When the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Boston Red Sox in an exhibition at the Los Angeles Coliseum to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary in Tinsel Town, a surreal time was had by all.
Let me begin by saying that I will never move to Los Angeles. But, there’s so much more.
Where to start? When the Dodgers hosted the Red Sox in an exhibition at the Los Angeles Coliseum to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Dodgers move to LA, it was a surreal scene in so many ways, both good and bad. Let’s lead off with the good.
What a party
It was a party. A scene. A happening. A Festivus. A crowd pegged by the Dodgers at 115,300 cheered and jeered, did the wave, and reveled in being part of history. The defending World Series champion Red Sox needed Jonathon Papelbon to close the door on the Dodgers and preserve a 7-4 win highlighted by a two-run homer by Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. It was the “Moon Shot” that everyone was hoping to see; a pop fly that cleared the sixty-foot screen in left field and dropped almost straight down into the seats.
But if a Moon Shot was the term for a cheap home run, then this might have been a Half-Moon Shot. The notoriously short left-field wall that the Dodgers faced during their 1958-61 stay was fifty feet shorter tonight than it was in 1958. The odd dimensions created by playing baseball in a football stadium were further exacerbated by a renovation that followed the 1984 Olympics. The playing field was lowered and an additional ring of seats was added at the bottom of the grandstand when the track the encircled the field was removed. Remember, while this place is best known to most sports fans as the home of the USC Trojans football team, it was built to host the 1932 Olympics. The Olympic torch still burns atop the peristyle, the distinctive arched façade at one end of the seating bowl.
While this undoubtedly upgraded the place for football, it squeezed the width of the longest left-field foul line that the stadium floor could accommodate from 257 feet to 200 feet. The short-left field wall was decried as compromising the integrity of the game fifty years ago. Certainly, if this game had not been an exhibition to benefit cancer research, there would have been howls of protest over Saturday’s arrangements.
To provide some perspective, let me remind you that a 200-foot outfield fence is typically used on youth fields where young kids play.
Sitting directly behind the Dodgers’ first-base “dugout,” it seemed that the shortstop could have practically leaned up against it between plays. And in fact, when the Dodgers where in the field, the shortstop was the only thing standing between the infield grass and the wall. The Dodgers employed what may have to be called “The Coliseum Shift,” putting centerfielder Andruw Jones on the infield dirt, just behind and to the shortstop side of second base, while the left fielder played in center, and left field was left unmanned. The Red Sox also employed a defensive shift, although a less radical version, with all three outfielders shaded toward the right-field line.
To compensate for the shorter distances, the screen was higher than it was fifty years ago, towering sixty feet above the field. The space behind home plate was also shrunk, with less than ten feet between the home-plate dirt and the backstop. The backstop was so close to the plate, and wrapped so closely around it, that it almost looked like a batting cage without a roof.
The right and center field dimensions, while not marked, were more traditional, but with the non-traditional spectacle of thousands of fans milling around the standing room area on the area beyond the temporary fence.
The stadium was ringed by food vendors of all types, from roasted corn and chalupas to hot dogs and beer. The prices were what you’d expect in LA; for example, $10 for 20 ounce draft beer, or $6 for a soda. At least they came in a commemorative cup.
Merchandise was plentiful, but pricey. I wanted a keepsake, but couldn’t bring myself to spend $30 on a T-shirt, and wasn’t comfortable buying a $10 bootleg version in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
The mood was generally festive, as brass bands played outside the gates, a crew of vendors cooked and sold foot-long hotdogs wrapped in bacon, and people streamed in from all directions. With tens of thousands milling around in the concourses, outside the gates, and in the standing-room areas, there was some tension between the two tribes. Red Sox Nation showed up in surprising numbers and security had to handle a few altercations, and the in-stadium cameras caught on video and displayed an overzealous home fan stealing the pennant-shaped Dodger flags off their poles on the stadium’s upper rim. But despite a massive and enthusiastic crowd, from what I saw, there was surprisingly little trouble.