By Rowan Kavner
FOX Sports MLB Writer
LOS ANGELES — Sixty years after Walter O’Malley’s majestic vision was brought to life, Dodger Stadium continues to add to its great resume.
In addition to hosting more than 178 million Dodgers fans since opening in 1962, the site has hosted football, hockey and rugby games, mass for Pope John Paul II, Harlem basketball Globetrotters, the World Baseball Classic and concerts for the Beatles, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen.
On Tuesday, for the first time since 1980 and just the second time in its existence, it will serve as the site of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game (8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
“It’s a great place to play, and I think everyone knows that,” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “Every team on the road that comes to play here says what a great place Dodger Stadium is. We’re thrilled to share that.”
The occasion provides an opportunity to showcase to a national audience the modern amenities recently added to MLB’s third oldest ballpark.
The $100 million upgrades that brought a sprawling Centerfield Plaza and new elevators, escalators and bridges to Dodger Stadium ahead of the 2020 season didn’t sacrifice the historic ballpark’s classic ambience — from its views of the upper deck from the San Gabriel Mountains and the Los Angeles skyline to its mid-century modern architecture, hexagonal dashboards and colorful seats reminiscent of a California sunset.
“It’s an iconic space in Los Angeles, and I think most people call it home,” said Justin Turner, who grew up in Southern California and attended Lakewood High School, near. “It’s deeply rooted in the roots of LA and the people who grew up here.”
Turner still remembers his grandmother taking a vacation to watch the progress O’Malley and architect Emil Praeger made when building Dodger Stadium in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
After negotiations with Los Angeles city officials, O’Malley moved the New York Dodgers to California in 1958 – three years after Brooklyn won its only World Series championship.
“His critics say, ‘He was going to go to California anyway, he had no interest in Brooklyn – that’s not true,'” said Peter O’Malley, Walter’s son, who would later inherit the property. team.” It wasn’t until he saw he couldn’t do it in New York — and he wanted to fund it privately, he wanted to design it, he wanted to do it his way — that he realized, ‘I can’t do it go, so I have to go somewhere else.'”
During construction of the new stadium, the Dodgers spent their first four seasons on the West Coast at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which featured distinct dimensions of 250 feet in left field and 440 feet in right.
A more typical batting experience awaited at Chavez Ravine, where eight million cubic meters of earth were moved to create a hillside baseball stadium. A pouring yard in center field contained more than 25,000 segments of precast concrete, which were pushed into place by a $150,000 crane used to assemble Dodger Stadium.
Some of the elements Walter O’Malley envisioned, including a fountain in center field, never materialized. But his dream came true on April 10, 1962, when Dodger Stadium made its debut. The Dodgers led all MLB teams in attendance that year, with 2,755,184 fans. Fans continued to flock as Sandy Koufax helped the club win their third and fourth World Series titles in 1963 and 1965.
Six decades later, it’s clear the venue isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
With a 56,000-seat capacity, Dodger Stadium has paced major league attendance in each of the past eight full seasons (not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which featured nothing but cardboard cutouts) and set a record. franchise of 3,974,309 fans in 2019. Even in 2021, with the first 33 games played in front of a capacity-limited crowd, nearly three million people made their way through.
“It’s a great statement about what we mean to the city and what the city means to us,” Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said. “Without the support of the fans, we could not have the revenue to continue to build this team and the facilities that we have.”
The experiment was guided by Guggenheim Baseball Management, which contributed funds to strengthen both the on-field product – the Dodgers have made the playoffs nine straight seasons – and the stadium itself. The latest improvements were overseen by Executive Vice President of Planning and Development Janet Marie Smith, whose previous experience included overseeing Oriole Park at Camden Yards and expanding Fenway Park.
In 2013, Smith’s work to modernize the ballpark included new video and audio systems, retail stores, children’s play areas, standing room sections, and ADA seating. The video panels above the pavilions have been enlarged by 22% and restored to hexagonal shapes. Seating on the upper deck and reserve levels added more space, providing room for retired numbers and life-size bobbleheads.
Instead of hosting a museum in the stadium, the whole stadium became a museum (it’s also a botanical garden, accredited for its drought-tolerant plants all over the grounds).
“Everywhere you turn there’s something that tells the story of the Dodgers and the team’s relationship with Southern California,” Smith said. “Buildings become a story.”
The exhibits are dedicated to Gil Hodges, who became a Hall of Famer this year, and Jaime Jarrín, who is in his final season as the Spanish voice of the Dodgers. Jackie Robinson’s 75th anniversary season is recognized with memorabilia throughout the stadium and a “Barrier Breakers” exhibit on loan from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Another exhibit, “Baseball’s Bridge to the Pacific”, celebrates the role played by baseball between the United States and Japan.
Among the baseball stadium’s artifacts and memorabilia are the Gold Glove, MVP, and Cy Young Awards, as well as World Series trophies, which players pass each day on their way to the clubhouse. At the field level, the Baseline Club on the first base side features bats from every Los Angeles All-Star, while another on the third base side features a collection of 1,000 baseball bobbleheads.
There are tributes to Fernandomania and the late Tommy Lasorda — Lasorda himself curated much of the memorabilia — and acknowledgments from Dodger Hall of Famers and “Legends of Dodger Baseball.” Recently, Smith found drawings in Peter O’Malley’s office, which were designed in 1959 but never created. She had them built and used them as hexagonal signs above the stairs.
“As we see how fans have reacted to the things we’ve released, it just encourages us to want to do more,” she said.
One of the stadium’s most striking overhauls came before the 2020 season, when the Dodgers were originally slated to host the All-Star Game. A new two-acre Centerfield Plaza gave Dodger Stadium the front door it never had before and eventually became home to the Robinson statue – which was built in 2017 – and a statue of Koufax which was unveiled earlier this year.
A Gold Glove Bar offers a direct view of the house enclosure, while a speakeasy offers a glimpse into the visitor enclosure. Fans are also closer to the action in the outfield, where they can now watch batting practice behind the warning track or sit in home racing seats, which have replaced exit stairs in front of the pavilions.
The latest renovations make Dodger Stadium easier to navigate, providing 360-degree access to the ballpark, which still offers one of the most picturesque views in Los Angeles from its top.
“The first thing I would do would be go to the top of the park and take in the view of Dodger Stadium from this amazing vantage point, 110 feet above the playing field, overlooking the playing field at foreground, Elysian Park itself sort of center stage and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond,” Smith said. “There’s nothing quite like it in sports. It’s such a magical place.”
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. A proud LSU alumnus, he credits his time as a sportswriter and managing editor at the Daily Reveille with preparing him for a career spanning the NFL, NBA and MLB. Prior to joining FOX, he worked as editor of digital and print publications for the Dodgers. When he’s not in a stadium or watching sports, Rowan enjoys playing with his dog, hiking, running, golfing and reminiscing about the Mavs championship in 2011. You can find on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.
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