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115,300 experience the event of a lifetime

The Dodgers return to the Coliseum for one day

Most baseball fans weren't around when the Dodgers ended their four-year run in the LA Coliseum in 1961. After moving from Brooklyn following the 1957 season, the team needed a home field while Dodger Stadium was being designed and built in nearby Chavez Ravine. The historic and spacious Coliseum fit the bill, and the Dodgers drew enormous crowds while playing there through '61.

Since that time, though, baseball hadn't been played here. In fact, the track that ran around the football field had been removed in 1993, allowing the sideline seats for gridiron games to be moved much closer to the field of play. The decision to do this was a no-brainer, since the stadium's second go-round with the summer Olympics was behind them, and the demands of USC football fans (and the NFL's Raiders from 1982 through 1994) to be closer to the action could be accommodated.

Now that there were seats on what used to be the running track, the ability to squeeze a baseball field into the Coliseum was tremendously more difficult than when the Dodgers played there through 1961. And it was plenty difficult, even back then, as the left-field foul pole was only 251 feet from home plate, necessitating a 42-foot-high screen above the left-field fence to keep short fly balls from becoming home runs.

But where there's a will, there's a way. As a way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' move to Southern California, the team decided to return to the Coliseum for a very special exhibition game on March 29th. Not only would it raise over a million dollars for cancer research, it would also be an enormous treat for Dodger fans who'd never had the opportunity to see their team play in the Coliseum. And it would attract ballpark nuts (including yours truly) from all over the country to get to see a baseball game in a place that hadn't hosted the sport in 46 years.

And, of course, there was the allure of being part of the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game. True, the announced attendance of 115,300 represented the number of tickets sold, not the number of bodies inside the place, but the number is stunning nonetheless.

Join us now for a pictorial tour of that once-in-a-lifetime event.

Lots of time to kill

Even though the first pitch wasn't scheduled until 7:10 p.m., tens of thousands of fans congregated outside of the Coliseum, waiting for the gates to open at 4:00. Knowing this, the Dodgers put on a "fan fest" type of event in Exposition Park, which is adjacent to the stadium.

The fans were really into this event. They seemed to be genuinely excited to be part of the largest crowd ever to see a baseball game.

The cause that benefited from the ticket revenue is ThinkCure, the charity operated by the Dodgers. As its name implies, it funds research to fight cancer and to benefit cancer victims, particularly young people battling the disease at the City of Hope and Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. It is hard to imagine a more worthy cause. You can learn more, as well as make donations, at www.thinkcure.org.

Think spring, think cure, but watch basketball

The gathering of children's activities, vendors and entertainers was called the Think Spring, Think Cure Baseball Festival. You didn't have to pay anything to access the area, which was nice. There were plenty of activities to keep you occupied -- including waiting in line for autographs (see below) -- but the highlight of the afternoon came when the team buses rolled up the drive next to the park.

Out poured all of the players and coaches from both the Dodgers and Red Sox, the two teams competing in the main event that evening. They crowded onto a stage at the west end of the Festival area, and fans quickly rushed to get close to the stage.

Short speeches were made by Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife, both managers, and Southern California native Nomar Garciaparra. To me, the high point was hearing new Dodger manager Joe Torre. In noting that it was particularly appropriate that the Red Sox were the opponents that day, since their Jimmy Fund provided a perfect model for the Dodgers to follow in forming the Think Cure foundation, Torre referred to the visitors from New England as, "the Boston Red Sox -- I mean, the World Champion Boston Red Sox. Somehow it doesn't hurt as much to say that as it used to!" As baseball fans everywhere know, Torre -- one of baseball's great class acts -- was the manager of the Yankees until he was summarily forced out by the egotistical Steinbrenner family last fall.

In the picture on the left above, Torre is warmly greeting his former nemesis Terry Francona, Boston's manager. I had the strong impression that the Dodger organization truly appreciated the fact that the Red Sox agreed to participate in this event.

Following the short speeches on the stage, many of the fans turned their attention to another sporting event of prime importance to Southern California: UCLA's basketball game in the NCAA tournament. Organizers of the event rightly assumed that there would be strong interest in the game, as TVs were installed at various points for fans to catch the action. The biggest screen was erected right in front of the main gates into the Coliseum itself (above right). Interestingly, after the gates opened, that large screen was turned around so fans inside the gates could watch.

Lines to sign

One facet of the pre-game events that received quite a bit of promotion was the fact that fans would be able to obtain autographs from former players. Indeed, Rick Monday (below left) was at a table signing copies of his book Tales from the Dodger Dugout, and anything else that fans wanted autographed.

A table with several former players was located at the northwest corner of the Festival area. Here fans could wait in line to obtain autographs of four former Dodgers, all in a row. When I took the picture above, the four were Kenny Landreaux (closest to the camera, signing a bat), Roger Craig, Tommy Davis and Jerry Reuss.

As one fan exited the area with the four players, I asked him how long he'd waited in line to obtain signatures of the four players. "Two-and-a-half hours," he replied with a grunt. And the line was much longer then than when he got in it.

Lines, you see, were the order of the day. Lines at the gates, at the bathrooms, lines at the concession stands, lines for autographs, etc., etc. I guess long lines are unavoidable when you sell 115,300 tickets for an event!

Go to Page 2 of the Coliseum photo essay