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Huddled with his little sister in the trunk space of his SUV, Erik Garcia looked out over a parking lot at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday afternoon and preened at the primo spot he had acquired.
Garcia was one of roughly 300 drivers to buy a ticket to the Dodgers’ drive-in watch party for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. He arrived at the gates about two hours before first pitch, eager to claim a parking space near the 60-foot screen set up in the center of Lot 2.
For Garcia, the opportunity to watch the team he has spent the last 19 years cheering on was too enticing to pass up — even if he all could do was sit in the back of his vehicle, with 7-year-old Melissa and a spread of pizza, chips and soda.
“It’s a really cool experience,” Garcia said.
And a somewhat necessary one amid a pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 has robbed sports fans around the globe of the chance to watch their teams play up close. While pro and college football teams have welcomed a limited number of fans to games for about a month, Major League Baseball took a slower approach. The Dodgers’ NLCS games in Arlington, Texas, where they are playing the Atlanta Braves this week for a spot in the World Series, are the first MLB games attended by the public since March.
Dodger Stadium isn’t able to host fans this year. But its massive parking lots are the ideal setting for a drive-in, even on a day when the game-time temperature was 93 degrees and many cars were left running to utilize the air-conditioning.
In the middle of a lot on the third-base side of the stadium are two 60-foot screens, positioned back-to-back so that the other side of the lot can accommodate cars on a busy day, such as Monday night when the Dodgers issued tickets for about 700 vehicles. Fans must listen to the game broadcast on their own radios and they cannot leave their assigned areas except to use one of several portable toilets stationed in the lot. But the experience is otherwise seamless.
The scene Tuesday was strangely comforting. As first pitch neared, music thrummed and people cheered. Others honked their car horns — and would do so again whenever the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin struck out a batter. Fans from different cars were not permitted to mingle but they could shout together from their assigned spots. Their raised voices blended in the warm air, carrying across the parking lot.
The resulting murmur came somewhat close to resembling that of a typical game atmosphere.
Especially when Chris Taylor charged a fastball from Braves starter Ian Anderson 407 feet to center field in the third inning. The loud fly ball elicited gasps from across the lot. When the ball was caught on the warning track, a chorus of groans followed.
Restrictions might have made it impossible for attendees to make friends with strangers, but the camaraderie seemed to be enough. A spirited Dodgers ninth-inning rally fell just short, and the Braves won, 8-7.
“It’s the first time that we were able to be amongst other Dodger fans,” said Liliana Aguilar, who made the trek from the Inland Empire with her family of four Monday night. “We've been watching the season at home. Just the camaraderie of at least being among other fans [was nice].
“It was a way of trying to feel normal.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.