LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — The opening day game at Dodger Stadium got under way Tuesday amid a heavy police presence, one year after a Giants fan was beaten into a coma in the parking lot.
FBI agents and 30 undercover officers wearing Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys in the stadium joined uniformed officers patrolling on bikes, horses and in squad cars.
Officers wearing rival team jerseys will be at every game this season, Sgt. Mitzi Fierro said.
“If somebody is going to harass a fan from an opposing team, it increases the possibility of them coming in contact with a police officer,” she said. “It kind of requires people to be on their best behavior.”
7 arrests were made for disorderly conduct and 6 were detained at the sold-out game at Chavez Ravine.
Security was a “paramount priority,” the team said in a statement as fans swarmed to the hilltop stadium for the gala opening, which marked the 50th anniversary of the first game played there and the start of a season that will see a change in ownership.
Police did not reveal the exact number of officers deployed but said it was far more than at last year’s opener.
Some fans weren’t happy with enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy for booze in the packed parking lots.
Manuel Veliz, 30, of Wilmington, said he and two friends didn’t want to pay stadium beer prices and brought their own. They were drinking it in Starbucks cups in their car when a police officer made them pour it out. “The cops, they just come out of nowhere and he said, `There’s cameras everywhere — we seen you drinking’,” he said. “You know, we’re just trying to have a beer.”
Zachary Beck, 23, York, Pa., arranged to visit a friend in California so he could catch the Pirates game. He was wearing his team’s hat and jersey but said he did not worry about his safety.
“I had a couple of people say, `Oh, boo, Pirates,’ but they had smiles on their faces,” he said.
Last year’s opening was marred by an attack at the end of the game on Giants fan Bryan Stow. He was wearing a San Francisco jersey when he was punched in the head, kicked and slammed to the ground in the parking lot. Stow, a paramedic from Santa Cruz, suffered severe brain damage and continues to undergo rehabilitation.
He still needs someone to dress him and help him to and from his wheelchair, according to a posting early last month on a family blog.
Two men have pleaded not guilty to charges of mayhem, assault and battery.
After the attack, critics charged that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt had contributed to a climate of rowdiness by cutting security, including the number of uniformed LAPD officers the Dodgers paid to staff games.
“There were rowdier fans, the atmosphere seemed to change,” said Fierro, a lifelong fan who once saw Sandy Koufax throw a no-hitter.
The team, which expects to exit bankruptcy this month, is being bought for $2 billion by Guggenheim Baseball Management, a group that includes former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten.
Dodgers fan Russell Burton, 28, said the mood inside the stadium was great after a year of ownership and security woes.
“Leave it to Magic to save it for LA,” added Burton.
Burton said he attended games last year and thinks fans felt tense after the Stow attack, and ownership problems only added to the discomfort.
“This year is like a clean slate,” said Burton.
Robert Delgado, 40, from Fontana, his wife and his 10-year-old daughter, Juliana, were attending their first Dodger opening game.
Delgado boycotted the Dodgers last year because of McCourt.
“I think he made it all about him and his family and money rather than the institution that the Dodgers are to this city,” he said. “He kind of stole that and made it dirty.”
Delgado doesn’t like the fact that McCourt will continue to earn money from Dodger fans because he still owns the stadium parking lots.
But at least “he doesn’t control the team,” he said.