When Mookie Betts stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning on Friday night, the Dodger Stadium scoreboard boasted an ominous stat — the one-time Boston Red Sox superstar and current Dodger icon had hit 40 leadoff home runs in his career, twenty of those with the Dodgers. I’ve never been a pessimistic fan, but a negative voice in my head suggested that number forty-one might be coming up. Two pitches later it was 1-0, Dodgers. Ten batters later it was 6-0, and before everyone had gotten to their seats the game was essentially over.
There are lots of Yankee fans in Southern California, and there’s good and bad to that. I’ve gone to see the Yankees play the Angels when Anaheim felt more like the West West Bronx, and nothing could be more fun. But the downside is that when the Yankees only make a few appearances out here, the interest is high and the ticket prices are higher. When they’re playing a team with an actual fan base that appreciates the history as much as they appreciate their own team, the prices are higher still. There were moments last week when I wondered if I might have preferred to save my money and watch the games on TV.
Thankfully, though, my son insisted we go to at least one of the three games, so I pulled on my Jeter jersey, he wore his 99, and we were off. I paid almost three hundred dollars for two reserve seats (high, but almost directly behind the plate) and it took us about two hours from our driveway to the stadium, but it was completely worth it.
Many will see this as blasphemous, but Dodger Stadium — the structure — isn’t that special. It lacks the history of Fenway and the charm of Wrigley (the only two stadiums built earlier), and it doesn’t have the unique architectural design seen in the post-Camden Yards parks. Dodger Stadium is beautiful mainly because of where it sits, high atop a bluff overlooking the Los Angeles skyline with sight lines looking beyond the foothills and into the Southern California mountains. Baseball’s early ballparks were either wedged into cities that wouldn’t give another inch or built in such a way that the urban symbiotic sprawl eventually made it difficult to find the divide between town and team, but that isn’t the case here. In the most L.A. kind of way, Dodger Stadium is aloof but welcoming, modern but classic. Even if it doesn’t feel old, even if it’s symmetrical, Dodger Stadium is forever the jewel of Los Angeles.
So how could we not go?
After that nightmarish first inning, I was beginning to wonder. Given his first two starts, I had been excited to see Luís Severino pitch. As awful as his final line looks (4 IP, 9 hits, 7 runs, 3 HRs), it almost wasn’t that bad. The Betts home run was one thing, but Sevy was undone by six consecutive hits later in the inning — five singles and another home run. A couple of those base hits were rockets, but there was bloop and a ground ball and a check swing thrown in as well.
No one wearing pinstripes would take solace from what I’m about to write, but it’s true — after that first inning, the Yankees outscored the Dodgers the rest of the way, thanks to home runs from improbable sources. Just hours removed from the injured list, Josh Donaldson went deep twice, and Giancarlo Stanton hit one of his own. It wasn’t enough to make the game interesting at any point, but it certainly was enough to make me dream about a potent Yankee offense. Maybe.
Oh, and there was also Clayton Kershaw. I’m not sure what the national narrative is on Kershaw nowadays, but he has to be the most under-appreciated first ballot Hall of Famer in history. In a city that loves to elevate heroes, Kershaw has been the forgotten superstar. If there’s one thing more certain than his eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown, it’s the response you’ll get if you voice that opinion to a group of Dodger fans. Invariably, one of them will say, “Yeah, but he can’t win in October.” I don’t care much about the Dodgers one way or the other, but it’s maddening to me.
Watching Kershaw on Friday night was a pleasure, even if it was at the expense of the Yanks. He never looked overpowering the way he once was, but he was always in control. Sure, he yielded two home runs, but neither one mattered. When he walked off the mound following a perfect seventh inning, the fans sent him off with polite applause. It was his league-leading seventh win of the season and the 204th of his career.
All in all it was a fun night at the ballpark, mainly because any night at the ballpark watching baseball with your son is nothing but fun.