This morning most baseball fans will look through the box scores and see among them a 6-0 shutout win for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the visiting New York Mets at Dodger Stadium last night. What you won’t see in the box score, however, and probably won’t in the highlights or the game recaps, or even in the broadcast of the game was what really happened at the legendary ballpark last night.
For the first time in a long time, Dodger Baseball returned to Chavez Ravine.
The night began with a typically perfect Southern California evening. The temperature hovered around 80 degrees at first pitch and the sun had begun to set. The first sign that the night might be different than most games this season came as fans pulled into the parking lot and actually had to wait in a line of cars to get into the lot.
This was typical of many games over the past few years when the Dodgers led the league in attendance, but other than Opening Day, getting in and out of the Dodger Stadium parking lot had been a breeze this year, a benefit of the dismal attendance.
Not tonight, though, but no one seemed to mind. It was apparent from the first approach down Stadium Way and into the final quarter-mile stretch to the parking booth that more fans would be here tonight than usual – a lot more. Fans seemed patient and courteous, maybe even excited to experience a Dodger game the way they used to be.
The enthusiasm and good-natured attitude of the fans did not stop at the parking lot entrance, though. As fans entered the stadium, they each received an Andre Ethier bobblehead, with him donning a retro Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. Bobblehead giveaway nights were always big draws for the Dodgers until this season.
Previous giveaway nights earlier in the year left cases upon cases of leftover bobbleheads, a far cry from the days as recent as last season when fans would have to worry about not getting to the game in time to get one.
The Dodgers, amid a five-game losing streak, massive fan apathy, and a huge decline in attendance, took to heavily discounting tickets for the game to ensure they got rid of every last mini Ethier. Field-level seats that normally go for as much as $120 a ticket were discounted to as little as $22 a piece. The upper levels were all discounted to $5.
While this is not the first time the Dodgers have heavily discounted tickets this year, it was certainly the most effective one. The Dodgers announced a sellout of 56,000 fans in attendance, and for the first time since Opening Day, it actually seemed that there were as many fans at the stadium as the Dodgers claimed.
Despite the sellout, what made the crowd last night impressive was their demeanor and enthusiasm. It almost seemed like a throwback to the days when people did not drink excessively at baseball games and start brawls, or hurl expletives at a man trying to enjoy a game with his children, but wearing the gear of the opposing team.
Sure, there were a few Mets fans in attendance, but the ribbing on them was good-natured. The enthusiasm and enjoyment in the ballpark almost made it feel like all 56,000 people were attending their first baseball game.
The Dodgers responded with a performance that helped the enthusiasm endure through all nine innings. Starter Clayton Kershaw was masterful in his dominance of the Mets bats, shutting them out over his eight innings while striking out nine and only allowing five hits, all of them singles.
The Dodgers offensive responded in kind, putting up five runs in the bottom of the sixth, fueled by Matt Kemp’s two run double and capped off with Dioner Navarro’s run-scoring triple. That was more than enough for Kershaw, who combined with Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo for the shutout. With each strikeout, extra-base hit, RBI or stolen base, the crowd roared with such passion and intensity one would think they had stumbled upon a playoff game.
For Dodgers fans, last night’s victory was as much in the stands as it was on the field. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the Dodger Baseball they had grown to love. The way it had been up until this year, before their passion for Dodger Baseball was displaced by their intense dislike of the schemes and feuds of the McCourt ownership. Before their plans of attending Dodger games was deterred by a fan being beaten into a coma at the stadium on opening day, or the massive LAPD manhunt that followed.
Tonight there was no talk of Brian Stow’s assailants. Tonight there was no talk of Frank or Jamie McCourt. Tonight was as much different as it was the same. It was different from the way things have been at Dodger games this year, but the same as it always had been before, and as all Dodgers fans—and perhaps, all baseball fans—hope it always will be again very soon.