I don’t live in LA anymore. Because of that, I’ve lost touch with the city and the Dodgers in some ways. I’m beginning to suspect that this is a good thing. Until going to a game on Friday I was, if not blissfully, then at least quietly ignorant of the malaise that has set in at Chavez Ravine. The McCourt family, the Bryan Stow tragedy, the on-field injuries, the front office follies: these things have done serious damage to Dodger fans in ways that became much clearer to me.
On Friday, I intended to buy a fitted blue and white Dodger cap at Dodger Stadium. There was nothing strange or difficult about the circumstances. I would only be at one game this year. I knew I needed a new hat. I wanted to take advantage of a friend’s employee discount. But at Dodger Stadium, Dodger caps have become an endangered species.
Before the game, my friends and brother and I wandered into a merchandise store located outside one of the field level entrances. We noticed something strange about the hat selection: there were tons of batting practice caps, tons of Lakers purple and gold LA hats, tons of pink and black and other odd varieties on the Dodger cap, but there were hardly any traditional ones. And the few that store did carry were in odd sizes like 6 7/8 or 7 ¾. No big deal, we figured. They’ll have more inside.
Inside was quiet. “Safeco-esque,” I thought. We sat directly beneath a security camera. There were so many security personnel around that I kept on perking up, thinking incidents were occurring in the area near our seats. But nothing was happening. The beefed up security presence and the thinned out attendance combine to give Dodger Stadium the feel of an empty prison camp where hollow-eyed inmates find slivers of hope in balks by opposing pitchers and chant out MVP for Matt Kemp as if he’s all they have left to cling to.
I realized that on nights when Kershaw isn’t pitching, Kemp actually is all Dodger fans have to cling to. He didn’t disappoint, either, hitting his 30th home run to join Raul Mondesi in the Dodgers 30-30 club and accelerate his run at an unlikely triple crown.
Around the fourth or fifth inning, we set out again to buy a cap on the club level, where a small store is located behind home plate. (The employee discount only applies at the club level and top deck stores). In the club level store there was not a single regular Dodger cap. “This is weird,” said my employee friend, who used to work in merchandising. “We should have caps here.”
We rode the elevator to the top deck, where the concourse was empty and the breeze almost made you feel like you weren’t in the stadium anymore. In past years, especially on Friday nights toward the end of the season, there have been lines to merely enter the Dodgers team store. On this night there were maybe three other fans in the entire place. It was empty. On the television we watched Vin Scully wave cookies around and announce that he was returning for another season. Great news. But once again, only a handful of Dodger caps. None in my size.
At this point, my employee friend explained that the team has been having problems with it’s merchandiser, Facilities Management Inc. You might remember that on August 10th, that merchandiser, FMI, requested protection from the Dodgers in federal bankruptcy court. It turns out, we learned after talking to a few retail salespeople around the stadium, that FMI stopped ordering new merchandise for this season three months ago. Due to low attendance (gate attendance is even worse than the Dodgers’ struggling paid attendance), FMI is not going to make back the $4.5 million it pays for the exclusive right to sell merchandise at Dodger stadium this season. So why sink money into apparel that won’t get sold?
A woman in hushed tones at a field level kiosk explained to me after looking around, as if checking for spies or clandestine microphones, that merchandise has been kind of an overlooked disaster, a symptom of “all this McCourt business.” She slumped her shoulders. She said that a kiosk a few aisles down had a couple of 7 1/2s earlier that night, and that they might still be there.
The kiosk did have two 7 1/2s left. But I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. The employee discount would not have applied and at that point I was too dejected to pay a full $38 for a baseball cap. Somebody else might have wanted it more. Then again, even after the Dodgers won and the vacuously ceremonial Friday night fireworks were launched over Los Angeles, probably not.