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Two Dollars and No Sense

Times Staff Writer

Could reducing the price of the least expensive Dodger tickets by $4 alter the dynamic of the dyed-in-the-blue crowd so dramatically that unruly fan behavior disrupts the game and borders on the criminal?

Team officials are reviewing security procedures and considering dropping the popular "$2 Tuesdays” promotion after an ugly incident that occurred before the sixth inning of the game Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals.

“We hope that recent incidents in the ballpark are not a growing trend,” Marty Greenspun, Dodger chief operating officer, said Wednesday. “However, we are prepared to take all necessary steps and actions to ensure all of our fans have a safe and positive experience.”

Fans in the $2 seats beyond the right-field wall littered the field with debris in response to the arrest of two teenage boys who jumped into the outfield by first leaping from the pavilion stands onto a protective covering near the visitors’ bullpen. They eluded a posse of security guards for a few moments, drawing howls from the pavilion crowd, which began jeering the guards when the boys were carried off the field.

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The game was stopped for six minutes to clean up paper cups and plastic water bottles strewn in the outfield. A brief hush came over the crowd, but within minutes the cheap seats again resembled an open-air “Jerry Springer” show.

Heated verbal exchanges and mildly obscene chants continued throughout the game. Overburdened security personnel were the objects of derision for their fruitless attempts at corralling beach balls and for escorting unruly fans to the exits.

Experts say fans who normally wouldn’t engage in inappropriate behavior often join in when it appears others are getting away with it.

“There comes a point where you can’t laugh along with the ringleaders,” said Leonard Zaichkowsky, a Boston University professor who has studied fan behavior.

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“It becomes an emotional contagion. A mob mentality starts to form.”

The boys who ran onto the field were charged with trespassing and released to the custody of their parents, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Dodger security officers said that about 10 of the boys’ friends responsible for much of the debris-throwing were ejected.

No fans were removed for fighting, but security officers said several brawls had to be halted the first time the promotion was held. About 14,000 of the discounted tickets were sold each of the last two Tuesdays, significantly boosting attendance on traditionally sluggish nights (the Dodgers’ announced attendance Tuesday was 41,190). Team officials insist the misbehavior has nothing to do with the promotion, but stadium security personnel said otherwise.

“They call it ‘Fight Night Tuesdays’ now,” said a security guard working the top deck of the stadium, another area where tickets sold for $2. The promotion includes all 6,600 seats in the outfield pavilions -- where no alcohol is sold -- and more than 7,000 seats in the top deck and outer portions of the general reserve level where beer, wine and margaritas can be purchased.

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Security employees would not provide their names because they said stadium staffers have been instructed not to comment to the media. Asked whether the $2 customers caused more problems than fans who normally pay $6 for the same seats, two security guards working in the pavilion threw back their heads and laughed. “Absolutely,” one said.

The top deck crowd was mostly young adults, while the pavilion was peppered with a broad range of fans from children to seniors. Although the atmosphere in both sections was decidedly more lively than the more expensive loge and field levels, the majority of the $2 patrons watched the game without incident.

Most of the misconduct takes the form of persistent obscenity and confrontational attitudes on the part of a handful of patrons. Many fans say that segment is growing, however.

“I don’t believe $2 Tuesday has anything to do with the rowdy behavior,” said LAPD Sgt. Chuck Urso, who has attended games since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

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“More than ever I have seen a criminal element and local goons at the ballgames. It’s gotten out of hand quick. Loving that team and organization as much as I do, I hate to see that.”

Major league teams have tried to attract young adults to games since research showed that interest in the game was dwindling.

“Baseball is trying to bring in the next generation of fans,” ethicist Michael Josephson said. “But they have to be careful. By changing demographics, they might turn off longtime fans.

“What they allow, they encourage. They can’t let the game be dragged down by the lowest element. It should be a family event.”

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Attending a major league game has rarely been a gentrified experience, however. A frothy beer, a mustard-slathered hot dog and riding the umpire are time-honored traditions.

“We have seen a lot of change in the nature of who gets to go to games,” said Lynn Jamieson, a professor at Indiana University. “There are a much higher percentage of corporate seats. There is a clash of cultures, a wider range of demographics.

“Is the behavior really worse, or is it perceived as such by those who can afford the expensive seats? Are we losing the idea of baseball as a cultural melting pot?”

The Dodgers have prided themselves on providing what Greenspun described as “a safe, family-friendly environment.” The team is reluctant to acknowledge that the atmosphere is less than that, but steps are being taken to beef up security.

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A Dodger fan code of conduct is included in the season-ticket booklet, announced before games and posted on the team website. Yet the team realizes that more than words are necessary for compliance.

Even before the recent incident, the team was exploring adding uniformed police officers to the security team. Urso, who used to moonlight as a security officer at Dodger and Raider games, salutes that idea.

“That’s the way it is at most other venues,” he said. “Start doing that and the word will spread quick. If you use profanity or are drunk, you will be ejected or go to jail.”

Zaichkowsky, the Boston University professor, said good fan behavior must be taught.

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“Common sense should drive what that is, but there are a lot of idiotic folks out there who have no clue what being a good fan is,” he said. “We have never educated people to be good fans in our society.”

Recent examples abound. A man and his son attacked Kansas City Royal first base coach Tom Gamboa at a Chicago White Sox game in 2002. An Oakland fan was charged with assault after throwing a cellphone from the second deck that hit outfielder Carl Everett of the Texas Rangers in the back of the head.

And in 2000, 19 Dodger players and coaches were suspended and three fans were charged with disorderly conduct after a brawl at Wrigley Field. The incident started when a fan allegedly struck Dodger catcher Chad Kreuter in the head and grabbed his cap as he sat in the bullpen.

This season New York Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield was lauded for not retaliating against a fan who appeared to swing at him while he was fielding a ball near the low right-field wall at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox revoked the season tickets of the fan, Christopher House, who is scheduled to appear in court today to see whether misdemeanor charges will be filed against him.

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The Dodgers were not as quick to act during a similar incident Friday, when a fan grabbed the jersey of Colorado left fielder Matt Holliday. The Dodgers conceded later that the man should have been ejected.

They now are saying there are no promises the $2 Tuesday promotion will continue.

“We evaluate on a game-by-game basis,” Greenspun said. “We are constantly adding and modifying promotions.

“We have zero tolerance for rowdy behavior. The fan experience is paramount.”

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