Blue heaven: October returns to Dodgerland
Club's magical season, spruced-up stadium revitalize Ravine for NLDS
LOS ANGELES -- The beauty is still embedded into Elysian Park, resting on a hillside overlooking this man-made American city, showcasing its sport as only it can, with the space-age seats shining in the sun, the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance and Vin Scully's voice beaming out into the ether.
Of course, like so many of its fellow famous residents of L.A., Dodger Stadium has maintained its beauty with no small amount of expensive enhancements. But there's no shame in being image conscious, especially in Hollywood, and when you've got good guts, you might as well flaunt them.
Chavez Ravine is ready for its close-up Sunday night, when the Dodgers and Braves continue their National League Division Series (8 ET/5 PT on TBS), and, frankly, it's nice to have it back in the postseason spotlight.
"Looking for it to be hopefully energetic and electric," manager Don Mattingly said. "It seems like the fans this year have been excited about our club. They seem to like our guys. I think Dodger fans in general have always been really supportive of our club. But I think there's been a little bit of a different energy this year. The fans seem to have connected with our players."
Not that it's been an incredibly long wait, for the Dodgers are just four years removed from their last NLCS appearance against the Phillies. But the profundity of their purgatory period cannot be overstated. The bitter McCourt divorce battle wreaked havoc on the Dodgers' finances and, ergo, sullied their spot in the standings. Attendance plummeted, with the 2011 average -- 36,236 -- more than 7,000 lower than what it had been a year earlier. And the sight of empty seating sections and lopsided scores was nothing compared to the concerns about safety and security.
All of those issues have drifted into the distance, thanks to a $2.15 billion infusion of excitement and intrigue brought on by the Guggenheim group and its magnetic franchise face in Magic Johnson. The Dodgers have become a captivating curiosity, a melting pot of personalities that make beautiful music together when they're healthy and in harmony.
They are, you might say, a club worthy of their surroundings.
"Why do you want to see gladiators?" said newly anointed setup man Brian Wilson, as curious a commodity as they come. "You want to see them fight, you want to be entertained. And when your gladiators are doing well, you're going to keep coming.
"I don't really focus on the atmosphere. I kind of just copy and paste stadiums, because the dimensions where I work are always going to be the same and I just focus on the catcher. But I'd be lying if I said I don't notice it when I'm sitting in the bullpen. You can feel the energy here."
There's something about this place that stirs the senses ... and not the sense you'd expect when you're in such close proximity to a former landfill. Here, it's the sense that time has stopped and reversed itself, and suddenly you're rolling your Impala out of a 76 station and up the road where Sandy Koufax works his miracles.
But Dodger Stadium has also been updated for modern times. As is the case with their roster, the ownership group pumped a staggering sum into the home park, over $100 million total in a single offseason. They enhanced the home clubhouse, renovated every bathroom, installed new high-res video scoreboards, widened the concourses, improved the entries, opened more merchandise stores and expanded the concession offerings.
Indeed, preservation of the game's third-oldest ballpark comes with a high price. But it was worth every penny to keep the motor humming.
This is where the Dodgers completed their '63 sweep of their former New York neighbors, with Joe Pepitone losing sight of Clete Boyer's throw in a sea of white shirts. This is where Orel Hershiser went the distance in the Game 7 LCS clincher, and where Kirk Gibson completed a slow, limping trot around the bases that is as iconic as the home run that immediately preceded it, all with superscout Mike Brito -- wearing a Panama hat atop his head, cigar dangling from his mouth, suit and tie adorning his body and radar gun jutting out of his outstretched hand -- looking on.
This is where Dodger Dog indigestion emanates, where parking congestion congregates, where Randy Newman communicates that he loves L.A. And when you're here and you hear it, so do you.
L.A. crowds have been brandished with a rep for arriving late and leaving early. Not this year. Not when the Dodgers were in the midst of rattling off 42 wins in 50 games, all but sealing their spot in the postseason and rekindling their relationship with a city that had grown skeptical about them.
So now postseason baseball is back, in a setting that feels nothing but natural for it. And on Sunday night, they'll get their French dip sandwiches to-go from Philippe's, and they'll ride along that hillside into the parking lot that rests on about 260 acres of costly concrete. They'll watch a cavalcade of stars on a dynamic diamond within the context of the game's greatest stage: October.
It'll be a beautiful blue sight.