Most tours of Dodger Stadium include the familiar storylines of Sandy Koufax, Kirk Gibson, Tommy Lasorda and Fernandomania. But for a group of Chinese athletes traveling around Southern California this month, a visit to the ballpark meant taking pictures and discovering the basic mechanics of baseball. For example, Dodger Stadium’s seating capacity is 56,000; more than 122 million fans have visited since the ballpark opened in 1962; the regular season runs from April through September; the playoffs are in October; the ballplayers are currently training in Florida.
Yesterday’s tour began on the Club Level and the group gazed at the last stages of construction and the installation of the box seats. When I mentioned that all 50,000 seats were taken out during the offseason and replaced, someone asked, “Does that happen every year?” Actually, the seats were last replaced 30 years ago, which might give Vice President of Stadium Operations Lon Rosenberg a chance to recover from an exhausting and challenging assignment.
The boxers in the group were interested to learn Dodger Stadium once hosted a series of championship fights in 1963. Shang Yingqiu of the Beijing Sports University is a basketball player and vice professor and team leader of the Chinese rhythmic sportive gymnastics. Her favorite player is Michael Jordan. Basketball at Dodger Stadium? The Harlem Globetrotters played an exhibition game in 1964 as a full-size regulation court was placed on the infield in the same location as the boxing ring.
The many photos on the walls bridged the language barrier, whether showing the action of a Dodger ballgame or musical concerts such as Elton John and Bruce Springsteen. The Olympic theme also surfaced with photos from when the Dodgers played at the Los Angeles Coliseum from 1958-61. The Coliseum was the site of the opening ceremonies in both the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. Dodger Stadium hosted the first Olympic baseball tournament in 1984.
Probably the most popular item on the tour was the original bullpen cart from 1969, restored a few years ago by Rosenberg when he found the main components in storage. The baseball-shaped cart, with an oversized “LA” cap as the roof and braced by two baseball bats, transported pitchers from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound during Dodger games. Later, it was replaced by a Dodger-decorated automobile. The cart is on display just outside the Stadium Operations office on the Club Level. You can’t explain to all groups that the cart was used in an era when starting pitchers went at least seven innings and the “bullpen by committee” had not yet gained popularity among managers. So on this day, it was easier to sit back and watch the smiles as the athletes took turns posing for pictures behind the steering wheel.