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BILL PLASCHKE

Blacked out of watching Dodgers on TV

Trying to find a place that carries the SportsNet LA channel is an exercise in futility.

April 01, 2014|Bill Plaschke
  • Many Dodgers fans had to find alternate locations to watch their game with the team's new channel SportsNet LA only available to about 30% of Los Angeles.
Many Dodgers fans had to find alternate locations to watch their game with… (Denis Poroy / Getty Images )

My whopper of a journey ended in a Burger King, in front of a darkened TV screen hanging in a corner obscured by a tall guy eating a bag of fries.

The Dodgers game had just ended, and I had missed it. All of it. Every pitch, every hit, every Vin. My Tuesday afternoon quest to watch the Dodgers' first domestic appearance on their new SportsNet LA channel had finished in fast-food failure.

Bad enough that this new channel reaches only 30% of Los Angeles. On the first day that would test the effect of the Dodgers' decision to cut a TV deal that has cut out the majority of their fans, the channel reached 0% of me.

I tried. Mark Walter, Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and every other new Dodgers official whose honeymoon has now ended need to know, I tried.

I wanted to simply sit home and watch the Dodgers play the San Diego Padres. But because my neighborhood can't access Time Warner Cable, and because my TV provider hasn't yet agreed to pay the exhorbitant fees for it, I couldn't.

So, like much of Los Angeles, I had to go on the road to find the game. Except after a four-hour, four-city search that ended only when the game did, I never found it.

I visited four popular Pasadena sports bars. None of them had it. I then drove to five establishments that the SportsNet LA website claimed had its channel, from Arcadia to South Pasadena to Eagle Rock. None of them had it.

I was 0 for 9 when I drove up to the Eagle Rock Burger King just as Charley Steiner was screaming on the radio about Kenley Jansen's game-ending strikeout with the bases loaded to preserve a 3-2 victory.

Why a Burger King? Because SportsNet LA claimed the restaurant had the channel, and the location wasn't any crazier than the taco shop, sushi bar and bowling alley I had just visited.

So I walked inside and spotted the darkened screen peeking out from behind the tall guy in the corner. I looked over to two teenage workers glancing skeptically at me from behind the counter. I thought about asking one of them to rummage around in their purse for a remote control and then I realized, I am trying to watch a Dodgers game that has already ended on a television set that is turned off and stuck behind some guy chowing on his dinner in the corner of a fast-food restaurant where people are wearing paper crowns!.

I turned around and walked out. But it's not funny. And it's not right. The Dodgers' decision to build up their payroll by cutting an $8.35-billion TV deal that is too expensive for most local pay-TV operators is not a deal that Dodgers fans would have accepted.

Dodgers, ask your fans if they are willing to sacrifice watching the games on television for the sake of having the league's richest team.

They would say no.

Dodgers, ask your fans if they would rather have Clayton Kershaw on the mound for many years or Vin Scully in their living room today.

They would vote for Scully today, and every day.

In treating the team like a trendy boutique, the Dodgers have failed to realize that their fans loved it like a neighborhood bar. Championships are great, but don't try to win one at the expense of a daily connection.

That connection was strained throughout my journey Tuesday, beginning with folks waking in and out of Pasdena's Lucky Baldwins, prompting bartender Tom McDonough to keep changing channels in hopes of discovering a signal.

"A Dodger game is happening and nobody can watch it on TV, that's just weird," he said.

Down the road at Barney's Beanery, a couple of employees attempted to bring in a signal through the MLB Network, only to keep seeing the words, "Blacked Out."

The only baseball fan in Freddie's 35er Bar — in fact, the only patron there — was Clayton Loucks, a retired character who was wearing an Angels jersey. He looked at the numerous Dodgers jerseys on the bar's wall and laughed.

"This is like a Dodger clubhouse, and they can't even get the games," he said. "At least everyone can still watch the Angels."

Having been frustrated in Pasadena, I traveled to surrounding areas while visiting only establishments that the SportsNet LA website promised would be showing the game. None did. It wasn't a good start for the credibility of an outfit that fills time on its Lakers channel making D-League games sound like the NBA Finals.

First stop, AMF Bowling Square Lanes in Arcadia, where, in an empty bar, one of the workers tried in vain to find the game on TVs that showed only basketball and mixed martial arts. It would have been easier to fit someone with a size-17 bowling shoe.

Next stop, Rod's Grill, where sweet longtime waitress Julie Vollrath spent 10 minutes channel surfing before giving up on the tiny TV above the pastry display case.

"What is the number of the channel at your house?" she said, pausing. "Oh, wait …"

I listened to a waiter at an Eagle Rock sushi bar patiently explain why only women's basketball and mixed martial arts filled his screens. I even purchased a quesadilla at a taco shop in exchange for the rights to use the remote control, my three futile attempts always ending on the Lifetime channel.

All of which led back to Burger King, where, in a fractured sort of way, the motto fit the day. In a simple quest to watch the Dodgers play on television, I didn't have it my way.

It's not funny. And it's not right.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

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