August 10, 1997

Dodger Dreams

A couple of weeks ago, thanks to my then-employers KCAL-TV, I had the opportunity to access all areas at Dodger Stadium, leading up to a Dodgers - Rockies game that night. It was pretty much the damn coolest thing Iíve done in a long time, and I wanted to share some of the highlights.

3:50pm Ė I arrive at the Stadium, ready for my night. Things are pretty deserted; no one looks to see if I have a pass or ticket as I walk in through the reserved level gates. Looking around, I find the massive stairwell buried in the Dodger Stadium structure behind home plate, and hop down to the press box level. My destination: The reserved KCAL seat in the press box that goes unused more than 90 percent of the time. Tonight, that seat will be filled!

3:55pm Ė In the press box, I pick up the game notes, and try not to look too out of place. The KCAL seat is in the top row of the three rows that make up the press box. Iím right in line with where the organist sits, and just above the stadium public address announcer. The place is empty now, so I warm up my voice and practice the fingering for a few scales just in case either Mike Carlucci (the announcer) or Nancy Bea Hefley (the organist) are unable to fulfill their assigned duties. (Note Ė they both are fine, and my skills are unneeded.)

It should be pointed out that I did sneak a look down to the radio and TV broadcast booth area. Thatís where Vin Scully works, and he has been my idol for about 25 years. Heís not there, so I try to be cool, and head down to the field for batting practice. (Again, that would be practice for the players; I donít need any!)

4:10pm Ė Iím still trying to work up the courage to walk out on to the field. For now, Iím content to stay in the low level box seats, about five rows from the field, and watch the Dodgers work out. A sportscaster from another local station is getting ready to do a live shot, so heís been running around getting interviews.

Thereís something about being this close to the action. The sun is still out, of course, and maybe thatís why the Dodger uniforms seem bluer, with a brilliant, almost royal shine.

During batting practice for the Dodger pitchers, a fair number of homers rocket in to the empty bleachers. Of course, there are an equal number of weak ground outs to short.

4:19pm Ė Dodger star first baseman Eric Karros takes the field, followed by the other big stars, Brett Butler, Todd Zeile, Raul Mondesi, Mike Piazza, and Wilton Guerrero.

4:23pm Ė Warming up with each other: Bullpen coach and catcher Mark Cresse, and bench coach Mike Scioscia. Cresseís job has been to be the bullpen coach for as long as I can remember; heís always been the warm-up catcher. Scioscia was a star catcher for the Dodgers in the 80ís. I wonder about the similarities and differences between these menís careers. I donít know Cresseís history as a player, but somewhere early in his career, he found his niche in the bullpen. I wonder if he ever wonders about how things might have been different Ö

4:25pm Ė Iíve now worked my way down on to the field, and made friends with an usher, hoping heíll help keep me from doing anything stupid. Also, Iíve located the rest of the media Ė theyíre sitting on the Dodger bench, in the dugout.

4:27pm Ė Dodger players group up to stretch. In one group, Wilton Guerrero, Nelson Liriano, Ramon Martinez, Raul Mondesi, Karim Garcia, and Roger Cedeno. In the other group, Billy Ashley, Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, and Todd Zeile. Loud, fast Spanish is spoken in one group, and the other is more low key and quiet. It kind of sticks out to me, but I figure these guys are all pros, and they can hang out with whomever they want to hang out with. (Just a few days after this, Piazza causes a stir by telling the L.A. Times that the Dodgers are having trouble dealing with their "diversity." Several of the Latin American players take exception, but a close reading of his comments shows Piazza has really said nothing wrong. With players from Korea, Japan, several Latin countries, and the U.S., the Dodgers are like a mini-United Nations, and recently, have been playing just as effectively as the U.N.)

4:32pm Ė Iím on the bench. At Dodger Stadium. Watching warm-ups. Heaven.

4:45pm Ė So I go to check out the Dodger clubhouse, at the urging of Mikey the friendly usher. Itís cool, but there is a certain element of it that makes it seem like a workplace. Memos are posted on the walls, reminding players about certain rules. Thereís also a sign-up sheet for All-Star Game tickets. You know, just your typical office stuff.

On my way back to the field, still clutching my press notes I picked up upstairs, Dodger pitcher Ismael Valdes stops me in the hallway. He asks me "Whoís pitching for them tonight?" Hell, I just picked up these notes, itís not like Iíve read them! I start to look when a passer-by bails me out; "Kevin Ritz" says the helpful but unknown to me person. Valdes is now pawing through the stat sheet, trying to find his stats. He points to his E.R.A., which is a quite respectable 3.47 at the time. "Three point four seven," he says to me. "Pretty horseshit, huh?" "Uh, no, itís fine," I finally managed to stammer out.

4:49pm Ė In the clubhouse, Tom Candiotti talks about his return to the starting rotation. Ramon Martinez has injured his arm, so keeping Candiotti around in the bullpen has proven to be an extra-smart move for the Dodgers. I take interview notes, "working" just like the other reporters. For the record, Candiotti says thereís a "night and day" difference between preparing to be a starting pitcher, and preparing to be a reliever.

5:04pm Ė Back on the field, Billy Ashley shows why the Dodgers keep him around, hitting one over the large outfield grandstands and into the parking lot. Itís only been done a couple of times during a game, but never in recent Dodger history. Billy keeps on trying Ö

5:10pm Ė Mike Piazza rains a series of second level homers into the bleachers. Greg Gagne spits about 20 feet in front of me. This is the big leagues.

5:16pm Ė Iíve moved up to around the batting cage, just to see what Piazza will do on his next turn at B.P. He doesnít disappoint. The Piazza show continues, with five more consecutive bombs. None leave the stadium, but all are pretty impressive. The up-close view is awesome.

5:20pm Ė Todd Zeile steps in left-handed (he normally bats right) and blasts a B.P. homer. Ah, itís all so easy in practice.

5:26pm Ė Japanese reporters ask several questions, making this the third language Iíve heard at the park tonight.

5:50pm Ė Dodger General Manager Fred Claire addresses reporters (and me) in the clubhouse, talking about Ramonís injury, and the play of recently demoted former Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth. Toddís getting his batting stroke back in Triple A.

6:00pm Ė A crew from KCAL is on the field! Yikes! This was supposed to be a deep undercover mission! I stay in the dugout, and they donít notice me. I would hate to think they needed the press pass Iím using! (Turns out, they didnít, and my guilt was misplaced. The crew got interviews with Rockies Manager Don Baylor about a recent on-field death suffered in a local American Legion baseball game.)

6:06pm Ė Ramon Martinez talks to us about going on the Disabled List. He has a potentially season-ending shoulder problem, which could be disastrous for the Dodger pitching staff.

6:09pm Ė You know that guy that wears a Panama hat and sits behind the plate for almost every Dodger home game, taking radar gun readings of pitch speed? Yeah, heís here. (Mike Brito, for those of you scoring at home.)

6:10pm Ė Brett Butler moves through the clubhouse, collecting "dues" of some form. Hmm.

6:38pm Ė Iím back in the press box now, and get to eat the press box meal provided, of course, free of charge to the media. This ainít no Dodger Dog and fries; we feast on fresh roast beef (carved by a chef, just for you!), pasta shells stuffed with cheese, grilled potatoes, fresh rolls, and all the beverages you can drink. Then, I get a Coke refill, grab some fresh popcorn from the popcorn machine, and take my seat. Nancy Bea Hefley is at her seat, providing the organ music that makes Dodger Stadium so distinctive.

6:45pm Ė The scorecard provided to the media has half-toned team logos "underneath" the part where you keep score, making the whole thing (thanks to the Rockies logo) look vaguely like some form of dental chart.

Also, I can hear the keys of the organ "click" when Nancy Bea plays. Now thatís cool!

7:04pm Ė The anthem has been sung, the Dodgers are on the field, and weíre ready for the first pitch Ö

To Be Continued!

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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated August 10, 1997