Thursday, August 23, 2012

Game 16: Focus

Giants 2, Dodgers 1

At Dodgers Stadium we saw two of the best pitchers in baseball, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw
Watching a different baseball game in a different city so often can make it difficult to fully engage yourself in every game. Sometimes you just watch, but don't necessarily think. You let the game play out in front of you, but feel that it is somewhat distant, that you do not appreciate it like you would a game of your own team's. This is not to say you aren't interested, or that you are at all bored; just that while baseball is a joy to watch without the extra enrichment, you do sometimes notice the difference of context.

Other times, you get pulled into the action without even trying. You care too much about the performance being played out on the field to notice the conversation going on next to you or the rumble in your stomach. Such was the case for me at Dodgers Stadium Tuesday night. I believe there were four main factors that contributed to making the Dodgers-Giants game the most engaging of the trip for me.

The first factor was the one I knew would influence me going into the game: it was between two of the league's fiercest rivals, and involved a very tight division race. Both the Dodgers and the Giants are title contenders this season, and they share a storied rivalry, from their days across boroughs in New York City, to the recent headlines of fan altercations and beatings. The then half-game separating the two teams in the NL West, as well as the new playoff rules establishing the importance of a division title over a wild card, added to the importance of the matchup. We knew heading into the trip that this might be our most high-caliber game. The baseball world had its eyes on this series, for obvious reasons.

Yet it was certainly more than the context that made this game standout so much to me. Plenty of hyped-up games can turn into bores. Not this one. From the first pitch, you could tell these teams were dialed in, as both pitchers brought their A games. Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers lefty, and one of the top ten pitchers in the league, was working his usual stuff: a plus fastball and a deadly curve, with twenty miles per hour separating the two. In eight innings pitched, the only well-hit ball against Kershaw was Angel Pagan's lead-off double. After that, he was lights out. The catcher was hardly moving his mitt for Kershaw, and the Giants batters could not keep up: two runs scored, ten strikeouts, in eight innings. Kershaw even went a perfect 2-2 from the plate, and added a gritty diving catch (see below). It was an amazing performance. Yet he was out-dueled by the Giants 23-year-old star, Madison Bumgarner, who made one less mistake than him, pitching eight shutout innings and allowing only four men to reach base, all on singles. Bumgarner was simply in command, never losing control of an at-bat or even a pitch. He struck out ten as well, and lowered his ERA to 2.83. Watching these two pitchers go at it, it was clear that they could feel the pressure, that they knew these were the games they were paid to win single-handedly. As a fan, to see two competitors step up for a game like Kershaw and Bumgarner did was an absolute treat. They were enough to keep me in my seat for as long as they could go.

There was an atmosheric factor in play in my immersion as well: the fans came out in droves for the game. On my walk through the gates I picked up a few conversations going on around me, picking up a one keyword that described both the import of the game and the feeling at the stadium: playoffs. The fans were there because their Dodgers were in a playoff race, not because they wanted to play scoreboard games or take their kids to a concourse-playground, like at many games we have attended. Their minds were on the game. They cheered, booed, gasped, and sighed with every turn in the game. The energy was palpable, and contagious.

Finally, the stadium itself was conducive to the big game atmosphere. It holds 56,000 fans, more than any other major league ballpark, and the seats are packed in, keeping the fans close to the action. The concourses are simple, and don't take attention away from the game. Perhaps the most important factor, though, was the location of the stadium, in a little quiet valley north of the city. The hills that form the backdrop behind the outfield have no inhabitants, and so, when darkness sets in, there is nothing to be seen outside the stadium. Somehow, in the second biggest city in the nation, the organization has managed to create isolation. It makes it feel like the Dodgers game is the only thing going on in the world. In a game like this, that is just the way it should feel. 

Games watched: 16
Games to go: 14
Thuuz score: 44
Stadium: There was a lot of divergence within the group on Dodger Stadium. It is not new, and the coloring is a little strange (light blue and yellow), which could be a reason for disliking it. Personally, though, I loved it. It is simple, minimizes the advertisements, and feels unique. The location is also great, with beautiful views of nearby hills and distant mountains before the darkness sets in.
Fan Atmosphere: Very good, as noted above. Few left early (though still a notable amount), and everybody was tuned in to the game.
Food and Drink: Best pretzel of the trip award goes to Wetzel's Pretzels (no relation). Beer was pretty basic.
Scoreboard: The Dodgers showed really cool highlight reels from the team's history throughout the game, and also had the best in-game facts of any team thus far.
Play of the game: In addition to his gem on the mound and his producing of half the Dodger's total offense against Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw also turned in a brilliant defensive play, dashing twenty feet away from the mound and laying out to catch a pop-up bunt before it hit the ground.
Total Miles Traveled: 7,240
Miles to next game: 110 (Pirates @ Padres, August 21, 7:05pm)

"Read more" for pictures

View from the seats
Massive bleachers (pre-game)
Loved the look of the center field flags
Vin Scully, the legendary voice of the Dodgers
Right field scoreboard
The packed house
Olympic gold medalist Misty-May Traenor

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic trip. Wish I did this when I was in college. I am writing following your visit to Chavez Ravine, because I am a Dodgers' fan. Good luck the rest of the way; I look forward to hearing more about this when you are back on campus.