Matt Kemp poked his head out of the Dodgers’ dugout on Friday afternoon, moments after being one of the first to try out the team’s new underground batting cages.
He looked up at the new giant videoscreen in right field and asked, “What’s that thing for underneath.”
He was pointing to another strip of electronic gadgetry under the screen, which looked like where the score by innings might be posted.
“Who knows?” replied Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner. “Like everything else, we’ll soon find out.”
The Dodgers’ roster received some notable upgrades this past off season, thanks to the infusion of payroll by the Guggenheim ownership group.
Fittingly, the face lift that a fleet of fork-lift trucks and other earth-moving machines were able to pull off on Dodger Stadium over the winter is as equally if not more impressive, considering the time restraints that restrict such restructuring on a place that’s held its beauty for more than 50 years.
What’s old looks new, and what’s new looks 1960s era retro.
Welcome back to the future.
Those fans fortunate enough to have an Opening Day ticket to take in Monday’s Dodgers-Giants game at Chavez Ravine, one that’s expected to draw a capacity of 56,000 for the usual array of bunting, balloons and beach balls, will experience even a more polished product than was on display Friday when the first and only exhibition game was played there so far this season.
During a five-month window, the team rushed through a $100-million-plus retrograde. You only wish your kitchen remodel had gone as fast and efficiently.
The first evidence will come with more visible landscaping, a new top of the park souvenir shop, and the obvious eye-pleasing large hexagon video boards above both the left- and right-field pavilions — the shape they were when the place opened in 1962, but with far more definition and state-of-the-art technology.
It continues with subtle things like clearer numbers and signage that mark the seating aisles, improved sound system, expanded areas to walk on the top-level and reserved concourses, better wheel-chair access, more kid-friendly areas with giant bobbleheads, standing-room counters behind the last row of seats, and more video monitors to catch the game in all areas of the park.
Oh, and much larger and eco-friendly restrooms, for both men and women, marked in both English and Spanish. And even unisex facilities for those who need special help with children or the elderly. On every level.
“It’s a Dodger Stadium as familiar as it’s ever been, only it’s much more comfortable and updated,” said Stan Kasten, the Dodgers’ president and CEO. “All the changes are respectful of the vintage park that Walter O’Malley originally designed.”
Janet Marie Smith, the team’s senior vice president of planning and development, noted that on the direction by Dodgers chief executive officer Mark Walter, the Dodgers researched with Los Angeles city code required for restrooms in a building of such size. They then doubled the number of fixtures in all the men’s rooms and increased by 50 percent what was mandated for women’s rooms.
“I’ll eat my hat if we have lines for the restrooms after all we’ve done here,” said Smith, whose previous jobs in upgrading Fenway Park in Boston, Camden Yards in Baltimore and Turner Field in Atlanta has earned her recognition by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“Mark’s plan wasn’t do just do one level at a time. We just went for it.”
Add to that a whole other part of the park that fans won’t even see – expanded clubhouses and batting cages under the field levels to accommodate the home and visiting teams, work that required seats to be removed, tons of dirt to be removed, and all of it to be put back into place.
And there’s still more to come – including improved Wifi reception for cellphoners.
“We don’t pretend we’ve done all we want to do,” Smith said. “We just ran out of time for the time being.”
Smith said the Dodgers had to pull 117 permits from the city in order to do the things they felt were necessary, including improving the security lighting in the parking lots. All was based on a litany of fans’ suggestions submitted online and given directly to Kasten, who often spent games roaming the concourse and talking to the patrons.
“It would be pompous of us to make any kind of changes without asking the fans first,” said Smith.
Concession stands are only part of the new experience. On the reserved level, for example, there’s a new place for with a cartoon of the “Gangnam style” rapper who started the video dance craze pushing something called jinro Chamisul soju.
What’s that? Only a Korean beverage that’s said to be the best selling brand of liquor in the world.
With the Dodgers adding South Korea pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu – and wearing the No. 99 once owned by fan favorite Manny Ramirez – there’s bound to be a need for more ethnic-based beverages.
One of the photos that the Dodgers tweeted out last week was Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully in a hard hat as he visited the clubhouse under renovation. The photo came with the caption: “We’ll put anyone to work.”
On Friday’s broadcast of the Dodgers-Angels game, Scully, the 85-year-old about to start his 64rdseason with the team, told the TV audience that “it’s not a completely different ballpark, but I will certainly say that it’s a better fan experience. More comfort, wider walkways, and of course, the new gems atop the left and right-field areas. It is amazing.”
To see more video: http://bcove.me/fjltjgx5