With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe...
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless evening in the early summer of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone in my Saturn, through a singularly dreary tract of L.A. county; and at length found myself, as the shades of the hazy sunset and foreboding entrance gate drew on, within view of the melancholy House of McCourt. I know not how it was -- but, with the first glimpse of the stadium, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or under .500...
At least that's what I've been told to expect since Opening Day. Media and close friends who won't go near the Old McCourt Place after dark painted pictures of a treacherous pit, a crumbling baseball castle surrounded by shadowy parking lots, and plagued by roving, foulmouthed, bloodthirsty gang members. A place completely unfit for man, families, or beasts.
Well, being a huge fan of horror and baseball, I had to experience this for myself. So last Wednesday I donned my best hiking shoes, enemy ball cap (1946 Phillies did just fine) and journeyed to the forbidden bowels of Chavez Ravine for the first time this season.
Actually, the ghastliest moments I endured were the entire first hour, a freeway crawl on Interstate 10 for eight miles in which there were so many stops and starts I was placing bets on whether my brake pads or radiator would give out first. I took my usual short cuts, first on the downtown side of the Harbor Freeway, then up and over a hill through the old Carroll Avenue Victorian district. Like most anti-McCourtians, there was no way I was going to pay the $15 parking fee, but most of the free spaces off Stadium Way were gone when I got there, and I had to park on a side street, atop a winding hill that was a grueling ten-minute hike away from the stadium gate.
My lungs bursting, belt buckle digging into my torso, creepy palm trees swaying and mocking me from above, I climbed the punishing rock-hard staircase leading to the Reserved Level lot and ticket kiosks. I had let my family and Twitter know of my quest ahead of time, just in case I was never heard from again, and with a final push I purchased my ducat with trembling fingers, slipped through the narrow turnstile...
... and everything was just plain wonderful. It was Don Mattingly Bobblehead Night, which explained the lack of parking on Stadium Way. Which explained the huge number of families in attendance on this weeknight in June, school still in session. Granted, there were maybe 28,000 of the 37,000 announced ticketholders on hand, so it was easy to slide over into an unoccupied section, put up my feet, open my lathered-up Super Dodger Dog, and enjoy the best landscape view in baseball. Mt. Wilson and the other San Gabriels loomed bluish-purple over folds of dark green trees, a whisper of Scully on some fan's radio filling the cool breeze. Below on the perfect field, little kids were darting out to get signed baseballs from most of the starting Dodgers, the organ (they still actually have one there) played, Colorado's Seth Smith was taking practice swings and all was right with the world.
Yes, the Dodgers are probably not winning a thing this year. Yes, their recent ownership has been a disaster. Yes, the Opening Day beating of Bryan Stow was tragic and sickening, and in my opinion the guys who did it should be tossed into a mob of crazed Giants fans. Yes, the attendance is way way down, because when an L.A. place gets a reputation as being uncool, it's avoided like Chernobyl. But Dodger Stadium is still the most relaxed, gorgeous place to watch a major league game anywhere, and nothing short of wildfires will keep me away.
The evening turned out rather uneventful, a complete game 4-hit shutout of the Dodgers by Ubaldo Jimenez, but never for one moment did I feel unsafe or threatened. It never even crossed my mind. Latino families were everywhere, because it's a fact that a large segment of the fan base at Dodger Stadium has shifted in their direction, and compared to the other sports in town, major league baseball is still more of a bargain.
I saw a lot more police and far fewer ushers, but the lawful presence was anything but intrusive. Flashing red and blue lights from their cruisers moved through the distant lots throughout, adding even more safety for those mentally still in need of it.
Everyone has their reasons for boycotting venues. My friend Dave stopped going to Dodger Stadium after over 200 people were arrested on Opening Day last year for tailgating. I now boycott the Staples Center because of its sterile over-corporatization, and because you have to mortgage your home to afford a ticket to an NBA or NHL game. The old Forum in Inglewood may have been dumpy, but most fans could afford a $9 ticket that was halfway decent. Now the few that can go are packed into a small, high-altitude steerage section with a microscope view.
It's no shock that the Stow beating happened on Opening Day, because that is the absolute worst day to go to Dodger Stadium. I stopped doing openers five years ago because of the torturous gridlock, and it's pretty apparent that the worst kind of Dodger Stadium people -- the ones who don't give a hoot about baseball and just want to drink and be part of an Event -- all go on Opening Day. With the Giants having just won the World Series last autumn, it was the perfect storm for a violent incident to occur.
All I'm saying is that anything that happens on Opening Day, however tragic, is more likely an aberration. While beefier security may have helped prevent the beating, it wasn't the stadium that was at fault. I was in Chinatown the other night and passed a gnarly-looking band of Dodger supporters in a crosswalk. If I was wearing a Giants jacket at that moment, the same thing could have happened there.
Anyway, the Rockies/Dodgers game ended in a brisk two and a half hours. I exited the stadium behind a Colorado fan in a Troy Tulowitzki jersey who wasn't getting bothered in the least, had a nice, healthy hike back up to my car, zipped out the side road and onto the freeway with minimal traffic. Contrary to popular belief, Dodger Stadium seems about as scary now as Toontown.
Jeff Polman is the author of three fictionalized historical baseball replay blogs, The Bragging Rights League, being his newest endeavor.
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