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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Training, Day 3, A Socratic Dialogue: Cubs 12, Dodgers 3

How was getting to the park yesterday?
It's fair to say this was somewhere between a complete disaster and an apocalyptic nightmare; even though the Dodgers' new park seats over 13,000, they decided it was a great idea to run a paltry two lanes into the facility from the main road from the state 101 loop to the park — and make it all but impossible to park anyway. No kidding, it took us 30 minutes from the time we hit the Camelback Rd. exit until we parked. It's almost as if the morons who designed Dodger Stadium parking decided to do an encore. If you haven't been, plan on arriving 90 minutes early, and no, I'm not kidding; we barely got in our seats before the National Anthem was howled by some unfortunate, slightly overweight blonde girl singer.

Well, the Game must have been enjoyable, yes?
For Cubs fans, certainly, and to the extent that Helen was cheering domestic tranquility was preserved. Randy Wolf, the Dodgers starter, got absolutely waxed to the tune of seven runs over four innings of work, including a bitter and hilarious walloping by Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Z displayed why he's won two Silver Slugger awards, absolutely crushing a Wolf offering in the second to make it 4-0, and mashing another into the gap in the fourth to put the Cubbies up 5-1.

Pen all the "it's early, it's spring" excuses you want, Randy Wolf settled into a pattern of making the first one or two outs in each frame, but proceeded to get clobbered later; he was giving up hard-hit balls in every inning, including a Reed Johnson triple that could have been a inside-the-parker due to Slappy McPopup's lousy arm. If the Dodgers are concerned about their fifth rotation spot, they should be more worried about number four given the lack of options. Simply put, this is not the kind of an outing you want to be seeing this late from a guy who's a lock on a starting rotation job.

How were the mound stylings of the opposition Cubs' starter, Carlos Zambrano?
By contrast, Z was pretty much in control the whole time, though for a guy with his stuff and reputation, three runs in five innings is maybe a bit much. The irony here is that this game was in fact a replay of a regular season 4-0 shutout at the hands of the Astros, this time with Wolf's team getting the worse end of it; in Chicago, the wind howled in over the outfield fence, which kept all Wolf's hard hit balls in the park, while the 'Stros kept knocking line drive homers.

How of the relief corps?
James McDonald looked pretty vincible, surrendering an additional four runs, one of them on a two-run jack by former Dodger prospect Koyie Hill, and two more in the sixth on a dribble of doubles and an infield single. (McDonald, from being a postseason star last year, may not even make the club this year out of spring training.) Tanyon Sturtze did little to further his own cause, getting the final out of the sixth but then allowing the Cubs to rally in the seventh, with — as was the case with this odd game — the bottom of the order doing the damage.

So, to the big question: how did you like Camelback Ranch?
I didn't get a chance to look much at it, thanks to the Dodgers' idiotic insistence on a late opening (11:30 is the earliest you can get there, according to Bob Timmermann). It's necessary to point out that Camelback is the largest of the spring training facilities in the Cactus League, with a listed capacity of 13,000 that was actually exceeded in yesterday's game; attendance clocked in at 13,046, the largest ever recorded.

Perhaps partly due to the large crowd, getting into the park was something between a disaster and a nightmare. Signage leading up to the gate on West Camelback Road — stretching for several miles! — indicated that you could use two lanes for the park went largely unobserved by most motorists, including us, who assumed there was some reason for the right lane to be so crowded (i.e. a late merge to one lane). No, that never happened, so be aware the left lane is completely usable and much faster.

That's all the good news, really, because once we got into the park, the usual McCourt parking catastrophes ensued. First off, there's a long entrance road to the parking areas, with three of the four lanes available for ingress with one designated for outgoing traffic. Unfortunately, most cars were being routed into the far lot on the opposite side of the main entrance by the time we got there, a course of action directed by marginally competent traffic personnel who only occasionally bothered coordinating their activities. A perfect example of this was at the gate, where we found two rows of parking lot cashiers per lane, with the second group not really sure whether they should stop cars. This delayed our entrance even more.

That, of course, was nothing compared to our exit from the park, which reminded me of a typically well-attended Dodgers-Giants game in mid-September. Our game let out at about 3:50, but in waiting for the traffic to die down, we ended up standing around until 4:30. This wasn't helped by the stadium design, which had several points going against it:

  1. Lots of ways to sneak around the main traffic flow. This means if you're back in the rearward lots — as we were — you can be stuck for a long time. This behavior is encouraged by the fact that
  2. There was nobody directing outbound traffic at the Camelback Rd. light, and
  3. The route to AZ 101 is a left turn.
We figured out the latter two problems almost immediately and saved ourselves at least an additional half hour by just turning right on Camelback, looping south on El Mirage Rd., and back east on Indian School Road to the 101.

We also found the restrictions on what you can take to the park a little chafing; water is the only outside food or drink allowed in the stadium, and monopods are strictly verboten, unlike with every other park I've been in. As it happens, the latter wasn't a big deal, as my new shorter lens was quite a bit easier to manage without support. I'll get those pictures up as soon as the keyboard on my MacBook Pro dries out; I spilled wine on it last night, so the moral there is if you drink, don't type, and if you type, don't drink.

How did you like the $90 seats?
Perhaps the biggest shock was that we really enjoyed the $90 Stadium Club seats. Even Helen, who has become about anti-Dodgers as is possible (mainly because of Frank McCourt's tin ear on stadium operations, and because of the general boorishness of Dodger fans as practiced in the park), confessed that she didn't feel ripped off. The seats were close to the action, with ample cushioning; wear long shorts, though, because the chocolate brown color absorbs heat like the dickens, and roasts any unprotected skin touching it. It's important to note that while there is free food in the shaded Stadium Club above the section, this only lasts through the fourth inning, and the staff working the section will charge you for anything they have to get. If there's any real criticism I have of Camelback as a stadium-qua-stadium it's that there needs to be more, not less, shade; spring training games are increasingly played in substantial heat.

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