Monday, March 31, 2008

You had to be there...

115,300 people filed into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday night to watch an exhibition baseball game between the LA Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, setting a world’s record and requiring 115,300 designated drivers. Fans started tailgating at 8 a.m. By noon they were hammered. Guys in blue face-paint and beer is not a good combination. But for the most part the crowd had a ball and behaved themselves. There were isolated fights but if you jam 115,000 people into a Barbra Streisand concert you’re going to have violence.

I was there for almost twelve hours, hosting pre and post game radio shows on 790 KABC and avoiding the nimrod dressed like Fred Flintstone in a Dodger helmet toting around a stuffed animal. I’d bet my house he’s one of my regular callers.

The event was a one-day return to 1958 when the Dodgers first arrived in Los Angeles. They played in a football stadium for their first four seasons. The dimensions were wacky as a result. Left field was insanely short and Right field was larger than Rhode Island.

All proceeds went to “Think Cure”, a new charity the Dodgers are instituting to battle cancer. The game took in over a million dollars and the McCourts (Dodgers owners) matched it. So the event was a huge success even before the first pitch (although by that time half the crowd was so blitzed they thought they were at a Raiders game).

I arrived at noon for a 7 p.m. start. I wanted to check out the scene and soak in the color before my 4 p.m. three hour broadcast. The festivities began with “Fan Fest” – baseball related games and booths. There was a moon bounce for kids and anyone who could pass a breathalyzer test. My station, KABC hosted a pitching booth featuring a great prize. If you hit the target you got a weekend show. Oldtime players were available for autographs and who wouldn’t want their picture with Jerry Reuss?

Music was supposed to be from the 50s but I guess that meant 50 Cent. I don’t recall the Platters ever singing “The Realist Niggaz”.

My broadcast partner, Josh Suchon and I checked out the press box and walked down to the field. Seemed like a real good idea, take pictures, stand at home plate. Then I discovered there’s no elevator back to the press box. Just a thousand stairs. By the time I reached the booth I wanted to plant a flag.

Back down to “Fan Fest”. It was now 3 p.m. and I was famished. Almost fainting six times builds up a hunger. Surprisingly, there was not much there to eat. One Carl’s Jr. roach coach with a mile long line. No way I’d make my show doing that. The only alternative was a KFC across the street. Sometimes a man is faced with a tough decision. Just how starved was I? Plus, I knew if I didn’t eat now I wouldn’t have another chance for four hours.

I passed.

The team buses arrived. I don’t want to say the Coliseum’s clubhouses were wanting but the players all came in uniform.

Found our broadcast location. It was right next to the row of porta-potties. Thank God there was no wind. I co-hosted the show with KABC’s morning man, Doug McIntyre. Like me, Doug is also a TV comedy writer so we bonded over people we hate. This was the highlight of the day for me – getting to interview former Dodger greats from my misspent youth. Carl Erskine, Wally Moon, Tommy Davis, Ron Fairly, Roger Craig, Chuck Essegian, and even Joe Pignatano stopped by. And of course I don’t have to tell you who any of them are.
(Pictured: Wally Moon, Carl Erskine, your intrepid blogger, and Doug McIntyre)

How L.A. is L.A.? Roger, a Dodger peanut vendor has an autobiography out.

The gates were open an hour early and fans were able to watch both teams take batting practice. Since the Coliseum was renovated once in last fifty years the dimensions were even more absurd. Only 200 feet to Left field, which is like the length of a stretch Hummer, with a 60 foot screen. So essentially a high pop fly that didn’t come straight down was a home run. The hitters were having a field day. Boston catcher Jason Varitek took one look at the configuration and said, “Final score, Dodgers 85, Red Sox 81.”

Traffic was horrendous. In addition to this event there was a Clippers game (accounting for twelve additional cars) and the Wiggles at the Nokia Center. (I wonder how many fights there were at that show?)

After signing off I made my way up to the press box, which in the spirit of the evening was not behind home plate but way up the right field line. We had a better view of the liquor store robbery on Hoover than the game. But again, that was part of the charm.

I will say this, the pre-game ceremony was spectacular, especially the Vin Scully tribute. Vin was honored for his fifty years of broadcasting Dodger baseball and being the most beloved figure in Los Angeles since Zorro.

The Coliseum may not have had an outfield but it did have Hollywood stars. Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and Bing Crosby were regulars at the ballpark. Today’s equivalent was in attendance – Pamela Anderson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Yankee DH Billy Crystal.

When it was time to “Play Ball” a hundred thousand flash bulbs started popping. Picture Britney Spears getting out of any car. The game itself was utterly ridiculous. The Dodgers didn’t even bother playing a Left fielder. The shortstop handled that. A Red Sox player tried to steal second and was tagged out by the Center fielder. When have you ever seen a 2-8 caught stealing? As expected there were a few cheap homers over the screen. Manny Ramirez didn’t play. Too bad. He could have hit two home runs in the same at bat. I was also disappointed a pitcher didn’t play a ball off the screen.

Boston won 7-4. They should be ashamed of themselves.

I left early, hustling back to the station in time for Dodger Talk. According to the callers everyone had a great time. Even Fred gave the evening an enthusiastic “Yabba dabba doo!”

Congratulations to the Dodgers for organizing and pulling off such an enormous undertaking. It was like staging the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the Oscars, and the Matthew Levine bar mitzvah all at once.

I hope they don’t wait 50 years to do this again. Do it in 37.

(thanks to Howard Hoffman, Mike McCann, and Jon Weisman for the photos.)


Anonymous said...

I tried to listen to you on your post game show, but the web stream had Money Talk. I don't know what the deal was, with that.

Game was great to watch. By the way, did anyone tell you Fox broadcast one of the half innings in black and white...or at least as black and white as a picture can be, when it is broadcast in High Definition...

Anonymous said...

I'm dyin' to hear from other people who took advantage of the free parking and shuttle service at Dodger Stadium for this.

We got there in broad daylight, parked in order by the stadium crew, and ran to the bus to the Coliseum.

We left in the 6th (we're in L.A., okay?) and walked two miles before we found out where the buses back to Dodger Stadium were. Then the real fun: After a whole day in the sun with beer, just TRY to find your car in a darkened Dodger Stadium parking lot with NO fucking idea where you parked. I know we weren't alone. We kept bumping into the same people for 45 minutes. Many were using their remote alarms to find their cars - there was a cacophony of horns all around us. Sadly for me, my Toyota only has that meager "beep" and you have to be one car length away for it to work.

I eventually got home, proud to be part of history. Glad I got that out of my system.

VP81955 said...

To Ken: Bogie loved baseball, but I doubt he saw a game at the Coliseum since he died in January 1957.

BTW, I was at Nationals Park last night for the first regular-season game (viva Zimmerman!), and the place is fabulous. This is not your father's D.C.

Darth Weasel said...

good to see some good news out of all this. when did the Clippers expand their fan base? although 12 cars...I guess that COULD have been the players...

maven said...

Sounds like you must have been in Heaven!

Anonymous said...

Someone should tell that Flintstone impersonator that his costume is a "Yabba Dabba Don't."

Anonymous said...

I was there 50 years ago for the Roy Campanella game, part of the 93,103. I remember the amazing sight when they turned out the lights and people of those cigarette-smoking days lifted a match or a lighter. The Coliseum never heard so many oohs and ahs.

I was nine, but I also remember being grateful that Jimmy Pelletier's dad was driving us back to March AFB and not me. I wonder how many Saturday will have a similar mix of memories.

Anonymous said...

I was there 50 years ago for the Roy Campanella game, part of the 93,103. I remember the amazing sight when they turned out the lights and people of those cigarette-smoking days lifted a match or a lighter. The Coliseum never heard so many oohs and ahs.

I was nine, but I also remember being grateful that Jimmy Pelletier's dad was driving us back to March AFB and not me. I wonder how many Saturday will have a similar mix of memories.

Anonymous said...

There was almost a tender moment in the radio coverage of the night. Some broadcaster was tryng to thank his own Dad for taking a little kid to the ballpark and giving him a lifetime love of the Dodgers. Thank God the announcer's partner was there to quash the emotion mid-story by saying "and then he took you, right? Ha ha."

Timing. Also thank God the announcer was a pro and didn't choke his numbskull partner on the air

Anonymous said...

Get that man a cheeseburger! STAT!

Richard Cooper said...

If I had known exactly where you were in the Coliseum, I would have alerted a few USC bruisers across the street as to your skinny UCLA whereabouts.

i could be a bob said...

Sounds like the Dodger Shuttle from the stadium parking was NOT a great success. This blog has some comments on what it was like for 115K people getting to the park.

This is why I wanted no part of going to the game on Saturday. And as Angel said- it was very cool of Ch9 broadcasting the game in B&W for an inning or so.

ajm said...

Attendance of March 29th Dodgers/Red Sox game: 115,300

Attendance of St. Louis Browns, entire 1935 season: 80,922

Anonymous said...

I thought the girl dressed up like Manny Ramirez was bad, but I'm thinking the caveman guy would've made Gypsy Boots cringe.

Tom Quigley said...

I wonder if anyone ran into some people wearing silver and black who'd been sitting in the Coliseum since 1996, still waiting for the Raiders to return to LA?....

Anonymous said...

You've got to admit there's a certain irony about the Dodgers staging a night to honor their 1958 debut in Los Angeles and having it also be the first game in L.A. with the team being led by their new manager ... from Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

I envy you getting to talk with Ron Fairly. He was a wonderful broadcaster here in Seattle. And his replacement is, well, awful. If you see him again, please tell him that he is sorely missed.