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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dodgers, Yay, Parking Lot, Boo: Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

I should start this post — hold on, kids, it's gonna be a doozy — by a encapsulated review of the game itself, which featured Manny Ramirez playing the field, apparently for the first time this spring training, a storyline stumbled into by the national media. Being the only time I was going to visit the Dodgers this year, it proved helpful that we also got to see Chad Billingsley make a start, and a strong effort it was, with the now-anointed ace going 4.2 innings and all but walking away with the win.

He would have gotten the win, that is, save for one of Joe Torre's inexplicable hooks, bringing in southpaw Jon Link to face the hapless Kosuke Fukudome. If you've been keeping up with the Cubs' outfield lately (or just follow the link), you should know that sending a lefty against Fukudome is something like kicking a puppy (.242/.343/.324 career vs. lefties, vs. .262/.372/.417 against righties). But that aside, Bills posted a very fine outing and generally appeared the stud we all hope and imagine he will be.

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster came within three outs of a quality start, but unlike Billingsley, was nowhere near as convincing. Thanks to forgotten tickets, we were forced to hurry back to our Tempe condo just after we arrived at Camelback. By the time we arrived, the first half inning was over; and by the time we arrived within audible distance of the outfield, we heard the unmistakable bass thumps of a home team home run. Sure enough, there was Manny doing the honors, cashing in Matt Kemp, who had previously doubled.

The Dodgers mounted another threat in the second with a leadoff walk by Blake DeWitt and a Casey Blake double, but Dempster dispatched the next three batters in succession. The third and fourth were even quieter, but the Dodgers started beating on his replacements, former Pirates closer John Grabow, and the wholly unremarkable (in this spring training, at least) John Gaub. Gaub is being severely challenged by this spring assignment — his ERA at the end of the game was a fairly brutal 7.94 — but he also jumped two levels last year. His high strikeout rate in even AAA (11.9 K/9) coupled with very reasonable walk rates (hovering around 2-3 K/BB) means this is not the last the league has seen of this fellow.

The Dodgers replacement machine started churning in the fifth, with Garret Anderson and his uniform double zeros spelling Manny. It got into high gear in the sixth and seventh, after which every starter save Brad Ausmus had been sent off to shower; and by the end of the eighth, so with him, too. GA got a couple hits, the first a double, and eventually scored on DeWitt's RBI single. Anderson went 2-for-2 in the game on a seventh-inning single, which probably padded his resume for the lefty pinch-hitter job I hear is still open. Also — and I add this to burnish my wife's resume — she called the Reed Johnson three-run homer in the seventh against Gaub.

The Cubs scored again against butterfly specialist Charlie Haeger in the sixth. Now, one of the oddities of Camelback's main stadium is that, unlike Dodger Stadium (and most rational parks) that face north or northeast, Camelback inexplicably faces southeast. This has several unfortunate consequences:

  1. The audience will be in sun almost the entire time for afternoon games, save for the people who pay to be away from the field.
  2. The prevailing winds will always favor right-handed pull hitters by pushing the ball more to the short end of the fence.
  3. Knuckleballers will almost always suck because the prevailing winds in Phoenix are inevitably eastward. Since knuckleballers always do better tossing their floaters into the wind, this means poor Charlie is always at a disadvantage.
Just as I figured, Haegar — hardly a control artist under ideal circumstances — was as wild as I've ever seen him in my limited exposure. He gave up a leadoff walk (on four pitches? I was too busy tracking lineup changes to count) to Derrick Lee to start off the sixth. A stolen base and a single from Tyler Colvin later, and next thing you know the Cubs are nibbling their way back to a 2-2 tie.

The offensive outburst didn't last long, because Haeger got the next two in succession; despite a second walk in the inning, he got Geovanny Soto to pop out to short to end the frame.

Aside from some late-innings anti-heroics from the B-team Cubs — there was a hilarious series of incidents in which Bobby Scales had three separate opportunities to score, but only did so once — the game was never really in doubt. And so the afternoon.

But thence to the other topic of discussion, the parking lot. About a year ago, I made a number of entirely reasonable suggestions in the midst of a rant about parking lot operations at Camelback Ranch. Two things about this, after a one year lapse, now appear fairly obvious to me now:
  1. Clearly, some of these issues were patently obvious, because the baseball operations people have done something about them, and
  2. They have managed to screw things up in different, but equally perplexing and infuriating dimensions.
To recap, my points from last year: My friend Al Yellon, who irascibly blogs about the Cubs at Bleed Cubbie Blue, parked in the main lot and accordingly reported a Dantean disaster in trying to escape:

I had been warned about this before I went to Camelback Ranch -- had not been there before today -- but until I saw it for myself, it was not for believing. It took almost two hours to get back to where I'm staying in Scottsdale. I could have returned from a game in Tucson faster.

After today's game -- which set a Cactus League record for single-game attendance with 13,391, breaking a six-year-old record from a Cubs/Mariners game in Peoria on March 12, 2004 -- it took one hour to get out of the parking lot. This included thirty minutes of not moving at all. And this was after about half the crowd had left before the game ended.

I have been at sold-out major league stadiums in Philadelphia and New York -- 45,000 or so people -- where I got out of the parking lot in less than five minutes. I have been at two Fiesta Bowls here in the Valley -- about 75,000 fans total -- where I got out of the parking lot in less than ten minutes. There is absolutely no excuse for the design of this spring training complex, which seats about 13,000, to have a parking and traffic pattern this terrible. It ruins the experience. When I finally did get out of the lot, police forced me to go west on Camelback Road rather than east toward the 101 loop, forcing me to take a long detour north and go north, rather than south, on the 101.

Here are some comments written last year by my friend Rob at the Angels/Dodgers blog 6-4-2; they echo my sentiments. There's plenty of open land around the complex; there is absolutely no reason to route traffic the way they did. Parking is free -- obviously, you get what you pay for. Since I already have a ticket for tomorrow's game vs. the White Sox at the same location, I'm going back. But unless they fix the problem, that will be the last time I attend a game at Camelback Ranch.

An incidental thanks for the link, but I fear he hasn't really appreciated that I actually suggested the traffic routing in question. At the time, because we were afraid of exactly the catastrophe he encountered, we parked in the residential streets south of West Camelback Road, walked through all the parking lots there, and still beat Al out of the parking lot (I know because I texted him at the time). We could have been a mile further out and still managed a better time from exiting the park to getting in the car and on the road.

The good news is that we weren't charged for parking the first time we entered, and I understand from a conversation with the woman directing traffic in our section that this is now de rigueur, along with a $2 surcharge on the tickets. Given the Kafkaesque lines last year just getting into the park, this strikes a sensible note. But Al mentioned privately that there was only a single lane exiting the park, which may have been overall or just in his section, but either way, it represents a profoundly callous thumb on the nose at the paying customers. I'm less inclined to get my hate on for the McCourts these days, but it's stuff like this that really makes me think they're not thinking even very obvious things through, and their much-vaunted gas about fan experience is just that.

MLB.com box

Update: Some quick validation with Google Maps indicates that Camelback is the one of only two spring training facilities in a southeast orientation, the other being soon-retired Hi Corbett Field. Among spring training parks, the only fields currently in use in the Grapefruit League with an unconventional orientation include The Ballpark At Disney's Wide World Of Sports (Braves), Ed Smith Stadium (Orioles), and possibly others, but I'm running out of time at the moment.

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Rob, the very last time I attended a Dodger game during McCourt's reign, it took over 1 1/2 hours to get out of the parking lot. No snafus, wrecks, explosions, fights, nothing unusual. Except for those 1 1/2 + hours I'll never get back. Which makes me think McCourt doesn't consider this a problem.

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