Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Three Bundles of Joy

Three weeks ago, my beautiful wife brought our second child into this world, a son. One week later, Frank McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers. To the casual observer, these were two completely unrelated events. But to me, this literal birth and symbolic rebirth served as monumental bookends to an uplifting week.

To paraphrase Dinah Washington's 1959 classicWhat a difference a week makes!

Friends and family were thrilled for me. One after another, they'd come up to me and say, "Congratulations!"

I paused each time, confused as to which event they were referring.

They'd try to offer clarification: "On your baby, of course!"

The extra emphasis on your baby implied that it should be obvious to me. But it wasn't.

Which baby were they referring to?

My boy in blue?

Or my Boys in Blue?

*   *   *

Yesterday (almost as if to mark my son's three-week milestone), the Dodgers stunned the local fan base and rocked the baseball world by securing Matt Kemp for the next eight seasons with a hefty $160 million commitment. I wholeheartedly supported such a move and was just thrilled by the breaking story.

This combination of events once again led to ambiguity-laced moments such as this:

"Congratulations on your boy!"

Again, I wondered, which one?

My boy?

Or my boy -- Matt Kemp?

*   *   *

But that's as far as the ambiguity went. Because the future of the Dodger organization is now as clear as it has been in some time. After two years of stormy courtroom battles, the atmosphere surrounding the Dodger organization is refreshingly smog-free.

We can count on two absolutes that did not exist so much as a month ago: Frank McCourt is on his way out and Matt Kemp will be patrolling the outfield at Chavez Ravine for the balance of the decade. Either one of these developments alone is earth-shaking. Together, they represent a seismic shift in the direction of the franchise in the hearts of Dodger fans.

It might be premature to call this the dawn of a new golden era in Dodger history.

Then again, if the birth of a child isn't a time for hope, then when is?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Cheat Sheet for the Future Dodger Owner

With apologies to Jon Weisman, the following is my to-do list for the future owner of the Dodgers.

1. Field a competitive team year in and year out.
Recognize that a productive farm system is of critical importance here. Invest accordingly. Strategically supplement homegrown talent with free agent signings. But again -- and I can't state this often enough -- a thriving farm system is the key here and resource allocation should reflect that understanding. The Dodgers understood this once upon a time.

2. Renovate Dodger Stadium.
Give the Loge, Reserve, Top Deck and Pavilion sections the same face lift already afforded the Field Level. Dodger Stadium will forever have going for it stunning views of the mountains in one direction and the downtown skyline in the other. But restorative work needs to be done to preserve the original beauty of this mid-century ballpark.

3. Retain talented individuals in the front office and throughout the entire organization.
Just because someone was associated with the McCourts doesn't mean s/he shares the same level of incompetence. The Dodger brand is about success that's derived from continuity.

4. Lock down Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw with long-term contracts.
From the Koufax-Drysdale-Snider era to the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey era to the Valenzuela-Guerrero-Hershiser era to the Piazza-Karros-Mondesi era, memorable Dodger teams were all anchored by homegrown talent. In Kemp and Kershaw, the Dodgers have their cornerstones for the next 5-8 years. Don't let free agency snatch them away.

5. Provide fans who come to the ballpark with an authentic, uniquely baseball experience.
Just as baseball is best played using leather gloves and wood bats, on grass fields under open skies -- nothing artificial, 100% pure -- a fan's experience at Dodger Stadium ought to be kept as organic as possible. That means eliminating between-inning commercials on the video screen and reducing the blaring pre-recorded music. If fans had wanted those elements competing with the baseball action, they'd have stayed home and watched the game on TV with iPod speakers cranked up. The one feature that actually enhances a fan's baseball viewing experience at the ballpark is live organ music -- rarely dominating, never generic -- the same way it has been at ballparks since 1941. One exception to this is allowed: Randy Newman's "I Love LA" must still be played after each and every Dodger victory.

6. Ease Dodger Stadium's access woes.
This includes both access to the stadium and access to concessions. To address the former, scrap the current restrictions to parking areas based on lot entry point and reduce the percentage of Preferred parking spaces. Just as importantly, fund -- rather than rely on continued sponsorship from environmental agencies -- the Dodger Express shuttle buses that make feasible for fans to use public transportation to get to and from games. To create shorter wait times at concession stands, they need to be restaffed with faster, more efficient workers. I've often wondered how much quicker lines would move were the concession stands operated the team at my local Subway sandwich.

7. Maintain the family friendly atmosphere that exists at Dodger Stadium.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until after the tragic Brian Stow incident occurred that a safe, family-friendly environment returned to Dodger Stadium. Maintaining a bumped up security presence would help maintain this atmosphere. The Dodgers also have the capacity to assert a positive fan environment with two more critical steps that I believe have been overlooked: 1) Hire and train a staff -- and this includes everyone from parking attendants to ushers to souvenir store workers -- that bleeds Dodger Blue and friendly, customer service. 2) More organ music from Nancy Bea. Everyone from movie directors to supermarket operators understands the importance of the underlying soundtrack in establishing a particular mood. What does organ music do to the psyche? Does anything else more effectively elicit innocent notions of peanuts and crackerjacks at an afternoon at the ballpark? If nothing else, it'd remind folks of being at church. What room would that leave for fans to contemplate instigating in-stand nonsense?

8. Know your Dodger history.
Even Frank and Jamie McCourt understood the wisdom of making public appearances whenever possible with Tommy Lasorda at their side. In the same way, the new owner must understand the following truths:
1) Dodgertown will forever refer to Vero Beach, FL no matter what the head of marketing might suggest. 
2) There is no need to respond to any challenges (implicit or otherwise) by the Angels over which baseball team dominates the hearts and minds of the majority of baseball fans in the region. Remember, you are the Dodgers. Do your job right and you will always be recognized as the one and only storied baseball franchise in the region.
3) Vin Scully is untouchable. 
4) Tommy Lasorda is untouchable. 
5) Jaime Jarrin is untouchable. 
6) Ex-Giants and ex-Yankees must only be hired under extenuating circumstances. 
7) The Dodgers are the organization built upon the shoulders of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and the like. They are your resident mythological heroes. Pay homage to them accordingly. Offer sacrifices if necessary. 
8) Dodger fans value a franchise that is operated with class, integrity, and innovation. We don't want the Dodgers to be like the New York Yankees or Miami Hurricane football. We do not value winning at all costs. Besides, there's more than just winning that's at stake. There always has been. Sometimes, color barriers must be broken. Other times, westward expansion must be spearheaded. We'd much rather our Dodgers continue to play a role in our nation's narrative, just as they once had.
 9. Be responsive to the concerns of fans.
Read this blog. And keep prices reasonable. Were it not for $5 Reserve level seats in the early 80's, this son of working-class parents may never have had the opportunity to cultivate his lifelong love affair with the Dodgers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Turning Over A New Dodger Leaf

There was a lightness in my step today as news that the Dodgers would be sold sank in. I felt a combination of joy, relief, and hope. Like the Dodgers just winning the World Series and taking the field on Opening Day all rolled into one. The McCourt era had, mercifully, breathed its last... words, I still cannot quite believe, I am actually writing.

The future of the Dodgers is staring back at me -- at all of us -- like a blank screen, blinking cursor at the ready. All things seem once again possible, a prospect that is at once frightening as much as it is exhilarating. 

Days don't always feel this way. I'm going to cherish this one.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dodgers Lower 2012 Season Ticket Prices

I received an email from the Los Angeles Dodgers this morning announcing their 2012 season ticket prices. Here's an excerpt from that message:
Dear Season Ticket Holder,
The Dodgers are lowering ticket prices and adding new benefits for season ticket holders in the Field, Loge, Club, Reserve, Left Field Pavilion, Right Field Pavilion, and Top Deck sections of the stadium for the 2012 season. From exclusive early entry to view Dodger batting practice to playing catch on the field after select games during the season, you will experience a season to remember!
Join us as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Dodger Stadium and enjoy unforgettable moments with your family and friends - all at a lower price. 
Full season-ticket pricing details can be found on the Dodgers website.

With the well-documented ownership turmoil as a backdrop, it seemed to me that the Dodgers had little choice but to take the unusual step of lowering season ticket prices virtually across the board to reverse the dramatic decrease in attendance that occurred both last season as well as in recent years. Given how out of touch with reality ownership has appeared to me, however, I wasn't holding my breath for 2012 prices to decrease.

So this announcement today comes as a welcome surprise. It's a single, albeit significant, step in the right direction for the Dodgers towards repairing their relationship with their fan base.

Friday, October 7, 2011

October Baseball, The Dodger Way

The Dodgers are relevant in October after all!

Who would've thunk?

Despite a regular season record of 82-79 and a "big league" roster consisting of the likes Eugenio Velez, the Boys in Blue are somehow managing to make a first-round playoff splash!

As someone once said, in a year that has been so improbable...

Here's to you Frank McCourt! Turns out, we were the ones who didn't get it.

We called you cheap. Turns out, you can't be bought. Not at any price.

We accused you of fleecing the organization for personal gain. Instead, you continue to "invest" millions of dollars into the organization to do battle against -- while not exactly the Yankees -- an Evil Empire nonetheless!

All Dodger fans really ever wanted was for their team to battle deep into October and now, they've gotten their wish! The Dodgers will be the last team competing this year, in a critical four-game series beginning October 31st!

Thanks Frank!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kemp and Kershaw: A Double Dose of Relief In An Otherwise Ulcer-Inducing Season for Dodger Baseball

With a pedestrian 79-78 won-loss record and having been out of playoff contention for months, the Dodgers wouldn't figure to be garnering local, much less national attention for their handful of remaining games. But they are.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock you know the two reasons for this: Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Kemp, with his season-long, three-pronged assault of major league baseball record books, has at long last translated in 2011 his extraordinary physical gifts into elite baseball performance. He is chasing the rare batting Triple Crown (leading the league in three offensive statistical categories: batting average, home runs and runs batted in) and along with it baseball immortality. Only 13 men in the 100-plus year history of professional baseball have accomplished the feat, none since 1967.

Kershaw, a leading contender for the National League Cy Young Award, has continued in 2011 his meteoric rise to superstardom. At the tender age of 23, he has somehow already met head on the unrealistically lofty expectations that were bestowed upon him as early as age 19 when the hard-throwing southpaw drew comparisons from many to former Dodger Sandy Koufax, a fellow southpaw whose reincarnation they hoped for and whose greatness was encapsulated by the nickname, "The Left Arm of God".

Together, Kemp and Kershaw have been two brilliant shining points of light in a season mired by the dark clouds of ownership turmoil. They've been the short term pain relief for legions of Dodger fans hemorrhaging from the deep wounds current ownership continues to inflict upon the storied franchise.

I count myself grateful for the privilege of watching Kemp and Kershaw during what has otherwise been a nightmare of a year for Dodger baseball. With the future of my beloved team languishing indefinitely in courtroom limbo, Kemp and Kershaw have given me a point of focus on the baseball field.

They've taught me that it helps, sometimes, to focus on just the trees and ignore the forest.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Frankly Speaking, McCourts Have to Go

I feel compelled to crawl out of the woodwork and find my way back to this Dodger blog, if just for one more post.

I wish I was here to revel in a turn of phrase by our resident poet laureate, Vin Scully.

I wish I was here to exhult in another brilliant performance by our very own virtuoso in the making, Clayton Kershaw.

I wish I was here trying to capture with words the thrill of witnessing Matt Kemp blossom into the franchise player we all knew he could become, but didn't know whether he would become.

Heck, I even wish I was here just to vent about Juan Uribe's lack of productivity.

I might return yet to do all of that.

But right now that day feels very far away.

Because today, my focus is on anything but these things. Somehow the boys of summer are being overshadowed by off-field news and for that, we have to thank Frank and Jamie McCourt, the embattled owner(s?) of our beloved Dodgers.

It's ironic that the McCourts might really have gotten what they've wished for all along as owners of the Dodgers. The Dodgers, to them, have always been a means to an end. Rather than team ownership being about the players on the field, or the loyal fans that show up every year by the millions, or the pride, tradition and continuity of an iconic sports franchise, the McCourts have always wanted it to be about themselves.

Now they've got it. Headlines about their ugly divorce, gross mismanagement of the Dodgers, and recent filing for bankruptcy have all but relegated the team's day to day performance to footnote status as the media focus on the long-term ramifications of these off-field developments.

From Jamie naively referring to herself as the "face of the Dodger franchise" to Frank's mischaracterization of the McCourt era as one in which things "turned around" for the better, the McCourts have never demonstrated that they get it.

Get that the Dodgers are a civic treasure belonging to all Los Angelenos, never to any one or two individuals.

Get that Dodger fans value a winning product on the field, but not at the expense of long-term organizational continuity.

Get that there once was such a thing as the Dodger Way, built over many generations and modeled by sports franchises around the country, most notably by a team just south of the Dodgers along the 57.

Get that recognition and respect as owners result not from standing in front of the mic and cameras telling everyone how terrific you are, but by conducting business affairs behind the scenes with integrity and guided by sound principles.

No, the McCourts have never gotten it.

I no longer hold out hope that they will.

My only hope now is that the McCourts are replaced. It doesn't matter by whom -- I'm willing to accept the risk of the unknown at this point -- because anyone -- anyone -- figures to be a better fit to lead this once-proud franchise out of the woodwork.