Baseball for baseball’s sake
Today at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the CIF North Coast Section will have its finals. As I understand, tickets are $9 and cover the whole day – four games of championship high school baseball. By now, the Division IV game has finished, leaving only the Divisions I-III games. If I wasn’t in LA for the weekend, I would’ve gone up to the Coli to check it out.
The California Interscholastic Federation is comprised of 10 regional sections, including four city-specific sections: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego. (Late-growing cities such as San Jose and Sacramento are part of regional sections.) The SF and Oakland city championships were held at AT&T Park and the Coliseum, respectively. LA’s city championship is being held now at Dodger Stadium. I still had a couple of days on my Amtrak California Rail Pass to kill, so I decided on a whim to head down to LA to catch the Southern Section championships. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for how incredible the experience would be.
Also held at Dodger Stadium this year, the Southern Section championships covers just about every school that’s in SoCal but isn’t in either LA or SD. That makes for a very competitive playoffs, and it showed last night. The Division II final between Orange County schools Aliso Niguel and Pacifica (Garden Grove) was a masterpiece, with the latter winning 3-2 in 10 innings (7 is regulation). The D I final was no slouch as Newbury Park upset powerhouse Mater Dei coming in and outlasted Corona to win the title.
My chief motivation for going was simple: having no rooting interest as a parent or alumnus of any of these schools, I simply wanted to catch a ballgame (or three) in some of the best seats at Dodger Stadium. And it was fabulous. Only the infield part of the lower deck was open for seating. The club section behind the plate was closed and off limits, a policy which created tension later as some kids from one of the winning schools climbed over some walls and through the club sections to jump onto the field. The closures effectively limited the capacity to around 5,000, which didn’t matter much as nearly all of the schools provided solid supporting sections. It was fun to see and hear small, vocal groups of fans on either side of the plate rooting against each other juxtaposed against the soaring backdrop at Chavez Ravine. Nothing quite prepared me for hearing pep bands at baseball games, a practice which I have to say – painfully as a former pep band member – should be banned.
I managed to get a seat in the front row of Section 2 behind the plate. Somehow I felt extremely fortunate as I had never sat this close (single game price for a Dodger game: $115) before and probably never would again. One of the nice, unexpected baseball fan treats was that the starting pitcher for Newbury Park threw with a three-quarter delivery (Eck, Huston Street, Rod Beck), so his arm angle was right in my line of sight. It made his breaking pitches look that much more outrageous.
Concessions were half-price, although only three stands were open, leading to long, concourse-clogging lines. Still, a half-price Dodger Dog is about the right price IMHO. The lower concourse, stands, and restrooms were properly renovated (waterfree urinals, no troughs), but with no space to widen the concourses, circulation was as cramped an affair as ever.
I’ve been to a few games at Dodger Stadium in the past at different times during the season and both hot and cool weather. I didn’t expect the ballpark’s transformation as day turned to twilight and then into nightfall. Unlike AT&T Park and the Coliseum, where you can easily see the fog coming in as a sort of gloom settling over the place, when I sat down low here the marine layer seemed to sneak up on the me. It was almost as if someone flipped a switch for a fog machine. As would be expected, the moist, cool, dense air knocked down fly ball after fly ball, including a couple of shots that should’ve been homers. At the same time, San Gabriel Mountains receded into blackness and the whole game seemed to be played in a hazy mist, a halycon dream. The picture above doesn’t do it justice, and it’s hard to appreciate from the upper levels of the park, where I had almost always previously sat. The fog created a magical, movie-like quality to the event, similar to what I felt during the on-location filming of Moneyball two years ago – except not constantly interrupted by the process of filmmaking. The crowds were boisterous, the players intense and yet all too human, the coaches animated. I soaked up the whole thing, and when it was over at 10:30, I was sorry to leave. Now I finally see why Hollywood shoots here so frequently. They couldn’t have dreamed up this environment with a billion dollars of CGI and their wildest dreams. The new Dodger ownership group would have to be absolutely insane to even entertain the thought of leaving this place.