I have had the dates circled on my calendar since the Tiger schedule came out. For a Tiger fan living in Southern California, this was our version of opening day. We didn’t have to brave the brutal winter that our fellow Tiger fans living in Michigan and places east had to endure, but it was a loooong off season without Tiger baseball that couldn’t come to an end even a moment too soon.
The anticipation swelled by virtue of the fact that the Tigers and Dodgers were probably the two teams most often forecast to win their respective leagues, and the two game series might be a World Series preview, of sorts. The Tigers only play in the historic venue every few years, so these games were not to be missed.
The Tigers were sending the Cy Young winner and the ERA champion to the mound, and were scheduled to avoid the Dodgers’ best starters: Clayton Kershaw, who is on the DL, Zach Greinke the former AL Cy winner, and Hyun jin Ryu, the rookie pitching sensation in 2013.
Dodger Stadium is the second oldest venue in the National League. The stadium is located in Chavez Ravine, which is situated just north of downtown Los Angeles, in an area called Sulfur Canyon. You have to go up the hills and then down the other side to get to the ballpark, which is surrounded by parking lots.
Getting into and out of the ravine is a challenge. On Tuesday, we hit a bar downtown called Cole's before the game. It took us an hour to get the 3 miles from there into the stadium and park, just due to traffic. On Wednesday, we went to the same place, paid the $7 to park downtown, and then the pub was "closed for filming," so we went next door for one and met the rest of the group at the ballpark.
They have made a lot of improvements to the stadium experience over the winter. The shape of the old scoreboards in the outfield remain, but the scoreboards themselves are new, as well as two levels of video boards that rim the stadium between each level.
On Tuesday, three of us -- Singledigit, GWilson and myself -- sat on the reserve level, which is the third of four levels, above third base. Tickets were $40, which was the same price you would pay for a seat one level lower, but all the way down in the corner in the outfield. I waited too long to buy tickets for this game, not knowing exactly who was going until late March. So, my preferred field level seats were sold out.
The view beyond the outfield scoreboards -- there is only one level of seats out there -- is very cool. The sunset lit up a red sky beyond the palm trees and the hills that enclose the stadium. We were close enough to the field to read the players’ numbers and names, but not close enough to complain about pitch location.
For Wednesday’s game, there were nine of us. San Diego Mick and Stinkee came up from San Diego, and four of my best friends (who are mostly Angels fans) joined us for the fun. We sat in left field, nine rows off the field. Tickets were just $15. Considering that parking was $20 and a "premium beer" was $12 (for a Black label Budweiser), that’s a bargain. Just beyond the foul pole to our right, the seats were $50 a ticket on field level. We were plenty close to the action.
Since we had paid for parking (and it's another $20 at the park) and had a lengthy experience a day earlier getting from there to the ballpark, we took the advice of one of the locals and walked a few blocks to the Metro (subway), rode that for two stops to Union Station, and took the Dodger shuttle bus to the park. It took longer than I had thought on the shuttle, but you could see that we were rapidly passing all the traffic getting in. The bus dropped us right outside the area where our seats were.
On Tuesday, I had a French Dip at Coles, which is the oldest bar in LA since 1908 and claims to have "invented" the French Dip. I had fully intended to go and get a coney dog on Wednesday, but would have been gone for almost an hour to get it. There was a specialty hot dog concession on the reserve level by home plate, and the lines were reportedly very long. A guy in the row in front of us went, and was gone for an hour. His coneys didn't look very appetizing, either, so I settled for a Dodger dog.
There were lots of Tiger fans scattered about the place. There were also lots of empty seats, especially the pricey ones right down on the field and behind home plate on the lower level. Any criticism they get for showing up late and leaving early is fully warranted. It's a tradition at Dodger stadium to boo the best players on other teams. Miggy and Scherzer got the loudest boos. I didn't hear any specific negative comments.
We were treated to two good ball games. Both teams made critical mistakes that played a factor in the final score. The fact that the Tigers got to Kenley Jansen on consecutive nights is quite ironic. I don’t need to go into the state of the Tiger bullpen, or their defense, in this review.
The ballpark experience on both nights was superb. The weather was perfect -- no need for a sweat shirt, although they passed out classy Dodger hooded sweatshirts to fans entering the game on Tuesday. That alone was worth the price of admission, literally. After the first game, we just got in the car and headed home to Orange County, as some of us had to work the next morning.
There are a few decent choices near the ball park for before or after fun. Olvera Street, near Union Station, is a Mexican restaurant festival all day, every day. It is one of the most popular places for the zillions of people who work in the area -- which I did for two years in the late 80's.
The downtown area is bouncing back after decades when they rolled up the sidewalks after 5 pm. Just south of downtown is Staples Center and the LA convention center with all sorts of trendy spots to hang out, and several trendy new hotels. There are a couple of spots just west of the stadium to hang out before a game, but we chose Coles on this occasion.
Coles, in addition to being the oldest bar in LA, famous for it’s french dip sandwich, has a very classic, early 1900s look and feel. The bartenders are all veterans, well trained and dressed. In the back, there is a "speakeasy", that goes back to the days of prohibition. Through a door that you might think was a broom closet or a small storage room, there’s another bar with dimly lit booths set in an early 1920's style decor.
Since the car was parked right there, we all went in for afters. Six of us. There, we discussed the games, the Tigers, the coolness of BYB, and life in general. After closing the place, we drove back to Orange County, and the three lads continued home to San Diego. This weekend, we’ll all be catching the Tigers in San Diego. Good times with good friends.