Bill Shanks

Dodger Stadium a special place

Fans reach a home run ball hit by Los Angeles’ Corey Seager as Atlanta Braves center fielder Mallex Smith looks on during the eighth inning the teams’ game Friday.
Fans reach a home run ball hit by Los Angeles’ Corey Seager as Atlanta Braves center fielder Mallex Smith looks on during the eighth inning the teams’ game Friday. AP

If you’ve lived in Georgia all your life, as I have, visiting California for a few days is an eye-popping experience. It’s a different world. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than our world in the South. It’s just different.

There is a lot of concrete out here. There’s as much concrete as we have pine trees. I’m not quite sure what these trees are in California. Some are palm trees, but other trees are peculiar looking plants that we seldom see in our neck of the woods.

The purpose of this trip was mainly to see Dodger Stadium for the first time. After all the years of watching the Atlanta Braves play late-night games against the Dodgers, I finally get to see this old park in person.

Since Stan Kasten, the former Braves president, took over the Dodgers a few years ago, Dodger Stadium has been remodeled and is absolutely beautiful. It’s an old park. It’s in a hole in a ravine just north of downtown Los Angeles. But for one of the oldest stadiums in baseball, it’s truly a museum.

Yes, fans arrive late and leave early for Dodgers games. Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight fame was here, and Larry King showed up with his kids. There are stars all over the place at Dodger Stadium.

But as you watch the games, the rolling hills of Los Angeles are in the background to give it the most spectacular backdrop in baseball. Forget a skyline with a bunch of buildings, this is pretty amazing.

Dodger Stadium is 54 years old. Not many stadiums last that long these days. But this is something that should never be taken down. It ranks right up there with Wrigley Field and Fenway Park as being all about the history of baseball.

I couldn’t help but look out on that field and think of how incredible it must have been when Fernando Valenzuela came up in 1980, or how loud it had to be when Kirk Gibson hit the famous home run in the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers have a pretty good team this year, but the names of Koufax, Drysdale, Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey and Piazza and what they did here also make it special.

Plus, with Vin Scully retiring at the end of this year, it just made sense to try and see the best baseball announcer one last time. He actually held the door to the media dining room for me Friday, which scared me to death. “I’m the door man,” he said in that booming voice. I just smiled in amazement that Scully would do something that nice for little ole me.

But that’s who he is. Scully is 88. That’s the only reason he’s retiring at the end of this season. But he’s just as nice in person as he is on the air. And as I watched the game from the press box, I listened to Scully on the radio. He’s not perfect, but he’s still unbelievably good. In fact, I learned more about the Braves players listening to Scully than listening to the Atlanta announcers.

Oh, aside from the Scully interaction, the other highlight of the night was when a beach ball was thrown into the crowd. Now that’s a Dodger Stadium tradition.

This place is special. It’s different but special. Put it on your sports bucket list. It’s worth the trip.