I just spent a warm afternoon at Dodger Stadium, watching the home team lose, picking up a sunburn and generally enjoying the atmosphere. It’s baseball, after all, and the game’s pastoral roots still resonate with me, even in the midst of Wi-Fi and urban sprawl.
Of course, I live in Atlanta, where the home team is about to leave a perfectly good 20-year-old stadium for something even newer and more Wi-Fi-oriented in the urban sprawl far from downtown. It’ll be the second time the team has moved since coming to town — a team whose history in Atlanta postdates the 1962 opening of Dodger Stadium by four years. (Ironically, for all the complaints about urban sprawl in L.A., Dodger Stadium is only about 2 miles from the now-revitalized downtown.)
But tradition was never the name of the game in Atlanta. I like Turner Field, but in execution, it’s closer to a baseball theme park than a baseball park. It’s no wonder that the Braves’ spring training home is Disney World (at least for the time being — watch your pocketbooks, Florida coast dwellers!). The team management is about fan service, which is admirable if the fans care about baseball. But Atlanta fans prefer an experience, which means baseball takes a back seat, particularly when your team is playing .350 ball. That was true even in the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz glory years; I once attended a game in which Maddux was pitching a shutout against the Cardinals, whose starter — Alan Benes — was pitching a no-hitter through eight. It was a Friday night in May, so not a school night, and the two pitchers zipped through the first nine innings in maybe 1:45. And yet fans were leaving after the seventh. I’ve often thought they should be banned from ever attending another baseball game.
Anyway, I’m sure Finazzle Field at Chattahoochee Junction Brought to You by Georgia Power, unlinked to public transit and in the midst of one of the busiest interchanges in the U.S.A., will have wonderful Wi-Fi and beautiful $10 beers. But I’m not so sure about baseball.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers — who have a fine baseball tradition — have embraced the Mondrianesque early-’60s straight lines of its stadium. They’ve maintained the zigzag awnings in the outfield and added a “Mad Men” aesthetic to the bar. They still serve Dodger Dogs. (Incidentally, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered “Farmer John” is a local food company and not just the subject of a Premiers song.) Even the sorta Futura font says 1962 in a charming way. I’m sure (especially in the awful McCourt years) there was temptation to move, but they’re still holding court in the same place. They’ve even held on to their 88-year-old play-by-play man. About the only thing that screams 2016 are the prices, which are admittedly outrageous. (Dodger Dogs $6, beers $10 and up.)
Three thousand miles away, another traditionalist recently tallied his 3,000th hit. Ichiro Suzuki hit a triple, a throwback to the days when he not only punched singles but could speed around the bases.
But what’s more impressive about Ichiro is his appreciation of the game. According to a New York Times article, he’s visited the Hall of Fame several times and even paid tribute to George Sisler, whose single-season hits record he broke, by visiting Sisler’s grave in St. Louis.
Ichiro is quietly winding down his career, headed for the Hall as an inductee. In Dodger Stadium, there’s a strong sense that this is Scully’s last year. Neither is calling attention to himself with an ostentatious farewell tour. They simply respect the game.
That’s a tradition that’s still nice to see.