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Good Seats

By Frank Gruber

If you are prone to envy, stop reading. I am about to go on and on about the time I had recently at Dodger Stadium. The game was not the most exciting -- the Dodgers lost to the Seattle Mariners 13-0 -- but I sat in the new "Dugout Club" seats.

I was so close to home plate that I wanted to yell "good eye!" to a Dodger batter whenever the umpire called a ball, just like I do when my son Henry plays little league at Los Amigos Park.

So, if you can't stand others' good fortune, stop reading because I don't want anyone to complain about mine. Don't blame me if you find yourself muttering or sputtering in rage, "Gruber ... Dugout Club seats ... Isn't he a Phillies fan?"

To which I might say, "Please, we Phillies fans deserve a little happiness."

Last year the Dodgers built a new section of seats between the dugouts, more or less at dugout level. The purpose was, according to the Dodgers' website, to make Dodger Stadium "more economically competitive with other ballparks across the nation."

Meaning, the Dodgers want to soak up more revenue from businesses that would pay large sums to lease "sky boxes" and the like if the Dodgers had not built their ballpark in mid-20th century California, when quaint notions about democracy led to the building of wonderfully open and egalitarian modernist edifices like Dodger Stadium.

Meaning, further, that until the Dodgers build their own "retro" stadium complete with tiers of exclusive boxes for the corporate elite, the Dodgers will have to rely on these open seats virtually on the playing field, along with a few boxes they squeezed into the club level, to justify the price Fox paid for the team and/or to pay the salary of Kevin Brown.

(I know poor Hispanics lost their homes in the building of Dodger Stadium, and that American ideals of democracy have always stood on the backs of the poor, the persecuted, the enslaved and the otherwise discriminated against, but these topics are outside the scope of this column and much better dealt with during football season.)

You may want to know how wonderful the Dugout Club seats are. Let me count the ways. Start with parking. Four Dugout Club tickets come with two parking passes -- the ultimate L.A. perk.

After parking, Dugout Club ticket holders descend below the grandstand, pass through security, and have their hands stamped with invisible ink. Finally they reach their seats by way of the "Dugout Club" itself, a bar and restaurant for the exclusive use of Dugout Club ticket holders. The food at this restaurant, which will deliver orders to your seat, is "complimentary" -- to the extent there could be such thing as a complimentary lunch.

One final touch: the seats have cup holders.

Extra parking, free food, cup holders -- and a fantastic view of the action. We were so close that a player in the on-deck circle turned around and answered a question someone nearby yelled out. We could hear the umpire call strikes, and people addressed the umpire as "Blue" just like at little league games when the "blue" makes a bad call, as in "Oh, Blue ..."

The game up close was vivid, more like the game in baseball literature than the game I was used to seeing either from the stands or on television. The home-plate umpire came over between innings to get a drink of water. You could see him relax for a moment, before putting his game face back on (he resembled a Marine drill sergeant) to return to the ball and strike wars.

So -- how did I get these tickets? I got them through normal channels: i.e., someone gave them to me.

Ever since moving to Los Angeles a couple decades ago I have been fascinated with how Dodger tickets work as currency, both social and economic. The distribution of Dodger tickets would make a suitable topic for dissertation -- by a student of economics or anthropology. The system is different here than in other cities, because it is private.

Back in the old country, that is, Philadelphia, if you want to see the Phillies play, you arrive at the stadium and buy a ticket. If you expect the game will be crowded, you might buy tickets in advance, to guarantee a good seat. But good seats are available to every game, because the Phils don't sell many season tickets.

But season ticket holders have owned half of Dodger stadium -- the better half -- forever. Their tickets float around town, making new friends and keeping the old. Dodger tickets and Hollywood Bowl tickets -- I am convinced that the same families and businesses bought them all about the time William Mulholland gazed upon the gushing waters and said, "There it is. Take it."

My Dugout Club tickets came from my friend Kevin, who invited Henry and me to share the tickets that he received from a school friend whose company has the seats. Kevin is an architect and his friend is a contractor, and Kevin and the friend might do business someday. (I don't suggest that had much to do with the transaction, but I am encouraging Kevin to do some business with this fellow because obviously, any contractor who owns Dugout Club tickets must do very good work.)

The funny thing about the Dugout Club was that aside from the above-described benefits, sitting there wasn't much different from sitting in any other seats I've sat in at Dodger Stadium. It was the same crowd. I did not feel like I was in some place that Henry would call "too fancy."

I didn't recognize anyone famous. In fact, everyone I spoke to was sitting in these seats for the first time. They got their seats the same way I got mine. People wore tank tops, shorts, tees and polo shirts. Girls wore their softball uniforms. The couple next to us lived in Rowland Heights and knew which ballplayers on the Dodgers and the Mariners came from Rowland Heights. They got their Dugout Club tickets from work.

I dedicate this column to all those friends and business acquaintances who, over the years, have shared their Dodger tickets or access to tickets with me. For a Phillies fan who moved here to stay 23 years ago, being one of the millions each year who attend Dodger games was one way I became a southern Californian. So thanks.

Now, let me tell you what I did on my vacation ...

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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