I’m not exaggerating at all to say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
In 1958, when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they were the first team to foray into California. However, they had no stadium. So, from 1958-1962 (while Dodger Stadium was being built in Chavez Ravine) the Dodgers played baseball at the Los Angeles Coliseum…a venue designed for football. Squeezing a baseball diamond into a football field created some interesting dimensions, to say the least. A standard baseball field is about 375 feet down the left-and-right field lines and about 400 feet to straightaway center. The left field foul pole inside the LA Coliseum was a mere 251 feet from home plate, which they compensated for by erecting a 42-foot high fence (hoping to discourage easy home runs). Centerfield and right field were also a bit further away. Righties salivated, while lefties like Dodger legend Duke Snider saw their productivity decline. Dodger lefty Wally Moon so perfected pulling homers to left that they dubbed balls that cleared that fence "moon shots."
It was definitely an odd place to play, but the Dodgers made it work for their first four seasons in Los Angeles, before their current home opened on April 10, 1962. Late in 2007, I heard a rumor that the Dodgers would be returning to their first LA home for one night only. Immediately, I promised myself I’d do anything (selling a kidney, performing a hit, etcetera) to get my hands on a pair of tickets.
I don’t know that I can adequately describe what it was like to sit through that game. My late father grew up in Los Angeles and undoubtedly saw at least a couple games in the Coliseum with his two brothers and my grandfather. When I was a small child, he taught me to love the Dodgers and, more importantly, the game. Playing baseball and going to games bonded us throughout my childhood and up until his death two years ago (indeed, the last thing we did together was go see Japan face Mexico in the World Baseball Classic at Angel Stadium in Anaheim).
Being there was absolutely overwhelming for me as a daughter, a lifelong (and incredibly die hard) Dodger fan and as a lover of the game of baseball. Before the game, the Coliseum commission dedicated a plaque to legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. Vin has been the voice of the Dodgers since 1950, when they were still in Brooklyn. His is one of the most beloved, enduring voices in all of sports. The roar of the crowd in mere anticipation of his introduction was deafening. When he stepped to the podium the applause and cheering died down and picked back up again three times. After the first of such resurgences, Scully, ever the humble man, said, “Aw c’mon, it’s just me.” He then rededicated his award to each of the 138 million fans who have come to see the Dodgers over the last 50 years, because he sees himself in the same boat as us: a man, standing on the curb who was lucky enough to watch all of the “heroes” pass by.
It’s hard to get an idea of how ridiculous the dimensions really are without seeing them in person. The Dodgers essentially employed a five-man infield (at one point, CF Andruw Jones took a putout at second). A shallow pop fly was halfway to a home run. Balls that hit the net in left field dropped like rocks. It wasn’t the prettiest of games: the Dodgers went down 7-1 before coming back late to score one in the eighth. Boston brought Jonathan Papelbon on in the bottom of the ninth and the Dodgers mounted one of their trademark mini-comebacks that fell a bit short: Papelbon gave up a two-run shot to Double-A player (and probable Opening Day third baseman) Blake DeWitt to bring the Dodgers within three…but that was it. The Dodgers lost, 7-4.
I could’ve cared less. I mean, I got to be there. I got to see it and imagine what it must have felt like to be a fan 50 years ago, when baseball was brand new to Southern California and many people were seeing a game for the very first time. The Dodgers came to Brooklyn three years removed from their very first World Championship and won their second in their second year at the Coliseum. I don’t know that there’s anything that can top what I saw last night for the sheer joy that it brought me.
Me, pretty much the happiest girl alive.
Oh, I almost forgot. One of my favorite moments of the night: someone started the wave, and it went around the massive stadium six times…and every time it passed the Boston and Los Angeles dugouts, the players themselves stood up and joined in. It was just that kind of night.