© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
03/30/08 2:09 AM EST
Dodgers, Red Sox play for 115,300
Exhibition game at LA Memorial Coliseum draws masses
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Frank McCourt finally cleared the Snake River Canyon. Excuse the mixed sports allegory, but it is warranted. Ever since the Dodgers' chairman announced a one-night return to the Memorial Coliseum, and even more so as talk turned to a crowd of 115,000-plus in an 85-year-old facility that holds 92,500, he sounded a little like Evil Knievel pumping about flying his motorcycle across that Idaho chasm. Knievel fell short -- literally, and, for him, painfully -- in 1974. McCourt, however, landed safely on the other side of faith. It had been a huge leap of faith, and the Dodgers pulled off the perfect beginning to a 50th Anniversary season. Come Monday, the editors of the Guinness Book of Records will get word back to the Dodgers about whether Saturday night's crowd of 115,300 was an international record for a baseball game. But chances are that the enterprising architects of the event will have tilted back some Guinness, or whatever the ale of their choice, before then to toast an undeniable MLB record. In the simplest terms, 115,300 people came out to see the Dodgers and the Red Sox play an exhibition game, and to look in a giant rear-view mirror, where perhaps they could spot the reflection of a departed grandparent, parent or aunt. They came to see Duke Snider doff his cap, to hear Vin Scully humbly call himself "an ordinary man given an extraordinary opportunity," to feel a spouse's grip tighten as Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. finished harmonizing the National Anthem. They came, as reminded at one point by Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner, emcee for the occasion, "to a day you will never forget." No, they didn't come to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar bounce the ceremonial pitch before the bottom of the second inning 20 feet in front of the plate. But the basketball great, born Lew Alcindor in New York the day after Jackie Robinson snapped baseball's color line with his Dodgers debut on April 15, 1947, quickly stole the show by asking for the ball back and skyhooking a perfect strike to Dodgers' catcher Russell Martin. No one is going to remember who won the thing (if you must know, it was the Red Sox, 7-4). Just as no one remembers the winner on the Coliseum's biggest previous baseball occasion, the May 7, 1959 night 93,103 held up lit candles to salute wheelchair-bound Roy Campanella during a Dodgers-Yankees exhibition (if you must know, it was the Yankees, 6-2). This wasn't about the score ... unless considering the two scores and 10 years since the Dodgers had last played baseball here. This was foremost about a grand launch party for ThinkCure, Boston native McCourt's Jimmy Fund spinoff, for which a million-plus to fund cancer research was raised. "This is the beginning of a dream come true," McCourt, genuinely grateful for the response to his plea, said over and over again. "The combination of the emotional tug of returning to a former home and an undeniably good cause is connecting generations. "That represents so much of what we love about baseball. I think that's what drew people: it's for a good cause, and because it's so unique." This was for Ebbets Field, Crosley Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park and Forbes Field and all the other long-gone baseball shrines no one can ever revisit. And this was to connect a team with its DNA and with its fans, in numbers and proximity seldom seen. Perhaps Dr. Charles Steinberg, chief of marketing for the Dodgers, captured best the lure of "the opportunity to take people back to the time in their lives when they may have fallen in love with baseball." By noon, seven hours before first pitch, the area around the Coliseum was awash in blue. The smell of tailgaters' smoked links wafted through the air. "I Was There" T-shirts, bearing details of the event, were big sellers. People were drawn to the clearing just outside of the peristyle, east end of the Coliseum, where the Baseball Festival was in full swing. There, all the blue -- tops, bottoms, shoes, wigs - swam in a unicolored palette. Popular with photographers was a trio of bare-chested young men who had painted their torsos blue, Los Angeles' own take on that other Blue Man Group. The stage shook from '60s rock music. Nothing as mellow as Paul Mauriat's "Blue, blue, my world is blue ..." No, this was Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon rocking the house all the way from Palisades Park. Younger fans gyrated to the music. Older ones kept time by rapping their canes against the ground. Cannon's set ended, and the most magical part of the day was about to begin. As loudspeakers thumped out the title song of the Dodgers' new theme -- From Brooklyn, New York to L.A., and this is what the fans all say, the Dodgers are the heart of L.A. -- a convoy of four buses pulled up at the very edge of the milling mob. The buses' doors flung open, and Dodgers and Red Sox disembarked to part the blue sea, one-by-one filing through flabbergasted and delirious fans to crowd the stage as fans would eventually crowd the Coliseum stands. "Nomar!" "Tommy!" and "Jeff!" shrieks filled the air as the players scaled the few steps to the stage. When the Red Sox followed them, there was a groundswell of "Let's go Dodgers!" But when everyone was gathered, shoulder-to-shoulder, the same fans offered their peace feather to the Red Sox: "Yankees (blank)!" They gave their little speeches in the shadow of the eternal flame topping the peristyle, native son Nomar Garciaparra and adopted son Russell Martin eliciting the biggest cheers. "It's a privilege to share this with the Boston Red Sox," said Joe Torre, the current Dodgers and former Yankees manager. "Excuse me -- the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. For some reason, that doesn't bother me anymore.": Then they receded, to start their workday, a nine-inning trip through time. Some things never change. Fifty years ago, the Dodgers in the dugout were rubbernecking for Doris Day. Saturday night, Boston manager Terry Francona said, "My favorite part of the whole night was when there was a foul ball and, like 57 guys ran to protect Pam Anderson." Recognitions and honorary pitches interrupted the play, but you had the sense the players -- neither today's nor those visiting from the past -- were not the featured attractions here. They were the fans. The 115,300 who spanned McCourt's Snake River. The 138 million to whom Scully dedicated his newly-presented bronze plaque. At 8:17 p.m. PT, this blue sea roiled with -- what else? -- the biggest wave, as the 115,300 alternately stood to reenact another relic. The spontaneous act caught on instantly, as if orchestrated by unseen forces. Of course: tides are caused by the moon's pull, and this doubtless was a blue one.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.