“They look nervous out there,” said the groundskeeper at Dodger Stadium, gazing down from the top deck as the men in blue lazily took their turns at batting practice. “Must be the weather.” It was early evening on Monday, and yet the heat was still choking, suffocating. Just hours earlier, temperatures had reached 102 in downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Ana winds had begun to pick up, and the city had issued an alert banning cars from areas deemed at high risk for fires. Rangers were patrolling the Santa Monica Mountains looking for brushfires and the people who might start them, unwittingly or otherwise, and public schools in Long Beach, many of which have no air conditioning, were forced to close early. It was all unheard of for October.
Once there was something called Mt. Lookout here, but in 1959, the city cut off its top, dug a very a deep hole and began building a ballpark which they christened Dodger Stadium three years later. Up where we were, the feeling was of being perched on the lip of a volcano whose lava chutes appear as mere rivulets far below. These are the cheap seats, which today are going for $2,000 a pair. From this distance, we decided, no one but a groundskeeper could discern that the Dodgers were nervous, and even he was too far away to know the real reason why.
Several flights down but still five stories above the action sits the team’s press box, where we heard different reasons for the Dodgers’ nerves. The reporters who cover baseball still expected them to win, mind you, and shouted their predictions to each other periodically throughout the afternoon just to prove it. “Dodgers in six!” yelled one. “Dodgers in five!” yelled another. Among this set, “Astros in five!” was little more than a dependable laugh line, although the joke seemed to go stale quickly in the heat. The figure 105 was heard a lot too, that being the number of wins that L.A. racked up this season, although the figure 11—as in the 11 games the team lost in a row late in that same season—went unmentioned. Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ shortstop with the back injury and also the elbow injury would be fine, they declared, dutifully tweeting and Facebooking the team’s official line. And besides, Charlie Culberson had filled in admirably during the NLCS. Everything would be fine, just fine. Sure, their boys were nervous, but nerves are a good thing, right?
As we made our way down to the Lexus Dugout Club—“the most exclusive experience in Dodger Stadium,” according to the team’s website, where season tickets cost up to $70,000—we thought about a brief conversation we’d had with a woman who worked in a Ross Dress for Less on Hollywood Blvd, a Dodger fan who, in a further show of support, had dyed blue the tips of her dyed blonde hair. She knew nothing of the Astros or, for that matter, Houston (“you had a hurricane or something”), and yet was certain that they would lose to the Dodgers. How did she know this, we gently inquired?
“Because we’ve been waiting a really long time,” came the reply. Rather than say something to the effect of we’ve been waiting longer than you, lady, which would have only made us sound like two cretins jockeying for predawn positions in front of a WalMart on Black Friday, we instead asked what it was about the team that made her think the Dodgers would win. “They have to,” she laughed. “Have you seen those salaries?” Having traveled from everything happens in time to invest for success on the shibboleth list, we left the blue-tipped woman.
It is true that the Dodgers’ $265 million payroll is the highest in baseball. It is also true that the Astros are in the World Series because they defeated the Yankees and the Red Sox, the teams with the second- and third-highest payrolls respectively.
Still, the woman’s point was indisputable: money does has some connection to a team’s winning and losing ways. On TV, however, they were just grasping at straws. Back at the hotel, we saw some program claim that the Dodgers could “count on” some bigtime celebrity support during the World Series, rattling off a list that included Christina Aguilera, Rob Lowe, Rihanna, Jason Bateman and at least one of the Bridges. The program did not say whether any of those luminaries would be melting in the stands tonight, and in any event it’s unclear what sort of effect such presences would have on the Astros. Still, we will confess to having felt glad that Kate Upton had made her way to our corner, as that kid from Modern Family must have been feeling really lonely.
It wasn’t until after we’d heard that the Dodgers would win because it was their time, and because they had the biggest salaries, and the biggest stars, and the biggest injured players who were really fine, and the biggest number of victories, none of them against the Astros—it wasn’t until then that we truly began to understand why the Dodgers might be nervous.
And also why they had good reason to be.