Dodgers fans have taken over ‘neutral’ site with L.A. one win from a World Series title

MLB

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Tampa Bay Rays were the home team these last three nights. If not for their white pants, you might not have known it. Over the last three weeks, as they situated themselves inside a quasi-bubble in Texas’ metroplex, the Los Angeles Dodgers have commandeered Globe Life Field and made it their own, growing weirdly comfortable with a new ballpark that still lacks an identity. Their fans have tagged along, traveling en masse, increasingly more so as the wins stacked up and an elusive championship drew closer.

In Saturday’s Game 4, after yet another highlight-reel play in the second inning, a “MOO-KIE” chant began and grew so loud that Mookie Betts himself couldn’t help but break character and crack a smile. In Sunday’s Game 5, a stadium of 11,437 people booed Dodgers manager Dave Roberts as he walked to take the baseball away from Clayton Kershaw in the sixth inning.

He, uh, didn’t smile.

“I didn’t get a chance to see the boos turn to cheers, but that’s OK,” Roberts, managing a smirk, said after navigating the Dodgers through the 4-2 victory that put them one win away from a championship. “It’s passion. The fans have passion, so that’s good.”

Several prominent members of the Dodgers spent the spring worried that the coronavirus pandemic would prevent an exceedingly talented team from ever playing together. As their dominant season progressed, many of them lamented that their passionate fans couldn’t truly experience this journey with them. Then the Dodgers swept through the first two postseason rounds and Major League Baseball allowed the Texas Rangers’ home ballpark to host customers at about 25% capacity.

Loyalties seemed split throughout the National League Championship Series — but then the Dodgers overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Atlanta Braves, welcomed the small-market Rays and basically took over. On Sunday night, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound in a pivotal swing game, this place was practically theirs.

“It’s a home game,” Harry Bawann, 41, said. “If it wasn’t for all the sound effects trying to help Tampa out, this would be a home game.”

Bawann and his friend, Ricardo Manzanares, acquired tickets thinking they’d be watching the Dodgers with a chance to win it all. Then came Game 4’s bottom of the ninth, a two-out single from Brett Phillips, a bobble from Chris Taylor, a stumble from Randy Arozarena, a muff from Will Smith and one of the most improbable comebacks ever.

Shortly after the Dodgers finally captured their third victory 24 hours later, ticket prices for Game 6 had increased by 48 percent since the start of the week, according to TickPick. The average ticket price stood at $750 about five minutes before midnight on the East coast and would undoubtedly increase from there.

Hector Razo, 40, arrived as part of a group of at least 15 Dodger fans from L.A., each of whom paid $400 to get through the door. Jeff Murillo, a 52-year-old Dodgers fan living in Houston, was joined by his wife and two kids and paid $4,000 for all of them. Nicole Estrada, 39, paid $800 for Game 3, $500 for Game 4 and was prepared to pay a lot more for Game 5.

“This whole year has been really tough on a lot of people and for the city of L.A.,” Estrada said, “and for us to come together, in another state, it’s momentous and it’s historic.”

The concourse level of Globe Life Field has become a walking gallery of Dodger jerseys, from Betts and Kershaw to Don Drysdale and Fernando Valenzuela to Vin Scully and Sandy Koufax. One man also wore a Dodgers-themed wrestling mask. Another sported a fake beard in honor of Justin Turner. And one woman, Alen Aivazian, rocked an Elton John-inspired Dodgers jacket that was covered in Swarovski crystals and cost five figures.

David Siegel, 62, was at the game when Kirk Gibson hit his famous pinch-hit home run for the Dodgers in 1988 but also when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs for the New York Yankees to win Game 6 in 1977. This year, of all years, he hopes to watch the Dodgers clinch a World Series title in person for the first time.

“That,” he said, “would mean everything.”

It might mean even more to Kershaw, who has spent a dozen years working diligently in pursuit of that goal and might finally achieve it in his hometown. Through two starts against the Rays, Kershaw boasts a 2.31 ERA and two wins, putting him squarely in the conversation for World Series MVP honors. For Game 5, when he allowed only two runs in 5 ⅔ innings and worked out of a two-on, none-out jam, he was able to accommodate an additional 10 people or so with nosebleed seats.

“This year’s been just special — weird, special, different — in a lot of ways,” Kershaw said. “I don’t wanna say it’s working out the way I want it to because being at Dodger Stadium would be awesome, too, but to get to have family and friends, to get to have as packed a house as it can be, and make it seem like it’s all Dodger fans, is very special.”

Chris Gutierrez is a 26-year-old nursing student who said he paid more than $1,000 to sit a section up on the third-base side. The three people with him are all nurses who have been working the frontlines of a COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 230,000 American lives, an unavoidable reality that adds a layer of discomfort to all this.

They all had initial reservations about gathering like this, but they also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to watch these Dodgers. Since then, they’ve found comfort in a Globe Life Field staff that has been exceedingly diligent about cleaning surfaces, separating large groups and forcing patrons to wear their masks.

It has helped them enjoy what’s in front of them.

“This is a piece of normality,” Gutierrez said, “and it means the world.”

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