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MIKE DOWNEY

He's Seen Gopher Balls, but This Was Ridiculous

May 27, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

I often write about animals. I write about fast horses. I write about rodeo bulls and sled dogs. I write about rams, bears, razorbacks, bruins, penguins, tigers, lions and mighty ducks. I have written about a chicken from San Diego, about a St. Bernard from Cincinnati and about what a football coach in Mississippi had done to an unlucky steer.

But this, this is a new one.

At a Dodger-Cub baseball contest Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, the game was interrupted on account of possum.

Fourth inning, tough situation. Onto the diamond something runs. It is moving quickly, so it can't be a turtle. It is really hustling, so it can't be a Cub. It is really funny-looking, so it could be a sportswriter.

The TV cameras zoom in on it. Four-legged creature, pointy ears, pointy tail. Is it a mouse? No. A chihuahua? No. Is it the illegitimate offspring of the Phillie Phanatic? No.

I am mystified.

"Possum," someone says.

I dig the wax from my ears.

"Possum?" I ask.

Someone nonchalantly says, "Sure." Like, you know, you see possums in the National League West every day.

I am mortified.

Last time I saw a creature this ugly in a ballpark, Dave Kingman had sent somebody in the press box a live rat. Man, that was the ugliest creature I had ever seen.

Not the rat. Kingman.

"Is this Possum Night?" I inquire. "Did the Dodgers pass out possums to the first 50,000 paying customers?"

Don't think so, someone says.

"Didn't Vince Coleman once throw a possum into some Dodger fans?" I suggest.

Could be, someone says.

I wonder what the Dodgers should do. What do you do about a pesky possum problem? Call Orkin? Call Terminix? Buy that really, really, really large can of Raid?

A man begins chasing the possum across the outfield grass. He is wearing a Dodger blue jacket. Perhaps he is the team's new director of possum personnel.

No, someone says. Look, it's Kevin Gross, fine Dodger pitcher.

Kevin is crossing the field, in hot possum pursuit. He is lugging what appears to be an egg crate. It must be a container used to hold baseballs during batting practice. Either that or it is Tom Lasorda's takeout tray from lunch.

Ah ah, Kevin intends to imprison the possum. The crate is his trap. He will drop it atop the possum, like Elmer Fudd tying a string to a box while out hunting rabbit.

The pitcher gets his possum. Gross lowers the boom. To warm applause, he then returns to the dugout, leaving the helpless animal in baseball-crate jail.

A clubhouse attendant comes out.

Someone says: "Did you notice that the rich pitcher does the hunting, then lets the poor clubhouse guy dispose of the hide?"

I say: "Twenty-three other possums will probably run out of the other dugout now and start a brawl."

But wait.

The possum isn't helpless after all.

He tunnels out from under, like Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. It is the greatest escape I have ever seen at a Dodger game, with the possible exception of Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson.

My mind races.

Where did he come from? Does Chavez Ravine have a large possum population? Did it sneak through the dugout or come down the aisle? If it came down the aisle, why didn't an usher ask to look at its ticket stub? Whenever I sneak down there, some usher demands to see mine.

The possum makes for the gap in left center. The clubhouse guy is right behind him, toting the crate. The jumbo scoreboard is capturing every bit of the action. It is funny, funny stuff, funnier even than Kal Daniels circling under a fly ball.

At last, he gives himself up. The old possum suicide squeeze.

Gross is back in the dugout, demanding to renegotiate his contract. He wants a $25,000 bonus for being an All-Star, $50,000 for winning the Cy Young Award and $100,000 if he traps the Triple Crown, a possum, a skunk and a gopher.

The possum is taken into the bullpen, which is probably better than taking a bull into a possum pen.

Lasorda says later he may use it again in pinch-running situations.

I say a possum isn't too expensive to keep, doesn't eat much, doesn't do much, knows how to play dead. Which means it will probably end up in San Diego.

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