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Dan Shaughnessy

Another dimension to Sox trip

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 30, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Boston baseball's dual-hemisphere, season-opening tour continued last night as the Red Sox and Dodgers played an exhibition at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of more people (115,300 tickets were sold before yesterday) than had ever seen a major league baseball game.

"Are they serious about this?" Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon asked when he got his first look at the makeshift left-field fence 201 feet from home plate. "Oh, my God. Guess we better keep the ball away."

"We gonna play here?" asked David Ortiz, standing alongside Papelbon. "No way."

It's the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn, and the club invited the Sox to be part of retro night at the football/Olympic site where the erstwhile Bums played their first four seasons in LA.

In the wake of the weeklong trip to Japan, the Sox are pretty tired of "appearances" and meet-and-greet sessions with well-meaning sponsors, fans, and foreign dignitaries; it's hard to keep those frozen smiles going after a while - a guy can only be nice for so long. But the Sox thus far have endured.

"Hey, it's for charity," said manager Terry Francona before the Sox' 7-4 victory. "But I know I could hit that wall [the 60-foot 'screen monster'] here, and there's not many places I can say that."

The Sox' day started early. They dressed at Dodger Stadium, then rode in two buses (trailing two buses of Dodgers) to the Coliseum, arriving at 3 in the afternoon.

While the Sox were en route, Fan Fest was under way outside the Coliseum. Duke Snider and Carl Erskine signed autographs while Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon performed his epic, "Palisades Park." Apparently Dodgers choreographer Dr. Charles Steinberg wasn't able to get the Kingston Trio.

Waiting for the Dodgers and Sox, fans posed with LA's World Series trophies from 1981 and 1988. Hard to believe people from Boston would ever be able to make fun of another team, but it's been 20 years since Kirk Gibson and friends stunned the Oakland A's in five games.

Upon arrival, both teams spilled out of their buses and manned a stage in the middle of the Dodgers' lawn party outside the stadium walls. It was a sea of blue. In a rare departure from the standard dynamic across America, much-traveled Red Sox Nation did not overtake the Dodger celebration.

"Terry, thank you for sweeping the Angels," a fan shouted as Francona took the stage.

When a "Yankees Suck" chanted broke out, Steinberg said, "That's one thing Brooklyn Dodger fans, Los Angeles Dodger fans, and Red Sox fans all agree on."

"We're pleased and honored to be part of this historic event," Francona told the crowd. "Thank you for allowing us to be part of this."

The Dodgers' Nomar Garciaparra addressed the crowd, then their manager, Joe Torre, took the mike and said, "There's not a better way to do this than against the Boston Red Sox . . . excuse me, the world champion Boston Red Sox. For some reason, it doesn't bother me to say that anymore."

After the brief ceremony, players walked through the crowd and entered the Coliseum under the fabled stone arch that sits beneath the Olympic torch. Getting their first look at the kooky dimensions, players giggled like seventh-graders when the history teacher doesn't know his fly is open. There were jokes about arena football, night golf, and slow-pitch softball.

We were all sad that Manny Ramírez was not scheduled to start in left field. The possibilities seemed endless.

"Why aren't you pitching tonight," someone asked Derek Lowe.

"I give up enough [expletive] home runs already," said the one-time Sox 20-game winner.

"I played here when I was 20 years old," said Torre. "I caught [for the Milwaukee Braves], I hit off Koufax, I skimmed the screen on the way down, and the other at-bats were 0 for 10. Sandy always said that when you stood on the mound and looked at home plate to third base, you could swear that third base to the wall wasn't as far."

The Coliseum gates opened at 4:10 and fans flocked to the rails (no easy task in a 92-row oval) to watch both teams take batting practice. Ortiz was the star of BP, launching well over a dozen shots over the 440-foot fence in right.

Charley Steiner was master of ceremonies and said it was hard to resist telling the crowd to "stay away from the brown acid." Wally Moon, who perfected the inside-out swing to hit 37 homers at the Coliseum, threw a ceremonial first pitch after a stirring anthem by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. of The Fifth Dimension (who probably hadn't been seen by this many people since their last appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show"). The place was just about full when the Dodgers took the field.

The Dodgers didn't even bother with a left fielder. Torre went with a five-man infield. Francona had Bobby Kielty in left but when Rafael Furcal led with a double down the line, the ball was fielded in the corner by shortstop Julio Lugo. It really had the feel of backyard Wiffle ball. Kevin Youkilis dropped a 300-foot homer over the Screen Monster in the third. In the fourth, Jacoby Ellsbury was caught stealing, 2-8, center fielder Andruw Jones taking the throw. Pretty sure we had the largest crowd wave in baseball history, including players on both benches.

There were a lot of ceremonial first pitches, spaced throughout the game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's toss hit the grass halfway to home plate, so he got a do-over and lofted a sky hook to Russell Martin. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who donated all proceeds to ThinkCure - a Jimmy Fund spinoff created last summer - said, "It is hard to find words to describe this. This season is one big birthday party for our team and this is one of the marquee events of the year. It makes me think of my grandfather and his involvement with the Boston Braves. I'm sure a lot of people are thinking about their grandfathers today."

In the sixth, the Olympic torch was lit and fans held up lights, which had been left under their seats. It was part of a ThinkCure flag unveiling and reminded many of the May 1959 exhibition when they turned out the Coliseum lights and fans lit matches as Roy Campanella, who had been paralyzed in a car crash, was wheeled toward home plate by Pee Wee Reese.

There were 93,103 fans on hand the night Campanella was honored. Tomorrow, the Dodgers will be in touch with the Guinness Book of World Records to certify that last night's gathering was the largest crowd to attend a baseball game.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, behind the mike for 59 years with the Dodgers, looked at the scene from high atop the Coliseum and said, "It seems freakish now, but we came here and we played, and in the second year, the games became very exciting and everything was fine. I imagine the players tonight are asking, 'How could they possibly have played here,' but they played here and they played very well."

They played one more time last night. Making memories and history.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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