LOS ANGELES -- More than 250 Dodgers fans showed up Friday night to take live batting practice at Dodger Stadium as part of the first "Under the Lights" event hosted by Russell Martin and Andre Ethier. The four-hour event allowed the participants to take batting practice at home plate, and in the indoor batting cages, field balls hit by other participants, pitch in the bullpen and learn bunting drills from former Dodger "Sweet Lou" Johnson. It also featured a live DJ, catered food, an open bar, private tours of the stadium and clubhouse as well as the chance to take photos and get autographs from Martin and Ethier.
It was hailed as a success by fans and members of the Dodgers front office, including Charles Steinberg, the Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "The idea is that there are people year-round that want to visit Dodger Stadium and live their fantasy even if it's just a for a few hours," Steinberg said. "People come to Dodger Stadium and imagine taking swings at the plate and that dream came true tonight. And that's the essence of what you want Dodgers baseball to be." The event is part of a new campaign called Dodger Life, which allows fans to interact with Dodgers players throughout the year. "It's a brand-new department we've created to allow fans to get close to the team," said senior director of consumer development Harlan Henderson. "We're going to do fishing trips, travel with the team such as an East Coast trip with a visit to the Hall of Fame before a game, swimming with sharks and even a cruise. Under the Lights is just the first one of those events." Martin and Ethier hosted the event and took a professional photo with every guest and signed autographs for more than an hour. Martin and Ethier both took time to thank the fans in short speeches at the pitcher's mound before a fireworks show began at 9 p.m. "I had a blast personally and I'm sure Andre did do," Martin told the fans. "Keep giving us that love because I love it every time you fans come out." One of the fans that came out was 18-year-old Steven Peinado, who reached 77 mph on the radar gun in the bullpen. Peinado is a freshman center fielder at East Los Angeles College and said the $500 price tag was worth the experience. "I thought I'd spoil myself," Peinado said. "I'm a baseball player and a big-time Dodgers fan, so why not?" Other fans came from as far as Fresno, Calif., to enjoy the night. Dan Shafer and his son drove more than three hours from central California for the chance to take batting practice at home plate and they both loved their experience. "It was great and a lot of fun," Shafer said. "I brought my son here because it was his birthday and he's a real Russell Martin fan." Another Under the Lights is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 13, with Matt Kemp as the host. Based on its initial success, though, it could be the start of a regular program for the fans to experience Dodger Stadium. "Tonight was a pilot or a venture into an innovative program," Steinberg said. "The fans will dictate how often they want it and what they like as we refine it as we go forward."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.