bags of peanuts and unsold pretzels. The shelves had to be wiped and the soda nozzles rinsed in preparation for a quick turnaround.

This is her 23rd season at the ballpark.

"Every year, I say 'This is my last,'" she mused. "But I keep coming back."

::

From outside, Dodger Stadium looks eerie past midnight. Only a few of the stadium lights remain on, just enough to cast a faint glow across Chavez Ravine.

But inside, the place bustles with activity.

Like ants scouring for picnic leftovers, maintenance workers walked the rows of empty seats with blue plastic trash bags in hand. Countless wrappers and empty cups ended up in dumpsters that were rolled outside, waiting to be picked up by a garbage truck.

The crew then swept the concrete and used long hoses to spray every inch of the stands. At the suite level, floors were mopped and glass wiped clean.

"We should be done by 7:30 or so," said Raul Vargas, an assistant supervisor who walked the stadium with a clipboard in hand. "It depends on how things go."

The clubhouse attendants also had cleaning to do. They vacuumed and scrubbed equipment; there was still more laundry to wash.

The team keeps plenty of extra uniforms, but many players prefer to stick with the old ones. They like the way the fabric grows soft with age. Or they are superstitious.

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