Ball-park attendants once did little more than discourage gate crashers, break up fights and, in some cities, insult the customers; now they are as solicitous as floorwalkers. At Angel games, parking-lot employees greet each motorist with a cheery "Welcome to Anaheim Stadium." Ray Kroc, the hamburger tycoon who brought life to the moribund Padres, bought a full-page ad in the local papers of July 17 to thank the fans of San Diego for coming out to the park with such salubrious frequency. Kroc's alert staff is ever ready to chastise or even cashier a park employee for the merest suggestion of discourtesy. "The stadium people are our strongest or weakest link," says Bavasi. "They must represent the standards of the chairman of the board, Mr. Kroc."
The Padres also brief their players in public relations, advising them of the different needs of reporters on morning and afternoon newspapers and encouraging them to sign autographs, accept speaking engagements and generally look upon the fan as a bosom pal. "The player who says I'll let my bat do the talking is no longer a complete player," says Bavasi. "If the public loves him, he's got a good argument at contract time. He can say, 'Well, I didn't hit so well, but I did have three fan clubs.' The player is no different from any other entertainer. But when, say, an opera singer receives a big ovation, what does he do? He makes a curtain call and bows his thanks to the audience. What does a ballplayer do after he hits a home run and gets an ovation? Usually nothing. I don't understand why he can't make some appropriate response to the audience even if it's nothing more than tipping his cap."
Bavasi, his father, Padre President Buzzie, and Patterson all honed their skills as flacks in the Dodger organization, which continues to lavish affection on the transient multitudes of Southern California. The Dodgers actually do not play the public-relations game fairly, since they have the advantages of a beautiful, splendidly maintained, conveniently located stadium that they also own, ideal weather (one rainout in 18 years), a huge population and, above all, a team that is perennially in pennant contention. All of those are among the reasons why the Dodgers may draw three million fans this year. But even with these assets working for them, they promote as if they were the newest supermarket on the block. The stadium message board seems to have a word for everybody who passes through the turnstiles, recently taking time out from its busy schedule to wish a fond "Happy Birthday to Melba Figge of Glendale." The Dodger sales effort has extended beyond the secular to include 14 annual "Nuns Days" held for the 20,000 sisters of the Los Angeles archdiocese. The Dodgers clearly will move heaven and earth to win people to their cause.
Still, with all the huckstering, the game remains the essential ingredient. As Giles says, "Baseball survives while Evel Knievel and outside linebackers recklessly come and go. Played well, it is a study in grace; played poorly it can be an excruciating bore. But then there is always tomorrow, for baseball is not so much an event as it is a fact of life. Sometimes we forget how much pleasure it can give."
"To the youngsters," says the Dodgers' Claire, "it is a magic game. As we get older we tend to say the game is not what it used to be. We forget that there are 10-year-olds who come out to the park with stars in their eyes. To them, the game is everything. We older people say the game has lost something. We are wrong. The game hasn't lost anything. It is we who have lost something. We have lost our youth."