The Week That Was and Is
The weeks before and after the start of the baseball season are two of my favorites for a number of reasons:
1. Opening Day: It should be made a national holiday, don't you think? Baseball fans are worthless at work anyway and the non-fans would warmly embrace another three-day weekend.
2. Fantasy Baseball Draft: My friends and I hold it on the Sunday evening that has become the Opening Night of the season. Preparing for it is as much fun as the draft itself.
3. Angels-Dodgers Freeway Series: Sure, these games are nothing more than exhibitions but, hey, they are held in Anaheim and Los Angeles rather than Phoenix and Vero Beach (soon to be Glendale, AZ). I usually go to at least one of these games every year, and this series reminds me that the beginning of the regular season is at hand.
4. NCAA Final Four: My interest in college hoops has waned a bit over the years but there was a time not long ago when I went to four consecutive Final Fours (San Antonio, St. Petersburg, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis). What I remember the most is that Michigan State made it to the finals for the latter three years. [Oh, did I mention that I went to a Tigers-Yankees spring training game in Tampa in 1999? Whatever became of Matt Anderson anyway? Was he really the No. 1 pick overall?]
5. Masters: My favorite golf tournament of the year, by far. I know every hole on the back nine almost as if I were a member, but, unfortunately, I don't have a green jacket in my closet. I watch all four majors on TV and enjoy the Masters about as much as any other single event in the sporting world, including, yes, the World Series.
I guess I could also mention the Long Beach Grand Prix (cough, cough), which takes place this weekend. My office building is in downtown Long Beach. Aargh! Hey, if you like noise, this is the sport for you.
In any event, the week that was and is was made all the more special this year by hanging out with Rob Neyer for a couple of nights. Read on . . .
Thursday, March 27
Via an email exchange, I learned that Rob was going to be in town to cover the Red Sox-Dodgers game at the Coliseum on Saturday evening. With an extra ticket in hand for the Dodgers-Angels exhibiiton at Anaheim Stadium on Thursday, I asked Rob if he would like to join my brother Tom, nephew Brett, and me in the front row behind the Halos dugout. He gladly accepted and the four of us met at my home in Long Beach prior to the game.
Knowing that Rob was working on a story about the Coliseum, I pulled out my Dad's scrapbooks (which include every article he wrote as the Dodgers beat writer for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from 1958-1968) and spiral-bound stat books. Rob and I leafed through the 1958 clippings. Rob would stop me from time to time and take some notes, one of which he used in an article two days later:
Indeed, in March 1958, the following headline appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram: "Knee Fine, Duke Says; Sets Homer Goal at 30." Inside George Lederer's article, Snider said, "I hope I can hit nine or 10 in the Coliseum and another 20 on the road."
After 45 minutes or so, we decided to head for the ballpark in Tom's SUV. We walked down the aisle to our seats just as the game was starting. Rob kept score and I played amateur scout with my stop watch, timing batters from home to first and catchers' throws from home to second. (Trust me, Juan Rivera is s-l-o-w.) The four of us talked baseball throughout the game, as well as in the car to and from the stadium. One of the players we talked about was Howie Kendrick. I said he reminded me of Bill Madlock and Rob concurred. Brett is an avid Angels and Kendrick fan and the two of us made the following bet for dinner: If Kendrick bats over .320, I lose; if Kendrick bats under .320, I win. By my way of thinking, that bet doesn't leave Brett with much room for error. I mean, what is he likely to hit if he does well? .325? .330? Well, as much as I like Howie, I think it's more likely that he hits somewhere between .300 and .320.
Rob made a few observations about Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Brandon Wood in the next day's Friday Filberts. Rob also has Monday Mendozas, Tuesday Taters, and Wednesday Wangdoodles for his link-o-ramas . . . every weekday except Thursday. As we were walking out of the ballpark, I suggested Thursday Throneberrys. I guess it could be Throneberries but that doesn't really work, especially since there were two Throneberrys: Marv and Faye. Rob said he would name it in honor of Faye if he went with it because Marv has already gotten his due.
My brother dropped Rob and me off at the house after the game and the two of us talked baseball while he snacked on strawberries and grapes. Already deprived of sleep, Rob left for his hotel near LAX well after midnight. He spent part of Friday touring the Coliseum, and we hooked up once again on Saturday.
Saturday, March 29
Rob, Tom, and I were three of the record 115,300 fans in attendance (a number that I'm sure will grow to a quarter of a million or so in the years to come). We picked up Rob and drove to the Coliseum without tapping the brakes once on the Harbor Freeway. Traffic and parking were a breeze. However, that was not the case for everyone. A husband and wife sitting directly below Tom and me arrived in the fourth inning because it took them three hours to get from Dodger Stadium to the Coliseum on the "free" shuttle. Worse yet, the couple left in the sixth inning because they didn't want to repeat the mistake going home.
The photo above was taken with my iPhone from our seats on the third base side in Aisle 14, Row 67. It captures the Red Sox defense with left fielder Bobby Kielty positioned in left center, center fielder Coco Crisp in right center, and Jacoby Ellsbury in right. The Dodgers employed a slightly different defense with center fielder Andruw Jones playing directly behind second base and recording a 2-8 putout when Russell Martin threw out Ellsbury stealing second. Shortstops Julio Lugo and Rafael Furcal ran down a couple of hits in the left-field corner (positioned just 201 feet from home plate with a 60-foot high screen vs. the 1958-61 era of 251' and 42').
When Dad was covering the Dodgers, our family seats were in Aisle 13 (one aisle to the right) in the first row behind what was then the press box, which was situated almost on top of the field. Even though I was only 6 years old during the Dodgers last season at the Coliseum, I have some fond memories, including the pre-game activities staged by players against the lowly Philadelphia Phillies (such as milking cows, egg-tossing events, fungo-hitting contests, and catchers throwing balls through a barrel at second base). Dem were the days, my friends. Heck, I even caught my first ball at the Coliseum but had it stolen after the game by another kid who grabbed it out my hand and ran away.
Oh yes, the Red Sox beat the Dodgers 7-4 that night. Kevin Cash, Kevin Youkilis, James Loney, and Blake DeWitt hit home runs. Loney's was a "Moon shot" over the screen in left field. The game was as much about ThinkCure charity with plenty of pomp and circumstance as anything else, but it was fun to be there. For a second opinion, check out Jon Weisman's post at Dodger Thoughts, complete with 18 additional photos ranging from the line for the shuttle to the pre-game festivities to different angles inside the Coliseum.
I will resume my week that was and is tomorrow, including the results of my fantasy baseball draft. See you then.