Down by the left-field foul pole, this Dodgers-Phillies encounter turned ugly around the fourth inning and eighth beer.
“It was pretty intense,” said Dan Pike, 28, a Las Vegas resident and Phillies fan who was tormented for much of Monday’s playoff game at Dodger Stadium by two brew-bleary home-team supporters sitting behind him.
He endured pushing, shoving and obscene taunts, along with a seat soaking by strategically spilled Buds whenever he stood to cheer.
“After about eight beers, they were getting a little physical,” said Pike, whose misery ended only when security officers hauled off the pair.
Dodgers fans have long been known for their arrive-late-and-leave-early insouciance. Lately, they have struggled to shake a newer reputation for intemperance.
Many say it’s largely undeserved, and there is no disputing that security at the stadium has been up and arrests down. But even as they celebrate this season’s trip to the National League Championship Series -- an unexpected run that could end with tonight’s Game 5 at the stadium -- the Dodgers faithful remain blue over a perceived rise in booze-fueled hooliganism, a problem that team spokesman Charles Steinberg conceded “is not solved.”
“It is a high priority,” Steinberg said Tuesday. “It breaks your heart when the smallest of numbers seem to ruin it for some people.”
He added Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are “focused” on ridding the stands of trouble-makers.
“It’s a family ownership and they want a family environment,” Steinberg said. “You don’t throw your hands in the air, and say, ‘Oh well?’ ”
At Monday’s game, the Dodgers security staff had its hands full, especially in the late innings, as blood-alcohol levels climbed. Much of the unwanted action was at the “hot corners” -- the stands near the foul poles -- and in the outfield pavilions.
“People are rowdy,” said Jose Sanchez, 35, of Burbank, who had just witnessed a scuffle between two men; both were ejected. “There are no limits to what they can say or do.”
A few rows away, Steve Goss, 52, said: “I saw two fights already because people were wearing red.”
The Buena Park resident pointed at a friend wearing a Phillies shirt. “I’ve got to stay with him to make sure he’s OK,” Goss said. “It’s a small minority, but I’ve noticed it’s gotten nastier.”
Such sentiments frustrate Los Angeles Police Capt. William Murphy. He noted Dodgers management arranged for the now-routine uniformed police patrols after several violent incidents in 2004 and 2005.
“There was a significant amount of crime, and fights in the stands -- it was wild back then,” Murphy said. “There’s been a tremendous improvement inside the stadium in terms of safety.”
During the 2005 baseball season, the LAPD reporting district that consists mostly of the stadium logged 104 serious crimes, such as assaults, robberies, vandalism and car thefts. That number dropped to fewer than 70 in 2006 and 2007, and was 21 at the start of the Dodgers-Phillies series.
Murphy acknowledged, however, that the statistics don’t include non-arrest ejections. And an LAPD officer who has worked the stadium for the last three years said unruly behavior persists.
“I wouldn’t have my family here,” said the officer, as he stood watch by the left-field pavilion. Like other officers interviewed for this story, he asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Two of his colleagues were more upbeat. “It’s gotten much, much better,” said one officer. “A few years ago, I wouldn’t bring my family. . . . But it’s much more of family atmosphere now.”
Actor-writer Robert Wuhl, a season-ticket holder who was one of numerous celebrities on hand Monday, also applauded the Chavez Ravine ambience.
“Dodger fans are really good fans,” said Wuhl, who starred in the sports-themed “Arliss” cable series and played a coach in the movie “Bull Durham.” “They’re passionate fans.”
He was heading for the parking lot -- in the eighth inning -- when he paused near the site where Pike’s two antagonists were booted. “Out of 56,000 people?” Wuhl said, referring to the attendance. “I’d like to have a crime rate like that.”
Kay Hartman, 56, of Los Angeles, said too much is made of the few rabble-rousers, and the Dodgers front office should actually lighten up, not crack down. “I really think they go out of their way to see to it that you don’t have a good time,” Hartman said. “You can’t have tailgate parties, you can’t bring signs.”
She nodded toward a section of the field seats along third base, where fans leaped to their feet as the Dodgers threatened to score. “They’re having a good time,” she said. “I don’t see problems.”
But she was in the minority of those interviewed.
“Things are much more on the rowdy side,” said Fernando Reyna, 42, a stadium regular. He said the crowds in and near the pavilions sometimes reminded him of the notoriously disruptive element drawn by the old Los Angeles Raiders.
“You get a show out there every game,” the L.A. resident said, referring to the left-field pavilion.
This season, the Dodgers launched a hotline, (323) 224-2611, that fans can call during games to report abusive conduct, as well as e-mail service for suggestions ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
“That has helped us understand the urgency of the issue,” said Steinberg, who added that the management is reviewing everything from limits on beer sales to more security.
“The future of baseball depends on providing a healthy environment for children and families. . . . It’s our intention to make sure our family atmosphere is foolproof.”