Saturday, July 4, 2009

Manny Happy Returns - The Militant Follows The Dodgers to San Diego!

The Militant slipped away to San Diego on Friday to witness Manny Ramirez's first game back from his 50-game suspension for using a banned substance. Personally, the Militant feels torn about the issue, but he was down south to support the Boys in Blue play against the Padres. And besides, Manny did the crime, Manny did the time, so let's move on.

The good thing about the Padres' PESTCO Park is that it's in an urban location, where the Militant and one of his operatives carpooled into an unspecified San Diego Trolley station and rode into the vicinity of the baseball park. The train was full of baseball fans -- most of which were proudly dressed in Dodger gear. But that was nothing compared to the sight and sound of Dodger fans, decked in blue, walking through downtown SD, chanting, "Let's Go Dodgers!" Looks like Dodgertown moved 140 miles south.

This may or may not be the Militant's first time in a baseball stadium that doesn't have the word "Dodger" in the name, but he can tell you that going to a baseball game in another stadium is much like going to a different church of the same denomination: The format's the same, the local customs are definitely different. PETCO (er, more like PESTCO) Park is yet another generic, faux-retro stadium deigned by the architectural firm Populous/HOK Sport, with all the seats of the same color.

PESTCO was a truly different experience from Chavez Ravine; the Militant couldn't help but notice the following:

PESTCO Park Cons:

- No stadium organist, ergo no "warm and fuzzy feeling."
- Stadium PA bangs out shrill drum machine noises to boost the crowd.
- Stadium PA announcer sounds like the "Dance Dance Revolution" guy.
- Inequality in bullpens. Home team gets a nice facility beyond the centerfield fence, visitors get a lame strip of dirt past the right field foul line -- opposite from their dugout.
- Their hotdog of choice is some generic Weinershnitzel dog.
- They only sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" once. Not much time to stretch, is there?
- Each homerun sets off pyrotechnics; not a very good environmental move (though fortunately, this season's team doesn't have to worry about polluting the air that often).
- Not only do they have the team's dorky/creepy-looking friar mascot, but the stadium's naming rights sponsor has its own mascots, Red Ruff and Blue Mews. Do you really need two sets of unrelated mascots?
- A plethora of advertisements pepper the entire stadium. Don't you ever complain about the number of ads in Dodger Stadium again.
- Why is Steve Garvey's #6 a retired number?!?

PESTCO Park Pros:

- Urban, transit-friendly location.
- Concession lines move much faster here.
- Video screen "Guess The Hat?"game an actual challenge.
- Visitor's dugout is in the 3rd base side, where we're used to seeing the Dodgers.

Despite this being in San Diego, it appeared some 2/3rds of the stadium were visibly Dodger fans. The crowd was a sellout of 42,217 (which, in Dodger Stadium numbers, is like a Dodger game versus the Nationals. On a Wednesday. During the day. In the rain). It was a slightly different paradigm, though, having to cheer on the team wearing the grey uniform for a change. And the special 4th of July red baseball caps worn by both teams (the Dodger caps had the "LA" logo in blue with a white outline) didn't help either.

The fan ratio definitely helped, as when the Man(ny) Of The Hour made his first at-bat, the Dodger crowd, almost instinctively, conspired to drown out any "Boos" emanating from the home crowd. And for the most part, it worked. Even cheers of "Manny! Manny!" erupted (the Militant himself may or may not have started the first one!).

Some video goodness:

When he took to his left field position, there he stood, standing less than 80 feet from the Militant!

Manny ended up going 0 for 2 with a walk and was replaced in the bottom of the 6th by Juan Pierre, who also got love from the Blue crowd with some cheers of his own. The game ended in a 6-3 rout, with five of those runs scored in the first inning alone. Good times.

The game concluded with a 4th of July fireworks display (due to the actual July 4th game being a day game as the Fox Game of The Week, the Friday night game was their Independence Day celebration), which was pretty lackluster compared to the one at Chavez Ravine. Perhaps the downside of being in an urban area (surrounded by midrise buildings) was that the pyrotechnic display was not very large or very high (San Diego also has an airport and landing path that's ridiculously close to the city's skyline). And the coordination of us outfield folks to be corralled into right field wasn't executed very well by stadium staff (the Militant had to watch the fireworks show in the plaza area behind the outfield bleachers). Which wasn't such a bad thing, since all the post-display smoke wafted back into the stadium.

Oh yeah, the promotional item for Saturday's game? Beach towels -- that proudly read, "BEAT LA." Really now! Tsk, tsk. Even them hated Giants fans don't need to be brainwashed like that -- it's instinctive behavior.

Though honestly, the Militant does get severely irked when visiting team fans get overzealous, so, he guesses it's interesting to see it from the other side for once. Then again, even if the Dodgers lost on Friday night, the team still has the best record in baseball, so bow down!

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