Column: The fix is in at Dodger Stadium, but will it be ready for opening day?
The Dodgers got their roster in order with their delayed acquisition of pitcher David Price and outfielder Mookie Betts, who were introduced to the media on Wednesday and soon after were whisked to Arizona for spring training. Getting the Dodgers’ house in order will take a little longer.
A planned $100-million offseason renovation of Dodger Stadium that focused on adding five elevators and four escalators, creating a “front door” and sprucing up the outfield pavilions is expected to be ready for opening day against the San Francisco Giants on March 26 but won’t be done in time for exhibitions against the Angels on March 23 and 24. That’s cutting it close.
Janet Marie Smith, the Dodgers’ senior vice president of planning and development, said the team will be able to “use the entirety of the stadium between the foul poles” in the main seating areas from home plate outward during those preseason games but the work in center field won’t be done by then. “We’ll give our contractors a few more days in the outfield,” Smith said.
They apparently will need every minute. Bridges that will connect the pavilions to the rest of the stadium and allow fans to walk freely around the park appeared Wednesday to be in the early stages of construction, and piles of dirt covered unfinished projects behind the pavilions. The sound of hammering and other construction noise provided the backdrop for the news conference until workers were given a break. Many of them put down their tools and watched the proceedings.
Dodger Stadium will celebrate its 58th anniversary in April and trails only Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914) as the oldest major league stadiums. It needed renovations more than the Dodgers’ lineup did, but both got significant upgrades.
Mookie Betts and David Price were introduced at Dodger Stadium, the culmination of a trade with the Boston Red Sox that overcame obstacles to come to fruition.
Betts gives them exceptional depth in the outfield and five-time All-Star Price is a likely No. 3 starter behind Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, remarkable improvements for a team that won a franchise-record 106 games last season and — minus the Houston Astros’ nefarious cheating — now has its best shot at that elusive World Series championship. The Dodgers clearly won the offseason.
The improvements to Dodger Stadium will be noticeable and should make it easier for fans to get where they want to go and be comfortable when they arrive. Nursing rooms and a first aid station were added in center field, and the number of rest rooms in the pavilion areas was doubled. A two-acre entertainment area will be created, with announcements due soon on features besides kids’ areas.
Eventually, on a new, wide concourse, a drink rail will go the entire width of the ballpark and become a social gathering place. “People are just going to hang out there,” said Stan Kasten, the Dodgers’ president and chief executive officer. “I’ve found that when you put a drink rail people hang out there instead of sitting in their seat. We added a bullpen bar a couple of years ago. Those things are packed at night. People love them.”
The familiar folded roof above the pavilion remains in place, as it should. “We want to make certain that the memory of Dodger Stadium, which is so unique in all of sports, not just baseball, shouldn’t change, but the experience should be more fun,” Smith said. “We tried to think of what the guest experience should be like in a new park and make certain that this park, even though it’s old and well loved, that it takes care of fans as capably as any of the newer parks.”
Betts and Price traded their new Dodgers caps for hard hats and protective eyewear and followed Smith as she led a tour of the construction. She pointed out where a vintage ice cream truck and fire truck will be placed, as well where statues of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax will be located.
The two new Dodgers posed for pictures with construction workers and nodded as Smith gave them a quick update on the renovations. “When you come back I’m going to take you to the top of the park and show you around and you’re going to think, ‘Oh, wow, this is amazing,’ ” she told them.
As soon as the main part of the news conference ended, workers resumed their hammering and sawing and other work. The project will go to the wire but Smith has enjoyed seeing this phase of the stadium renovations come to life.
“Each project has been done individually so it can stand alone, but this center-field project gives us a chance to do a real front door, really celebrate the legacies of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax,” Smith said. “So it’s wonderful to have something that is both steeped in Dodger history but also appeals to a new generation of Dodger fans, and we’re just thrilled that this building, now the third-oldest in the major leagues, will have kind of the refresher that it deserves.”
The Dodgers and their home field got terrific upgrades. We’ll find out soon enough whether both improvements were worth the wait.
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