Sunday, March 30, 2008

115,300 Fans in One Place – Batter Up!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the San Diego Padres in the first Major League Baseball game ever played in China. In that post I also mentioned that Alicia and Seth were treating us to a game played yesterday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to commemorate the move of the Dodgers from Brooklyn 50 years ago.

We were there and, as it turned out, the official attendance for the game was an astounding 115,300 people who came to see an exhibition between the Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. It was the largest crowd ever to see a major league game, another piece of baseball history. And, in truth, the day was more of a "happening" or a "spectacle" of which the actual baseball game was just one of several pieces.

Being intelligent or perhaps not knowing any better, we arrived at the coliseum at 12:00 noon, a full 7 hours before game time. That decision had as much to do with "beating the traffic" as it did with being there for the carnival-fair like atmosphere on the grounds. There were games to play for the kids, merchandise stands to spend on memorabilia, a stage from which there was entertainment and "surprises," a silent auction, book signings by former Dodgers Steve Garvey and Rick Monday, and (the pièce-de-resistance for diehard Dodger fans) an area where a rotating group of Dodger greats were signing autographs.

Among the diehards was Donna (who has tolerated The Ancient One's loyalty to the Detroit Tigers for more than 27 years) who waited patiently in line for over 3½ hours with Seth and friends to get autographs. When she reached the front of the line she collected signatures from Roger Craig, Tommy Davis, Jerry Reuss and Ken Landreaux. (True Dodger fans will recognize all 4 of those names. She would have liked to have met Duke Snider, who was signing when she joined the line but was just happy that her collection has grown so well.) The event meant so much to Donna for she remembers watching Dodger games in the Coliseum when they first came to L.A. and she was still in elementary school. Pictured below as they joined the autograph line are Donna with son Seth (on the left) and friend Patrick Smith.

I spent most of the afternoon walking and people watching. As it happened, at the time of the announced "surprise," I happened to be near the front of the stage with daughter Alicia. Several buses pulled up nearby and the crowd started roaring. From those buses came Dodger management and the entire Dodger and Red Sox teams; they went up on the stage and a lot of speeches were made. My favorite line was when new Dodger (and former Yankee) manager Joe Torre introduced Terry Francona, as manager of the "world champion Boston Red Sox" followed by the line, "I find that a lot easier to say now that I am in Los Angeles and out of New York." The crowd, of course, roared their approval!

Below is one of the pictures that I took of the folks who were on the stage. It is a "lucky picture" (from the many I took blindly by holding the camera high above my head and aiming in the general direction of the stage) mainly because I was able to crop out the little girl in front of me sitting on her father's shoulders. Those I immediately recognize as they head down from the stage are Tommy Lasorda, followed by pitcher Brad Penny and Dodger owner Frank McCourt in the white shirt and tie.

Finally, at 4:10 p.m. (still 3 hours before the first pitch) the gates to the Coliseum were opened and we could head to our seats, stopping for food along the way (before the lines got too long). As the stands filled, I wanted to offer pictures. I toyed with the idea of downloading shots from newspaper sites that showed the view from home plate looking out. But I decided to stay with what came from my own camera and the seat in which I was sitting, first just before the game would start and, second, as the Dodgers took the field and followed their tradition of autographing baseballs for children selected to follow them out to their positions:

There were long ceremonies before the game and between innings. Many presentations were made. One of those was a dedication of a placque to hang on the east portico of the Coliseum honoring longtime Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, who started doing play-by-play announcing for the team while it was still in Brooklyn and continues on today. Vinnie, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is generally recognized as the best that ever was. I say that with reverence because I have been blessed in my lifetime with also hearing the likes of Red Barber and Ernie Harwell. Below is a photo of the placque that I shot while it was shown on the jumbotron TV screen at our end of the field. Obviously from our seats, I couldn't get the real thing.

The game began, the Dodgers fell behind, and then rallied in the bottom of the 9th only to fall short and lose 7-4. But the game was almost incidental to the experience. And this was clearly the most festive crowd I have ever seen. The vagaries of playing baseball in a football coliseum lead to a left field line only 200 feat from home plate, about 125 less than in the smaller major league parks. To compensate for the short distance, a 60 foot fence was erected in left field. Fans wanted to see who could hit one over that fence and it happened twice on home runs by two first basemen, Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox and James Loney of the Dodgers. The crowd went wild!

I'll share one more happening. As it happens, I am not a great admirer of "the Wave," that stadium phenomenon where fans in one section leap to their feet, raise there arms, scream and then sit down with the expectation that the fans in the adjoining section will follow suit and so on around the stadium. It gets its name from the wavelike appearance of the crowd and noise movement. Well, last night we had a group of exuberant young men sitting behind us. One of them, perhaps aided by the consumption of a fair amount of brew, decided that he would start the wave. And he tried, and he yelled and he cajoled. Good old Section 2 where we were sitting cooperated with his efforts, but our neighbors were slow to join in. But the young man was persistent; he moved down to aisle directly in front of us yelling, waving, shouting 1-2-3 and so on. Finally, there came a tipping point. (I hope Malcolm Gladwell will forgive me for use of the term here.) Another equally boisterous young fellow about 25 rows below us joined in as a leader urging on the patrons of the lower half of Section2. He was the tipping point. And suddenly the wave began.

Now this was no ordinary wave!! Once it started, it proceeded to circle the Coliseum a full 6 times. Even curmudgeonly old me was impressed. And being in a bowl like atmosphere (with no upper and lower decks like most baseball stadiums), it was truly a sight to see. It simply added to the fun everybody was having at this spectacular experience.

Well, the game ended and it was time to head home. I offer one more photo taken as we were leaving; one of the east entrance to the Coliseum which is always impressive but was more so because it was after dark and the Olympic Flame had been lit (and left burning) during one of the earlier ceremonies.

We had an easy exit because of where we were able to park and a relaxed end to a truly memorable day. Thank you Alicia and Seth for one of the best anniversary gifts we have ever received!!


Bill Cohen said...

Awesome post! I just shared the photos with some office mates. Even the jaded NY fans are impressed. By the way, in honor of opening day, employees at my company can wear baseball hats and jerseys/shirts today. You'll be proud to know I am sporting my 2006 Detroit AL champions hat and a Tigers tee. Not a Yankee item on me.

Eric Valentine said...

Very good post Leon, I can see you had a whale of a time. Good luck to you & the Dodgers this season.

The Jays are my team over here but I will say that Detroit will be giving it a run also, it should be quite a season of ball.. :)