August 2, 2014

Why Dodger Fans Leave Early

August 29, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Adrian Gonzalez, his new home Dodger whites practically glowing against the brilliant green turf, jogged back to the dugout after clubbing a pitch from Miami’s Josh Johnson deep into the right field stands. It was his very first at bat in L.A., and only the second pitch he saw. Coming after a crazed 24-hour news cycle that reported his major role in the blockbuster 9-player deal between the Red Sox and Dodgers, it was a magnificent local sports moment.

And I nearly missed his swing because nine people were clogging the aisle in front of me, looking for their seats.

This is not about traffic and parking problems at Dodger Stadium. More than enough has been written on that, most recently a wrongheaded, hysterical column by Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times the morning after a sold-out Fernando Valenzuela Bobblehead Night kept some fans in their cars for 90 minutes before they got to their seats. In the same vein that he once suggested improving the World Series by staging it at a neutral site, Plaschke suggested fixing an occasional mass gridlock problem by removing thousands of seats from the stadium and filling the space with “amenities.” Rather than make Dodger Stadium more “exclusive,” I would opt for more fan-friendly solutions like a direct Metro rail line or cheaper parking fees for carpools of three or more.

But there I go, blabbing about parking and traffic again. I’m really here to try and explain the bugaboo I’ve always had with the Dodger Stadium experience: why huge numbers of fans routinely show up in the 3rd and 4th innings and leave after the 6th and 7th.

Avoiding traffic? I don’t buy it. Nearly every one of the 17 ballparks I’ve been to have their share of entering and exiting gridlock. Length of the drive? Sorry. People trek to St. Louis Cardinals games from as far away as Arkansas, and I never see those stands emptying out before the stretch inning. As I see it—and I’ve been seeing the evidence around me for over 25 years—many Dodger fans come late and leave early because they are, willfully or not, disengaged from the game. Unless it’s a final weekend or postseason contest with something at stake, these fans do not treat the game as a dramatic event but as a social one, like going to a big family picnic or a real cool party where you arrive fashionably late or leave early before the beer runs out. The game is merely the thing going on the background you look up to cheer and boo once in a while. I would never think of showing up late to a play or leaving a movie early, but if I was just in the mood to catch a few scenes, maybe I would.

I attended two Dodger Stadium games last week, a midweek affair against the archrival Giants and the Saturday Adrian Gonzalez unveiling with the Marlins, and this theory was never made more clear. On Monday the 20th, despite sweeping the Giants recently in San Francisco and coming home after a fine road trip one game in front of them with ace Clayton Kershaw scheduled to pitch the opener, only 36,878 tickets were sold—about two-thirds capacity. Bobblehead Night was Tuesday, with fans spilling out of the upper decks. On Wednesday, attendance was back down to 40,173, or 70% capacity. In other words, neither the Giants nor a great pennant race could achieve what a bobbling Fernando figurine did.

How about Saturday night, after the mega-deal trade news broke that morning, when the subsequent plane flight and stadium arrival of A-Gone was updated hourly like the arrival of the Pope? Well, exactly 110 more people showed up than on Wednesday night, and many long after his amazing home run cleared the fence. If an all-star Dodgers player made his debut appearance in a Red Sox uniform, you wouldn’t find an available ticket from Vermont to Cape Cod.

Both evenings, the reserved section around me was filled with people getting up constantly for food and beer, visiting with each other, talking about work, taking cell phone photos, smacking beach balls and balloons that went by, doing the wave, basically doing anything but watching and following the game in front of them.

This isn’t to say these folks weren’t having a great time; they were certainly texting their friends enough to tell them so. In every direction for at least 80 miles, scores of long-time, diehard Dodger fans were no doubt listening to the radio or comfortably at home watching the Vin Scully telecast. (Ironically, Hall of Famer Scully is the most focused, informative broadcaster in the business.) But immersed in that constant commotion, I was convinced you can’t find a more distracted big league ballpark crowd than the ones at Dodger Stadium.

By contrast, check out baseball’s polar opposite just 340 miles to the north. Giants games at AT&T Park are an invigorating experience, and it isn’t just because of the place’s amenities, scenic beauty, and great public transportation that gets them there. Giants fans are engaged with the game from first pitch to last, never leave early and produce a fun, loud, positive energy that frequently seems to electrify the home team. Right now, there is no place like it in the game.

Regardless, this is still a free country, and people can attend ballgames for whatever reason they want. Despite the shortcomings of its fan base, I have no plans to ever stop going to Dodger Stadium. I have my secret street route that always gets me there on time, and I’ll never tire of the magnificent view of palms, eucalyptus trees, and purple San Gabriel Mountains beyond. Just don’t bat a beach ball in my direction, because there’s a good chance I’ll pop it.

Jeff Polman writes fictional replay baseball blogs, Mystery Ball ’58 being his current endeavor. His first blog, 1924 and You Are There! has been published by Grassy Gutter Press.

Comments

One Response to “Why Dodger Fans Leave Early”
  1. Ted Leavengood says:

    Glad to see someone take this on. When teams draw 35,000-45,000 fans to most of their games, at least a third, and probably more like one half of the fans are there because it is a cool place to talk shop, take a date, whatever floats their boat other than baseball. It always amazes me to listen to a group of guys in near proximity to me at a game talk non-stop about work. And yes, many of them show up late because they don’t really care when the first pitch is thrown–or the last pitch, or who wins for that matter.

    For many fans, the stadium is just another bar with a flat screen. Who cares that the flat screen is an actual baseball game or that they paid pretty good money to be there. But baseball needs these people to be economically viable given the present money equation of the game. They are tough to handle at times.

    The first year that Camden Yards opened in Baltimore it was an extremely popular venue. It was the first time that I really understood why people came to the game for something other than the baseball. It was a young couple that sat in front of us in the left field box seats. By the second inning they were almost completely physically involved with one another. They “made out” for much of the game. They may have been “French.” Our snickers and rude comments never “penetrated” their mood. I think they left in about the seventh inning and any of the guys in my row would have gladly gone with them.

    Being a serious baseball fan can be a challenge and certainly is fraught with disappointment at times.

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