Hits and misses on opening day

Times Staff Writers

The right-field bleachers at Dodger Stadium have a new identity: the “all-you-can-eat pavilion.”

Nicknames for the ballpark’s new parking set-up aren’t printable in a family newspaper.

The Dodgers’ home season opener Monday afternoon -- a 6-3 loss -- marked the first day of all-you-can-eat feasting and the pricier, theoretically more tightly controlled parking. The result was something like a double-header split.


A highly unscientific fan poll found that the all-you-can-eat locale was a solid hit. But the so-called controlled zone parking generally was scored an error.

As he contemplated the long line of cars inching forward in front of him on his way out of the parking lot Monday evening, Armando Pineda of Pico Rivera reached a conclusion shared by scores of frustrated fans.

“It was better the other way,” said Pineda, who had already endured one lengthy wait on his way into the parking lot and now was stuck behind hundreds of cars jammed bumper-to-bumper while leaving the Academy Gate.

There was little that appeared orderly about the Dodgers’ controlled zone parking, which was designed to avoid the free-for-all approach of years past by filtering cars from the stadium’s four gates into specified parking areas. The most common complaints involved longer than usual waits, parking spots far from the seats and unnecessary micromanagement.

Martha Ustick of Long Beach, a 27-year season-ticket holder, called it “the worst parking fiasco I’ve ever seen.” Ustick said the line before the game was so backed up that she had to park near an elementary school well outside the stadium grounds for fear that she would miss the first few innings.

Cindy Myers, 50, of Yorba Linda, who said she has attended more than a dozen opening days and “never ever” missed a first pitch or ceremony, breathed a sigh of relief when she got to the Stadium Way exit off the 5 Freeway at 11:30 a.m. But she was still bottled up in the parking lot two hours later when she heard the crowd roar as pitcher Jason Schmidt belted a third-inning home run.

By the time Myers got to her seat, it was the middle of the fourth inning, and she was practically in tears. She planned to demand a refund for the game -- and maybe even for the rest of her family’s 15-game mini-season pass.

“I don’t care if I ever go to another Dodger game,” she said. “I can’t imagine going there again on Wednesday night.”

Throughout the afternoon, radio traffic reporters warned commuters that the parking problems at Dodger Stadium were reverberating throughout the freeway system. It only got worse when the game ended as the afternoon commute set in.

It wasn’t just the new parking system that struck out, however: A $5 price increase in parking fees, up to $15 per car, was getting complaints as well. One driver, Andrew Melton, arrived with only $10 in crumpled bills, unaware of the new price.

“Please, I can’t go back. It’s opening game,” Melton pleaded. He offered to leave his driver’s license as collateral. Finally the attendant took pity on him and let him in.

Dodger officials have said the aim of controlled zone parking is to make the mass entrances and exits less chaotic and faster. All fans other than season-ticket holders are supposed to leave from the same gate they enter -- although some motorists said it didn’t work out that way -- and cars are to be directed by attendants to park in specific areas. Previously, drivers could circle the stadium to find a space near their seat regardless of which of the four gates they had entered.

Camille Johnston, Dodgers senior vice president of communications, said that getting in and out of Dodger Stadium has been problematic since the ballpark opened 45 years ago. She described sold-out opening days as particularly tough, partly because fans empty out into rush-hour traffic.

“We’re not making any changes after one day, particularly the worst day of the year. We believe this is a system that will work over the long haul,” she said, adding that the team will consider revising the new set-up based on comments from fans.

Comments were more upbeat from fans who managed to get through the traffic to arrive in plenty of time to scarf down the culinary offerings in the right-field all-you-can eat section. With the new ticket deal, $35 in advance or $40 on the day of the game brings all the hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn and soda a fan can consume, albeit only four items at a time per patron, and no beer is included.

By contrast, other fans must shell out $4.75 for a Dodger dog or a soft drink, $5.50 for peanuts and $6 for nachos.

And the lines generally were moving quickly, pleasing many fans who had arrived early, worried that service would be slow.

“It’s amazing,” said Mark Schiavo, 23, who skipped breakfast and was on his fourth hot dog and second batch of nachos by the third inning.

Becky Garcia, 55, of Whittier arrived with daughter Desiree O’Neill, 26, more than 90 minutes early anticipating a crowd, but she too found the lines speedy. “It’s the best deal,” Garcia said.

She and her daughter had two hot dogs each, two bags of peanuts and some nachos by the third inning. “We’re trying to stay on a diet,” Garcia joked.

She said the Dodgers appeared to have a winner on their hands with the new feature. For the rest of the season, she said, “This section is going to sell out before the others.”

By the time the all-you-can-eat pavilion shut down as planned at the end of the seventh inning -- as a few fans cried, “no, no” -- the pavilion had gone through 9,000 hot dogs and shelves were bare, a stadium official said.

Meanwhile, Oscar Moreno, 38, of El Monte was digesting the five hot dogs, two orders of nachos, one bag of peanuts and three sodas he had consumed. He had four hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn that he was planning to take home.

“I can’t eat them here -- there’s no space,” Moreno said, meaning his full belly.

Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein and Times staff photographer Spencer Weiner contributed to this report.