9/2/08 at Dodger Stadium
There are more idiotic rules at Dodger Stadium than there are baseballs in my collection. I lost count of the exact number, but I can definitely tell you the worst. Ready for this? You might want to get a cold beverage and sit down. Okay, here goes: the parking lot opens at the same time as the stadium itself. Since the colossal parking lot surrounds the stadium on all sides–and since most living creatures aren’t able to be in two places at once–it’s technically impossible to get inside for the start of batting practice.
Of course there’s a way to get around anything, and at Dodger Stadium you can drive into the parking lot at any time if you tell the guard that you’re there to buy advanced tickets. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to be there without a car, you can walk right in without dealing with him. The entrances are multi-lane roads with numerous tollbooths, and when you get there early in the day, there’s only one guard at the far right booth. If he’s busy dealing with stadium employees (who have to drive in early) he won’t notice you or have a chance to stop you–or he might just assume you’re an employee–if you walk in on the left side.
That was my situation. No car. I got dropped off by a friend and walked right in, two-and-a-half hours before the parking lot AND the stadium were scheduled to open. I wasn’t breaking any rules, however. I actually did need to buy a ticket–two tickets, in fact, because of Stupid Rule No. 867. At Dodger Stadium, you see, the bleachers (aka “pavilions”) have their own separate entrances. You need a pavilion ticket to enter the pavilion, and once you’re there, you can’t move into the main part of the stadium. This was going to be my final game in L.A. I wanted total access. I wanted to be in the left field pavilion for batting practice and then be able to roam freely for the rest of the night.
I walked past several employees on my way into the parking lot. None of them said a word or even looked at me, so I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures.
In the four-part photograph below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, I’m a) on the outskirts of Dodger Stadium property with the mostly vacant tollbooths in the distance, b) just past the booths and finally able to see the stadium, c) at the edge of one of the many sections of the parking lot, and d) approaching one of the many staircases:
Dodger Stadium was built into a hill. Not only do the pavilions have their own entrances, but every seating level in the main part of the stadium does as well. Therefore (and here comes Stupid Rule No. 1,644), you can’t enter the Field Level without a Field Level ticket, nor can you even walk around the outside of the stadium without climbing stairs.
I finally made it to the Top Deck. That’s where the ticket office is located. I waited in line for five minutes, then bought a $13 pavilion ticket and a $60 (ouch!) seat on the Field Level.
Then, since the gates were wide open and there were other fans chilling in the seats, I walked inside. In the following four-part pic, you can see a) the beautiful pavement outside the Top Deck as well as one of the open gates, b) the concourse inside the stadium, and c) a shirtless man in right field shagging balls during d) early BP.
I knew there was a way to snag baseballs before the gates opened (I described it in my previous entry), so I decided to head all the way down to the bottom. First, though, I had to take a couple pics that I could later combine in Photoshop to make a panorama…
…and while I was doing that, I noticed that a home run ball landed in the left field pavilion.
I exited the Top Deck and a) headed down yet another staircase toward the Reserve Level, b) saw that all the gates there were wide open as well, c) walked inside for a look at the concourse, and d) and snuck a peek at the field:
No harm done. No one even saw me, and even if they had, whatever. I didn’t feel like I was breaking any rules. I was a paying customer, and if I wasn’t supposed to keep walking inside, then stadium security should have kept the gates closed.
After that I a) headed down to the Loge Level, b) said hello to an iPhone-sized lizard along the way, c) entered another set of wide-open doors, and d) documented the contrast in light between the concourse and the field:
I made it down to the area outside the left field pavilion, and all the gates were open:
I should mention that I was on the phone with a fellow ballhawk at this point–a ballhawk who shall remain nameless. I told him I wanted to walk into the pavilion and look for that home run ball. He told me not to do it.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked.
“It’s too risky,” he said.
I told him I wanted to break double digits and that this was a good way to start.
He told me it would be “the caper of the century.”
I considered taking off my shirt before walking inside. Or removing my hat. Or briefly wearing my dark blue Padres shirt over the white shirt I was currently wearing–anything to change my physical appearance in case someone was watching from afar.
And I found it:
“I see the ball,” I told my friend.
“This is nuts,” he said.
“I’m walking toward it…”
“Oh my God.”
“…and I just picked it up…”
“Caper of the century!”
As I exited the pavilion, I noticed a security camera mounted high on one of the walls. Yikes…but at the same time…oh well. There was nothing I could do about it now, and anyway, maybe the guy who’s job it was to look for people like me had been taking a dump.
I headed toward the main part of the stadium. The Field Level gate, like all the others, was wide open…
…so I walked in, noticed another security camera, and sat down in the last row behind the left field foul pole:
“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind, “do you work here?”
I turned around and saw a security guard.
“No sir,” I said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh,” I said innocently, “I’m from out of town and I was just walking around and happened to notice that the gate was open so I thought I’d just come in for a minute and take a quick peek at the field.”
“Okay, well the stadium isn’t open yet–”
“–no so I’m gonna have to ask to you leave and wait outside until 5:10.”
“Okay, I’m really sorry about that. I had no idea.”
“No problem,” he said as he started leading me back to where I had entered. Then, for good measure, he closed the gate behind me.
It was 3:30pm. I still had lots of time to kill and didn’t know where to go. If my foot hadn’t been in so much pain, I would’ve headed back to the Top Deck and looked at the field for the next 90 minutes, but it almost hurt just to think about that, so I walked back to the left field pavilion and sat in the thin strip of shade just outside the gates which were now closed.
I pulled out my phone and called my friend with an update, and less than a minute later, a security SUV rolled to a stop 40 feet in front of me. The driver lowered the passenger window and shouted something.
“I’m gonna have to call you back,” I told my friend quietly. “I might need you to bail me out.”
I walked over to the SUV and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you before. What was that?”
“Who are you?” demanded the uniformed man.
“Umm, I’m just a fan and–”
“Were you walking around inside the stadium earlier?”
“Okay, well, we saw someone on our security cameras walk inside here and pick up a ball.”
“I’m just waiting for the stadium to open.”
“Where are you parked?”
“I’m not parked anywhere.”
“How did you get here?”
“I was dropped off earlier by a friend.”
“Who’s your friend?!”
“My friend? He’s…just some guy from San Diego. I’m from New York and I’m out here visiting, and we made the trip together.”
“Do you have a ticket for tonight’s game?”
“Yes,” I said and immediately regretted it. Should I have said no? Should I have pretended to be completely lost? Would I have been in less trouble then? Would he have directed me back to the advanced ticket window? Crap crap crap.
“I’m gonna need you to get inside the vehicle.”
“You’re not allowed to be on the premises,” he continued, “until the parking lot opens at 5:10pm. I’m going to drive you to the edge of the property, and you are to wait there until that time. Is that clear?”
I got into the back of the SUV, closed the door behind me, and put on my seatbelt. I felt like I was being sent to the principal’s office. I wished my dad were Bud Selig.
The security officer, a middle-aged white man with a gray mustache, drove for about 20 seconds and then slowed down to a rather abrupt stop.
“Do you mind if I search your bag?” he asked.
“That’s fine,” I said, “but I want you to know that I *did* bring a baseball with me to get autographed.”
“Let me see it,” he said, reaching his hand toward me.
I fumbled around in my bag and pulled out the ball. I’d barely gotten a chance to see it myself. I noticed that it was partially scuffed, no doubt from where it had landed on the concrete steps in the pavilion, and I feared that the officer might get suspicious. What autograph collector would try to get a scuffed ball signed?
The officer took the ball and inspected it thoroughly, as if it were an apple that I’d dared him to eat.
And then he handed it back to me. I could tell by the look on his face that he knew he was being lied to, and yet I’d lied too well (which is a rarity) for him to do anything about it.
As he drove me back down the big hill and deposited me at the tollbooths, I resisted the urge to ask for a ride back when the parking lot opened. Instead I just got out (and waited for him to drive away) and unleashed a string of obscenities that would’ve put Blink 182’s “Family Reunion” to shame.
Half an hour later, my friend T.C. (aka “tracycollinsbecky” if you read the comments) showed up–this is not the friend I’d been talking to earlier–and I told him what had happened.
He suggested that we wait a bit and then walk back in.
So we waited.
That’s when I removed my Dodgers cap and put on my Padres shirt–just to be safe and make it look like I really was from out of town. And then, finally, after 15 minutes, we cautiously headed back in, but before we even made it to the top of the hill, the same security officer appeared out of nowhere and made us get into his SUV.
“What are you doing back in the parking lot?!” he yelled. “I thought I told you to stay out!!”
“My friend called and said he needed an extra ticket so I w–”
“Your friend doesn’t mean ANYTHING to me right now!!!”
T.C. and I sat in silence as we were driven to the bottom of the hill, and then the officer issued a threat: “If I see you in here again before 5:10, you won’t be going to the game!”
We walked back in at 4:50.
We knew we were taking a chance by not waiting, but we refused to accept missing the first few minutes of batting practice. Luckily the officer was nowhere to be found, and by the time we made it to the area outside the left field pavilion, there were already a dozen other fans standing around. They must’ve used a different entrance. Some of them were even talking about running inside and looking for easter eggs, but as it turned out there wasn’t a single ball to be found.
I played the staircases for the first 20 minutes of BP (you can see the stairs in my previous entry) and snagged two baseballs during that time. The first was a home run hit by a righty on the Padres that I caught on a fly halfway down the stairs, and the second was a ground-rule double hit by a lefty. After it cleared the outfield wall, it took one bounce in the gap and smacked the back of a beer cart–you know, one of those rolling concession stand thingies–and plopped down into a pile of clutter on a shin-high shelf. The vendor who was setting up the cart had no idea what was happening and probably freaked out a bit when I led the stampede from behind.
I only snagged one more ball during the rest of batting practice, and it was another home run that I caught on a fly. I have no idea who hit. It was a righty. Possibly a September call-up. Doesn’t matter. The staircases had all become crowded by that point so I’d been playing several rows back and had five feet of empty space on all sides when the ball met my glove.
At 6:05pm, I spotted Heath Bell (aka “my new BFF”) in left-center field and asked him if this was the last round of batting practice. He told me it was, so I exited the pavilion, used my Field Level ticket to enter the main part of the stadium, and sprinted around the concourse to the Padres’ dugout on the first base side.
This was my view as I waited for BP to end:
My plan was to get one of the Padres to throw me a ball as they left the field, and (Stupid Rule No. 2,108) even though I had to stay behind the concrete partition, I was able to do just that. I’m not sure who threw it. It was a coach. Might’ve been Craig Colbert. I wish I knew, but there was no way to be certain. All that really mattered, though, was that I had the ball–my fifth of the day.
After that I headed up to the Loge and checked out the seats (including the entire dugout partition) on the right field side:
Then (Stupid Rule No. 3,659) I was forced to show my ticket to get back into the Field Level where I took a pic of the concourse:
What was so special about the concourse? Nothing really. I always photograph concourses because they’re part of the stadium and every stadium is different.
row of booths because there was actually a sensible usher who was able to think for himself and use something called judgment. He saw my
Padres cap, Padres shirt, Sharpie, and glove. I wasn’t trying to hide my intentions. I just walked up to him and asked if there was any possible way I could go down to the front row, even for two minutes, to try to get a ball or an autograph or even to take a few pictures. He was like, “Well, you’re not really supposed to be there without a ticket but…I guess it’s okay for a few minutes.””I promise I’ll be gone before the game starts,” I told him, “and you won’t see me again for the rest of the night.”
He appreciated that and let me do my thing, and while I was down at the front, I looked back at him every so often and gave a little “thank you” nod.
Not only did I get two more balls–one from Will Venable and another from Kevin Kouzmanoff less than a minute later–but I got Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Antonelli to sign my tickets:
Double digits? Was it possible? Would I be able to get the players to toss me third-out balls over the dugout partitions? It had been easy to get the ball from that Padres coach after BP because there weren’t any other fans in front of me. But during the game? I didn’t know what to expect.
The first inning was a complete waste, but when Juan Pierre ended the second by grounding into a 3-6 fielder’s choice, I waved like a lunatic and caught the eye of shortstop Luis Rodriguez and got him to toss me the ball, right over the heads of all the Dodger fans sitting in front of me. It was beautiful.
The following inning, when Casey Blake made the third out by grounding into a 5-4 fielder’s choice, I got that ball as well from Antonelli. It almost seemed too easy. Before I ran back up the steps to the concourse, I pulled out one of the balls I’d snagged during BP and handed it to the nearest kid.
The sixth and seventh innings were dead. There was no action behind the dugouts, and I managed to miss the action on the field; Andre Ethier led off the bottom of the sixth with an opposite field homer (that T.C. nearly caught) but I didn’t see it because I was still limping through the concourse back to the first base side.
That was the story of my night, but all my suffering eventually paid off. Russell Martin ended the eighth inning by grounding into a 6-4-3 double play, and I got first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to toss me his infield warm-up ball on his way in. Gonzalez had done the same thing on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park. Apparently he has a thing for switching the game-used ball with his warm-up ball and tossing THAT one into the crowd instead.
Despite all the stupid rules and evil security guards at Dodger Stadium, it IS incredibly easy to enter any section once you’re in the Field Level. I didn’t get stopped once the whole night, even when I was wearing Padres gear and wearing my glove and running down the steps to a seat in the first row behind the partition.
Anyway, I’d reached double digits–a sign that I’d conquered the stadium–and the game was almost over so I made my way to the home-plate end of the Dodgers’ dugout. That’s where the umps walk on and off the field, and when Joe Beimel retired Sean Kazmar for the final out of the Dodgers’ 8-4 win, I kept my eye on Jerry Meals and got him to toss me my final ball of the day. Hoo-HAAAAA!!!
Adios, Dodger Stadium.
• 11 balls at this game
• 423 balls in 56 games this season = 7.6 balls per game.
• 552 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 138 consecutive games outside NYC with at least one ball
• 90 lifetime games with at least 10 balls
• 35 lifetime games outside NYC with at least 10 balls
• 20 different stadiums with at least one game with 10 or more balls
• 17 double-digit games this year (which is a personal record)
• 3,700 total balls
By the way, I forgot to mention this in my earlier entries from this trip, but while I was in San Diego, I visited the Barnes & Noble in Hazzard Center in the Mission Valley area and signed their only two copies of “Watching Baseball Smarter.”