New ownership group intent on upgrading Dodger Stadium

A general view field before the Los Angeles A general view field before the Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. (March 31, 2008) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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LOS ANGELES

On May 2, a breath of fresh air began blowing over the nearby San Gabriel Mountains and into Dodger Stadium as a new ownership group took over from the divisive regime of Frank McCourt.

NBA legend Magic Johnson was the face of the ownership group, but the money man was Chicago-based financier Mark Walter. His group paid $2.15 billion, the most ever for a sports franchise, and has committed to $300 million to upgrade venerable Dodger Stadium.

The stadium, which opened in 1962, is the third-oldest in Major League Baseball, behind Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914). While the views of the mountains and downtown Los Angeles are unparalleled, the ballpark itself -- like the Dodgers' reputation after the McCourt years -- is in need of a remodeling.

"We bought that," team president Stan Kasten said the other day, his hand sweeping toward the mountains beyond the outfield walls. "That classic vista. The bleachers, the palm trees, the San Gabriel Mountains. We'll never screw with that.

"But we want to add the things that modern fans want and make them feel better about the ballpark. Like kids' areas, real active areas. A bar and hangout restaurant area. History. There's no history in this place -- at Dodger Stadium! When you think about it, it's hard to believe. We can do these things easy; we can do most of it in one offseason. Those kinds of things and more."

On the field, the Dodgers got off to a super-hot start this season under manager Don Mattingly. But they went into Saturday night's game against the Mets having lost 10 of their last 11 to fall out of first place in the NL West. They were averaging 40,383 fans at home compared to a full-season average of 36,236 in 2011.

"We've gotten a tremendous reception from our fans, who I think are giving us a break and giving us some time to put a plan in place," said Kasten, the former president of the Braves and Nationals. "All of us who are involved coming in the door new are just so thrilled to be a part of this. It's the coolest thing I've ever been able to do."

The ownership group hit the ground running by lowering parking prices from $15 to $10 on their first day. Kasten said they have worked to decrease the lines at concession stands and have held focus groups and a town hall meeting to figure out what their customers want -- besides the obvious, which is a winning team. Dodger Stadium always enters the discussion, he said.

"Most fans want to know what you're doing with the ballpark," Kasten said. "Although beautiful, it still needs to be brought into the 21st century."

If they keep the current stadium -- Kasten said there is "no real thought" of building a new one, but he didn't rule it out -- the Dodgers know there's only so much they can do.

Dodger Stadium, though it sits in the middle of the glitziest town in America, is as simple and elegant as can be. And the new owners plan to keep it that way.

"This might be as glitz-free a stadium as we have in Major League Baseball because it's 50 years old," Kasten said. "Even Fenway has been upgraded with some modern things that this ballpark doesn't have. And yet 40,000 people find their way down here in a relatively glitz-free stadium. I would like to keep it glitz-free, but I would like to add the things, the appeal items, that give fans an even better time."

As for the Dodgers' reputation, that improved the minute McCourt walked out. One of baseball's grand old franchises had been rescued from bankruptcy court and a lot of bad feelings. A new wind blew in.

"We have great ownership providing us the resources to make it what it should be," Kasten said. "To make it THE DODGERS again. All caps. THE DODGERS. That's how you should print that. It hasn't recently been perceived as THE DODGERS. We intend to make it THE DODGERS again."

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