Life's a day in ballpark for Steinberg

Charles Steinberg is a romantic and a pragmatist, a dazzled fan who swept storerooms and compiled statistics for the Baltimore Orioles but earned a degree in dentistry in case the whole baseball thing didn't work out.

Steinberg, the Dodgers' new executive vice president for marketing, gets misty about baseball's ability to unite families, but he's unmarried and childless in his 40s.

In orchestrating how games are presented and trying to make fans share his love of baseball, Steinberg listens to "the 10-year-old kid that is eternal inside of me." Team President Jamie McCourt said the decision to hire him was made "in terms of dream-weaving," his skill at creating an atmosphere in which families connect and create memories.

He may be a dreamer but he's bold enough to tackle the impossible -- he's trying to change Southern California tradition and get fans into Dodger Stadium hours before the first pitch.

The reward? Beating traffic and having time to bond with your family, with baseball as the glue.

The new policy of allowing fans to watch batting practice in a small section of the outfield is a Steinberg touch.

Establishing a corps of Dodgers ambassadors and picking kids to announce "It's time for Dodger baseball" or be an honorary batboy are other kid-centric ideas Steinberg implemented.

"So now it's a memory. We just imprinted that moment on an 8-year-old's memory this week," said Steinberg, lured here after six years as the executive vice president of public affairs for the Boston Red Sox and creator of the newly upbeat atmosphere in venerable Fenway Park. "Get the kids involved. Make them happy, make mom and dad happy, and you build customer loyalty. Because good things will happen if kids, after a day at a ballgame, are saying, 'Thank you mommy and daddy, you're my heroes. This was the best day of my life.' "

As he did in Boston, he plans to stage Father's Day catches, Mother's Day walks and other events when the team isn't at home. Everyone benefits: Fans associate the Dodgers with happy occasions and the team keeps people in the habit of going to Chavez Ravine.

Steinberg also built goodwill in the community by hosting civic events. He was able to leverage that goodwill while leading the crusade to build Petco Park in San Diego and help squeeze enough revenues out of enough corners of Fenway to ensure its long-term survival.

"Do the good deed because it's a good deed and the revenue will follow," he said. "Now, must you monetize all deeds? No. It's grotesque to think that you must. Nor do you need to."

Staging pregame autograph sessions with former Dodgers is another Steinberg idea to unite generations.

"And if it's Tommy Davis that you meet, or Rudy Law or if it's Wes Parker, Steve Garvey or Ron Cey," Steinberg said, "wouldn't it be cool for Dad to say, 'You know you love James Loney? Well, Steve Garvey was my guy. You know how you love Andre Ethier, well just imagine in a World Series, him coming through the way Sweet Lou Johnson did.' "

Left unsaid is that the earlier fans arrive at games, the greater the chance they'll visit the concession and souvenir stands.

The Dodgers are the eighth-most expensive outing for a family of four this season at an average cost of $229.14, according to Team Marketing Report's annual baseball survey. The tally includes four average-priced tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, two caps, two programs and parking for one car.

Most of the stadium renovations completed by owners Frank and Jamie McCourt were geared toward affluent fans, who got prime box seats, a wider field-level concourse with more concession stands, and buffet dining.

Steinberg makes no apologies.

"I have no problem with high prices going high if there's a market for the amenities that new stadiums are providing," he said. "Instead of building a new stadium, you're seeing Frank McCourt investing tremendously to provide those high-end amenities because those are the amenities that generate the revenue that let the low prices stay low."

The next renovations, scheduled to include a museum, parking garages and shops, are aimed at the full range of ticket buyers. That meshes with Steinberg's goal of making games as enjoyable for fans in $9 top-deck seats as for moguls in cushy suites.

The music is livelier -- Steinberg oversees selections and mixes in favorite Beatles tunes -- and games incorporate frequent nods to Dodgers tradition, as in the opening day ceremony in which former greats walked out to their old positions without introduction.

"He has an uncanny ear for the fan and also the inherent sensibility of a fan because he has been in different positions all his life," said Red Sox Chief Executive Larry Lucchino, who was Steinberg's boss in Baltimore and brought him to San Diego and Boston to oversee game presentation and public affairs. "I don't think of a dentist or a medical person as being an artist or magician, but he is."

Steinberg mixes sentiment with the sensible. In Boston he began a scholarship program for youngsters and involved the team more deeply with the community through charitable and social events.

"He's a workaholic, 24/7 guy, and some of his best ideas come in the dark of night," Lucchino said. "When he left, I did tell the joke that Charles Steinberg was really four or five people."

Jamie McCourt -- like Steinberg a native of Baltimore -- said she and Steinberg talk "incessantly" about their shared vision of a family-friendly atmosphere.

"There's a lot I believe about baseball that includes romance and family and connections," she said. "It's not everyday you get people who understand the feeling that baseball can bring to you, not just about the game."

Achieving that would make the McCourts look good, something they haven't always done on their own.

Owners of the team since 2004, they are viewed with suspicion and hostility by some fans who chafe at higher ticket prices and say the McCourts haven't spent wisely on the team, which is nearing the 20th anniversary of its last World Series championship.

Other fan complaints center on abusive language and behavior in the stands. In response, Steinberg established a hotline -- (323) 224-2611 -- to report such incidents when they occur.

Steinberg believed enough in Frank McCourt's vision and Jamie McCourt's passion to leave a comfortable situation with the Red Sox. Lucchino was so sorry to see him go, he gave Steinberg a trip to Liverpool -- the Beatles' hometown -- as a farewell present.

"Had I been approached by a faceless corporation who was more interested in only hitting numerical metrics, I don't think I could have left what we had in Boston," Steinberg said. "But to come work for a mom and dad, the parents of four boys, where all six can tell you where and when and why and how they fell in love with baseball, and they make the nurturing of that love a priority or a desired goal, that's my cup of tea."

Of course, if this doesn't work out, he can always pick up his dental drill. Steinberg has kept up his continuing education in the field though he hasn't had time to take the California board exam.

"From the use of mouth protection to dental trauma that happens if you get hit or in a collision, to the use of spit tobacco, there is a lot about dentistry that relates to baseball," he said. "And dentistry is a great hobby to have."

Perfect for a dreamer with a practical streak.

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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