April 26, 2008

The Next Fifty

Tear down Dodger Stadium? Never! Fortunately, that's not what Frank McCourt has in mind. I'm not quite sure what to think of his alternative, though. Nowadays I don't get down to the stadium all that often, so the prospect of a good experience when I do go is even more valuable to me. So mostly, I think these are good ideas.

It looks like the plans will be prettier and the centerpiece seems to be a new "grand entrance" to the ballpark going straight down the line from home plate to center field. From there, you'll walk around the field to your seat, and maybe stroll up to the top of the hill to take in the sight of downtown and the Santa Monica Bay. I enjoy that view when I'm in that part of town anyway, so I agree with that.

But one of the things I kind of like about Dodger Stadium is the 1950's styling of its architecture. In particular, I kind of like the angled eaves over the outfield bleachers and the hexagonal signs. It looks like those elements will be preserved, as will the shallow-bowl construction of the grandstands that give such good lines of sight to fans watching the game. My guess is that the outside promenade will be more than a little bit Disneyfied, but that may not be an entirely bad thing.

From a game-play perspective, the looking-down-on-home-plate renditions of the revamped stadium remind me of nothing so much as... Yankee Stadium, with its deep pocket behind home plate. I can't tell, but it looks like the outfield is being brought in just a smidge, which will mean it will be less of a pitcher's park. Maybe that's why the pocket is being made deeper, so catchers can play pop flies more often to make up for it. Yeah, fans like the long ball, but baseball is ultimately about pitching, and Dodger Stadium has traditionally been a place where practitioners of the pitching game can ply their trade. (Not so much this year, as things are turning out, but you can't rebuild an entire ballpark around one year's team.)

Unmentioned in the press surrounding the new stadium plans is the likelihood that there will be substantially-expanded luxury boxes. That's what's making the most money for the owners these days and McCourt is no dummy. High-end customers want more than seats in a loge box and tickets the Stadium Club's buffet (which has been quite good on the four or five occasions I've had to go there over the years).

Speaking of which, if they can improve the speed of food service with better internal architecture, I'm all for that. Holy crap; I've waited more than two innings to get a dog and a beer in the past. I have to wonder whether new digs are going to make the food come any faster, though -- there are plenty of dogs in the heaters and the taps are right there -- the problem has always seemed to be that the workers fulfill customer orders with all the hustle of a tree sloth going to the dentist. What they need are more expediters at the counters, not better behind-the-scenes delivery of the pre-cooked seven-dollar hot dogs.

Still, baseball is a very conservative sort of endeavor, and any proposal for change is bound to be greeted with skepticism and caution. And if the guts of the stadium are revamped to make this new process work, my years of experience learning about how to navigate inside this three-dimensional labyrinth (like how to get down to the dugout level and wait for players to come out after the game) will be for naught. Selfish of me, I know.

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