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Baseball from another dimension

Dodgers and fans, a record 115,300 strong, revisit their history in a quirkier-than-ever Coliseum.

March 30, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

They closed left field.

Not officially, of course. But, for all the giddy delight and choreographed ceremony in the Dodgers' return to their ancestral home Saturday, the left fielders themselves demonstrated the oddity of baseball in the Coliseum -- by vacating their position in favor of deployments most commonly seen in slow-pitch softball.

In more of a civic festival than a sporting event, the Dodgers attracted what they announced as a world record for a baseball game -- 115,300 -- to an exhibition game against the World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

"I don't know if it can get much cooler than this," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said.

For the first generation of Los Angeles fans, this was homecoming. For those who followed, this was history come to life. Of the thousands of memories created, the final score will be the one that fades the quickest.

For the record, the Red Sox won, 7-4, powered by a three-run home run from catcher Kevin Cash and a two-run shot from first baseman Kevin Youkilis. For the Dodgers, James Loney homered over the 60-foot screen in left field, and Blake DeWitt homered too.

When the Dodgers set up temporary shop in the Coliseum from 1958 to 1961, a track surrounded the football field, so left field ran a cozy 250 feet. The track is gone now, and on Saturday left field ran a Lilliputian 201 feet.

In the Little League World Series, left field runs 225 feet.

Martin glanced at the Coliseum alignment and teased his slap-hitting teammate.

"This might be the only place Juan Pierre could go opposite-field home run," he said.

Before the game, left fielder Andre Ethier joked about playing free safety.

"Fine," Manager Joe Torre said. "Make sure you have a beacon out there."

When the game started, Ethier took center field, with center fielder Andruw Jones moving behind second base to form a five-man infield. And not just for show: Jones covered second base when Martin threw out Jacoby Ellsbury trying to steal -- that's 2-8 in your scorebook.

The Red Sox played their outfielders in left-center, right-center and right. So, when Rafael Furcal hit a grounder past third base, Boston shortstop Julio Lugo chased the ball a few dozen feet into the corner and held Furcal to a single. Later, when Matt Kemp one-hopped the left-field wall, Boston shortstop Alex Cora retrieved the ball and held Kemp to a single.

There were fans everywhere -- in actual seats, on cement slabs in the peristyle end, standing behind a temporary fence that separated right field from the rest of the grass.

The Dodgers posed for pictures on the stairs Rafer Johnson ascended to light the Olympic torch in 1984, then the team dressed in the USC football locker room.

"It's neat," Kemp said. "This is history, knowing that O.J. Simpson and Reggie Bush and all those guys were here. It's cool to see this place.

"There are so many things that happened here. The Coliseum means a lot to the city of Los Angeles."

So do the Dodgers, given the enthusiasm that greeted a game that counted for nothing, except a glorious start to the team's summer celebration of 50 years in Los Angeles.

"It's bringing the spirit of the Dodgers alive again," owner Frank McCourt said. "This is the awakening of a sleeping giant. This is Dodgertown."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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