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'A baseball Woodstock'

Exhibition at L.A. Coliseum promises wacky flashback

Posted: Wednesday March 26, 2008 3:57PM; Updated: Wednesday March 26, 2008 4:03PM
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The Dodgers played in the L.A. Coliseum from 1958-61.
The Dodgers played in the L.A. Coliseum from 1958-61.
John G. Zimmerman/SI
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Nearly 115,000 people have bought tickets to see a baseball game. An exhibition baseball game.

Which goes to show you: For all the hoary clichés about the poetry of baseball, when it comes to something brilliantly weird and trippy, fans can't wait to get their taste.

Two weeks after taking baseball to another continent with a pair of exhibition games against the San Diego Padres in China, the Los Angeles Dodgers are participating in another bold journey: taking baseball back in time. On Saturday, they will step out of their beloved Dodger Stadium habitat for a pretend game at their original West Coast home: the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a venue ill-suited for baseball then and iller-suited now.

And with the transcendent lure of bad traffic, bad parking, bad seats and utter meaninglessness as far as the standings go (even though the regular season will have already started for the Dodgers' opponents, the Boston Red Sox, in Japan of all places), more human beings will venture inside the Coliseum peristyle than have ever been to any single baseball game.

"This is more of an event than it is a game," Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner said. "It sounds a little grandiose, but it is kind of like a baseball Woodstock. People are coming to be there not necessarily for the outcome of the game. It's a celebration."

This much is true. The Dodgers are marking their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles, and though the team hasn't had as much to celebrate since Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser led the squad to a 1988 World Series title, the opportunity to relive the entire Southern California era brings a well of fond memories for Dodger fans new and old (just not too old, because then you get into the bitter, abandoned Brooklyn fan base).

But there are more reasons Saturday's attendance is going to make the Guinness Book of World Records besides an anniversary, or a chance for Boston expatriates to get a glimpse of the Sox players as they make their way back from the Far East to the nearer East (the Red Sox and Dodgers first play at Dodger Stadium on Friday).

After the team sold approximately 95,000 Coliseum seats in a flash early this year -- a significant number purchased by those who correctly gambled that their resale value would be high -- an additional 20,000 standing room seats went on the market. All but a sliver of those have been grabbed, leading to attendance estimates for Saturday of between 113,000 and 115,000. This would smash the previous baseball attendance record, set May 7, 1959, at the Coliseum when 93,103 came to an exhibition game to honor paralyzed Dodger catcher Roy Campanella. (Baseball's non-exhibition attendance record was also set in the same spot, when 92,706 saw Game 5 of the World Series.)

For fans of the Dodgers and baseball in general, the Coliseum game really serves as a trip back to an almost exotic past. Ballparks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park offer a continuous timeline back 100 years, give or take, but the Coliseum game is an all-or-nothing trip back in Dr. Brown's souped-up De Lorean.

In effect, the Dodgers are opening up a time capsule this weekend.

As it was half a century ago, the Coliseum's unique dimensions will turn the sport into an arcade game, at least for right-handed pull hitters and lefties who can go the other way, like the facility's most famous hitter, Wally Moon. From 1958-1961, when the Dodgers played their home games there while Dodger Stadium was being built, the distance from home plate to center field was usually 420 feet, but to left it was 250 feet with a 40-foot screen. That long-ago era, with its mind-boggling geometry, has fascinated Dodger fans of subsequent generations.

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