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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Marching to a different drummer at Dodger Stadium

The Dodgers have been occasionally brilliant, occasionally repellent and consistently entertaining this season. On this night, they get an assist from the USC Trojan Marching Band.

September 17, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

My favorite new yoga position -- you should try this -- is slanted kind of sideways in a loge-level seat, a bag of peanuts balanced on my knee, a foamy beverage in my left hand like a six-gun. This position stretches the torso and loosens the hamstrings. A couple of innings like this and you'll feel like a new man -- or a new woman, if that's your preference. Honestly, I can't recommend this yoga stuff enough.

It's a good season to stay loose, we all know that. The Dodgers are obviously saving their best for the playoffs, which makes these next 15 games sort of a chore for purists like you and me. So it goes. Pay now, pay later, that's my motto. Like the government, I don't mind shelling out money on inconsequential things.

Anyway, we're here in the loge level at Dodger Stadium on one of those cool September nights that function as foreplay for the glories of October. This is shaping up as the most interesting Dodgers season in decades -- occasionally brilliant, occasionally repellent, always entertaining.

In quiet moments alone, I still laugh at the memory of Manny Ramirez tackling Matt Kemp during the Arizona series two weeks back. You probably had to be there to fully appreciate the majesty of the moment. One of the Diamondbacks, doesn't matter who, clubs a screaming high fly to center. It rises so high, it clears the stadium lights, invisible to the human eye.

Right about then, Manny decides to sprint to center field -- "Don't worry, Matthew, I got it!" -- but at the last moment, the guy's internal GPS seems to go haywire. Manny does a little box step, then backs up into Kemp, knocking him for a seven-yard loss. Kemp, in perhaps his most impressive play of the year, snares the ball while falling messiah-like to the ground. Got it. No problem, bro.

Speaking of football, I am sitting tonight with the USC Trojan Marching Band, those brats in spats who seem to know only two songs. They play them over and over, but exceedingly well. It drives the other team crazy, how loud and well they play these two songs. Eventually, the opponent gives up and goes home.

That's what happened Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, the brass section wearing down those Buckeyes. Arthur C. Bartner, who has led this band since the invention of grass itself, says he has never heard a louder crowd than at Ohio State, contradicting Coach Pete Carroll, who said a game a while back at Virginia Tech was actually louder.

"I was at Virginia Tech, and this was louder," Bartner insists. "Of course, I don't want to contradict Coach Carroll."

Nobody wants to do that. Carroll has become the don't-worry, be-happy face of California itself. His "winning can be fun" philosophy ought to be bottled and mailed to every knucklehead coach in America.

Of course, life is full of heartache and injustice -- Kanye West teaches us that -- so at some point Carroll will bolt for fresh challenges. That's just the kind of guy he is, I suspect. Thankfully, we have him and this Camelot till then.

Thankfully too we have this great marching band, which has a mystique all its own. It's everywhere, this funny philharmonic. Last year, it played the Oscars and the Grammys. It has shown up on "Dr. Phil" and in the movie "The Naked Gun." As a rule, I'm not in favor of naked things, unless it involves guns and bands.

On this night, about 100 musicians from the 300-plus member band strut out from center field to play the anthem, then take their seats in Aisle 152 of Dodger Stadium, where I ask them questions like "Come on, do sports really build character?" and "Are peanuts a vegetable or a fruit?"

This last one stumps the brats in spats. Yet I like them. I used to be able to squeeze a snarky column out of just about anything, but this band defies me. They are sweet, earnest, engaging. What's up with that? The university really ought to police this kind of behavior, before it changes USC's core image.

In fact, I'm completely charmed by these kids. Janelle Patterson, a junior, tells how her mother secretly signed her up for marching band, even though she had no experience. Drum major Kenny Morris talks about how so many fans request photo ops that it takes him 40 minutes to walk a quarter-mile on game day. Scott Spongberg says he has played on 15 drum lines, from high school through college.

Not a punk among them, unfortunately, though I confess I didn't talk to every single kid. In hindsight, a couple of the tuba players looked as if they could've used a shave and a carwash.

So, children of Troy, there is always room for improvement. In the meantime, keep an eye on your esteemed conductor. He threw out the first pitch Monday night for a solid strike. As of this morning, he looked to be the Dodgers' fifth starter.

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Erskine also writes the "Man of the House" column in Saturday's Home section.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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