Dodger Stadium Action Begins Long Before the First Pitch

First in a series of articles offering a glimpse behind the scenes at Dodger Stadium

For all its new-age hyperbole, the Internet era is entranced with the past. Technology supercharged communications and made millions of millionaires√Ďat least until the dot-com crash brought

almost everyone back to earth. But it's the old-time passions such as sports, sex and cars that wow the websites and attract new-economy dollars.

Consider baseball. A 19th century invention, yet the daily flow of box scores, post-game post-mortems and player gossip still captivates in the 21st. We only seem to value megabytes if they enrich our most cherished traditions.

I wondered about such puzzles as I walked through the press gate at Dodger Stadium last week, hours before a game against the Colorado Rockies. How could a world of grilled hot dogs with pungent onions, horsehide and wood, straw hats, peanut shells and poorly educated players be the lifeblood of our supposedly sophisticated society?

It starts with the pregame rituals.

An usher of 17 years offers to help me find the press box. We go down a stairway, but he forgets which one stops at the fifth level. I stumble into a crystalline world of executive suites, places where the new-economy super-rich, or anyone with an expense account, can enjoy the game in lavish privacy.

Finally, I locate the cream-colored Formica of the press box. Laptops plugged into an array of built-in Internet connections are already saving people's seats. A few rumpled sportswriters check their email, look up stats or watch the Dodgers' infield drills.

Can I sit anywhere? "Seats are assigned only on opening day and in the playoffs," a writer tells me. He snorts when he says, "playoffs." He doesn't think the Dodgers have much of a chance.

I go down to the field, passing by the Dugout Club, another of the stadium's sparkling elite habitats. The clubhouse is on the left. Four or five writers wait inside for the Dodgers to come back from the field. In the hallway, an agent has a serious talk with a Latin ballplayer. "We can get a hell of deal," he says. "A hell of a deal." The player beams.

Rockies are everywhere in the visitors' dressing room, waiting for their allotted warm-up time. Writers and radio reporters periodically break off from a larger group in the middle of the room to talk with whichever players will abide them. "If I don't pitch here, I can pitch somewhere else!" says one. Another solemnly proclaims he is "only trying to do his best." Someone else keeps feeding MP3 tunes from his laptop into the clubhouse sound system.

Unhappiness reigns on the red tarmac edging the grassy field. "I asked if we could interview him about the injury," a writer grouses about one of the Dodgers' stars, "and he says to me, 'Thanks for being so concerned about my health.'" Heads shake. Eyes roll. No one gets the story.

A Korean fighter, in town for big a match, poses with Chan Ho Park, the Dodgers' ace Korean pitcher. "Hey," a Spanish-language reporter asks, "you going to the fight?" Chan Ho says "maybe" and goes back into the dugout.

The broadcast media start to assemble. Famous names with perfect haircuts, all 50- or 60-something, clutch their unplugged microphones and trade quips. No-name 20-something technicians fiddle with cameras and recorders. "Aw, we can't use any of this!" laments an ex-ballplayer-turned-pundit after a particularly insipid interview. His production staff hurries to reassure him.

Things begin hopping in the press box when the all-you-can-eat media buffet opens. Tonight, $6 buys carved roast beef, angel hair pasta, new potatoes, a salad bar, doughnuts, frozen yogurt, cookies and drinks. Tommy Lasorda stops in for a bite. So does just about everyone else.

Near the dining room doors, famed Dodger announcer Vin Scully interrupts a young Dodger staffer who is talking with a writer. Scully wants to clarify a statistic for his broadcast. After he gets the information, he apologizes for breaking in.

"Oh," says the kid, flushing with pleasure. "It's no problem at all, Mr. Scully. No problem at all."

In a corner of the press box, the stadium sound team gets ready. A headphone-clad engineer, the cousin of a famous musician, hooks his computer to a control box. When the moment is right, or when his producer wags a predetermined hand signal, he'll fire up recorded versions of "Charge!" or rhythmic clapping, all controlled with the touch of a button.

Behind him, the stadium organist patiently sits. She's knitting a fluorescent green something. Do the players have favorite songs? "Oh yes," she smiles. "Kevin Brown [the Dodgers' pitcher that night] is very particular." He likes Metallica.

The press box seats fill as the Dodgers bring a fan onto the field for a big-money contest just before the game. After three tries, she fails to throw a ball through a hole in a sign touting Union 76 gas. She gets a $25 dollar gift certificate.

"Geeze," says a woman in a neon green jacket. She feeds the game play-by-play into a national computerized database. "That won't even buy half a tank of gas these days." Her friend, the Krispy Kreme doughnut rep, nods in agreement.

We all stand for the National Anthem, sung tonight by a middle school quartet. A phone rings midway through. As soon as the singing stops, someone announces over the press box PA that one of the Rockies has just been activated, or may be traded.

Out on the mound, pitcher Brown winds up and hurls a ball. "That's a 7:11 start," our PA informant tells us. Broadcasters chat over coffee in the dining room. They'll tape their spots later. Everyone else settles down in front of dimly glowing laptops, waiting to chronicle what will forever become the world's digitized image of the game.

David Friedman is a Markle Senior Fellow in the New America

Foundation.

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