Tuesday, April 1, 2008

History at the LA Coliseum

   One of my earliest baseball memories is that of attending a Dodgers-Braves game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was the Dodgers' home for four seasons before the opening of Chavez Ravine in 1962.  I remember seeing a Henry Aaron homerun ball sail over the cyclone fence in right field, 400 feet from home plate, coming to a stop on the grass of the football field.  And I remember the 40-foot fence in left field, just 250 feet from home.  Even as a young kid, I was aware of the strange dimensions of this temporary baseball diamond.
   In any event, when I heard the Dodgers were going to play an exhibition game at the Coliseum, against the Red Sox on March 29th, to help celebrate their 50 years in Los Angeles, I knew I had to be there.  And as it turned out, it was an historic occasion in more ways than one.  Not only were the Dodgers playing at the Coliseum for the first time since '61, but the game drew an incredible 115,300 fans, an all-time baseball attendance record.
   There were only four homeruns hit in this game, which was somewhat surprising and disappointing, as the Red Sox won 7-4.  Sox catcher Kevin Cash hit the first one, about 20 rows deep into the center field seats--a ball that would not have been a homerun in any park in the majors.  It probably landed about 350 feet from home plate.  The Sox' Kevin Youkilis and the Dodgers' James Loney both homered over the 60-foot fence in left, 201 feet from home (closer to home, in fact, than the left field fence at the Little League World Series in Williamsport).
   The dimensions to left field for this game were less than they were when the Dodgers called the Coliseum home, because of the additional seats that are in the stadium today, and because the running track that used to encircle the field is no longer there.  This prompted LA catcher Russell Martin to joke that this might be the only place Juan Pierre could homer opposite field. 
   Interestingly, the Red Sox and Dodgers lined up their outfield defenses very differently.  The Sox had left fielder Bobby Kielty playing in left-center, center fielder Coco Crisp playing in right-center, and right fielder Jacoby Ellsbury playing in right.  Every ball hit off the left field wall was fielded by the shortstop Julio Lugo, who had to jog no more than a few feet to play the ricochet.  The Dodgers, on the other hand, used only two outfielders--Andre Either in left-center, and Matt Kemp in right-center.  The normal center fielder Andruw Jones actually played second base.  Literally.  He stood no more than three feet behind the second base bag, even taking the throw from catcher Martin and applying the tag to nail Ellsbury trying to steal second.  Score that 2-8 on the caught stealing, perhaps for the first time in baseball history.
   It may have taken forever to get into the Coliseum, and out of it, but I'm pretty sure that virtually all of the 115,300 on hand were thrilled to be part of baseball history.  I know I was.