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|| News Item: Posted 2005-04-30

Opening Day: New Dodgers, 'New' Stadium
By Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Dodgers Milton Bradley, 21, jumps into the arms of Jayson Werth, 28, after hitting the game winner in the 9th inning on Opening Day. The Dodgers beat the Giants 9-8 with 4 runs in the 9th inning.
Opening Day. Dodger Stadium, blue skies, warm weather, the rival San Francisco Giants and America's pastime. My pastime. It doesn't get much better then this …

Well … except, perhaps, for the seventh game of the 2005 World Series - Dodgers vs. Yankees - top of the ninth inning, Eric Gagne takes the ball on the mound and prepares to give the City of Angels another world championship … but that'll have to wait for October's newsletter.

Tickets for the Dodgers' latest home opener sold out in a record time of 45 minutes. In keeping with that theme, the sellout accommodated a crowd of 56,892, the largest to ever watch baseball at Chavez Ravine.

Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider threw out the first pitch in honor of the Dodger team that won the 1955 World Series. Eric Gagne, the Dodgers latest Cy Young Award winner, was behind the plate to catch Snider's pitch.

It's been years since the Dodgers lost their innocence. A once family-owned organization, taken over by Corporate America, continues to search for its own identity. Sometimes the ideas work. Other times they don't. Opening Day saw the Dodgers don new uniforms.

These didn't have names on the back, first time since 1971. The teams choice to show unity they are a team not one individual. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized the Dodgers for having the highest cumulative attendance for a baseball franchise since 1901 when Major League Baseball started tracking attendance.

Through the cross-country moves, the owner changes, player replacements, work stoppages, wins and losses, 165,770,718 Dodger faithful baseball fans have walked through the turnstiles to watch the Dodgers play. That's more than any other franchise in sports history can lay claim to.

I spent the entire day singing (to myself) the Terry Cashman song "Talking Baseball". Opening Day had all of the typical goings on: flyovers, Navy parachutists, award ceremonies, singers, too many people on the field, Barry Bonds being booed by all 56,892 fans and finally, after all of the pre-game hoopla, baseball.

That is baseball - at the just-renovated Dodger Stadium.

East Coast ownership is the latest venture to invade the hillside north of downtown LA, where the Dodgers and their fans meet 81 times during the year. The stadium, once known for its atmosphere as well as its team, featured Cool-A-Coo ice cream, two-baggers (peanuts), $2 Dodger Dogs and up to 20 photographers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the end of each dugout, waiting for the opportunity to capture the images of the day. Surrounding the Dodgers this year are $4 Dodger Dogs, blaring music from a heavy-metal jukebox that replaced the cheerful, familiar tunes played by longtime organist Nancy B. Hefley.

The off-season construction at Dodger Stadium added 1,600 seats along the foul lines, taking the space from foul territory. The dugouts doubled in size and were pulled 30 feet closer to the foul lines, allowing more seats to be squeezed in - seats that sell for more than $100,000 per season.

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Dodger great and Hall of famer Duke Snider before he tosses out the first pitch on opening day. San Francisco Giants vs Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day April 12. 2005.
It's another sign that Corporate America is selling itself out to corporate spending. A rubberized warning track, which surrounded the field, was uprooted for a player-preferred dirt track, and a new turf was laid down.

An outfield wall honoring memorable achievements in Dodger history has been replaced by billboard-type ads pushing grocery stores, banks and other companies willing to cough up the cash. An 1,100-foot LED ribbon board along the lower edge of the loge level is just another new renovation to unveil this season.

Photographers can still be seen lining up elbow-to-elbow at the end of the dugouts, but now there is room for fewer elbows. The new photo wells, though 30 feet closer to the foul lines, now hold a maximum of six photographers sitting in chairs (that's right, SIX).

There are two risers along each foul line near the first- and third-base field-level seats that will hold a maximum of eight to ten photographers each. There are still two inner wells, on the home plate side of the dugouts that give photographers a great view of the action. But only two photographers will fit into those. And that's only if no TV crews are working the game. In this electronic age, that's a rarity.

If photographers want to shoot the pitchers they must do so by taking turns. Two photographers per inning - for the first three innings on the stairwell on the third base side. We still have a remote pole on each side that can hold up to six remotes.

In short, while they are not the best wells in baseball they are not the worst either. As resilient as we are, the nest of commercialism and concrete-jungle atmosphere that has become Dodger Stadium will not prevent us from painting a picture of every game in time to accompany the morning headlines or late-night web pages.

Hours after the first pitch was thrown to start the 2,077th meeting between the Dodgers and Giants, the photographers were in mid-season form. Four errors by the Giants were swallowed by cameras and became recorded history.

Six months ago, Dodger outfielder Steve Finley was the focal point as he smashed a ninth-inning grand slam to give the Dodgers the Western Division title. This time it was Milton Bradley, who was frozen in time as his teammates mobbed him, after he delivered the game-winning hit in the ninth that lifted the Dodgers to a 9-8 victory.

Eighty games remained on the Dodgers home schedule after that first game. That meant 80 more games of cramped photo wells, 80 more games of taking turns at the prime shooting locations - and endless opportunities at capturing "the shot".

The team's owners have changed. Players have moved on and the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium of old are no more, but the photographers, The one's there day in and day out like the ones that came before since opening day in April of 1962 will find a way like we always have to capture the moments of the day.

Keith Birmingham is a staff photographer with the Pasadena Star-News.

Related Links:
Birmingham's member page

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