Dodgers to mark 50th anniversary in L.A. with game in Coliseum
LOS ANGELES -- When people talk about baseball played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, most point to May 7, 1959, as a highlight. That was the night 93,103 fans honored Roy Campanella by lighting matches and cigarette lighters as Pee Wee Reese pushed him in his wheelchair toward home plate in the fifth inning.
"Roy was so proud of that," said his former teammate, Don Newcombe, who was in Japan that night and missed the exhibition game between the Dodgers and New York Yankees. "He talked about it.
"He was proud of it. He was my roommate. He was my buddy. Same as I miss Jackie [Robinson], I miss Roy."
On Monday, the Dodgers announced that, in honor of their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles, they will play an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at the Coliseum on March 29.
The field will be reconfigured as close as possible to the original playing dimensions, meaning there will be a 42-foot screen in left field about 250 feet from home plate that players must clear for a home run.
Former Dodger Wally Moon took advantage and hit 49 home runs, nicknamed "Moon Shots," over the screen.
A host of former Dodgers greats -- including Newcombe, Maury Wills and Tommy Lasorda -- joined politicians, new Los Angeles manager Joe Torre, general manager Ned Colletti, owner Frank McCourt and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner outside the stadium's peristyle entrance to announce the game.
"We always knew the Dodgers would return to the Coliseum before the NFL," Coliseum Commission Vice president David Israel quipped.
The field was marked for soccer, and soon it would be chalked for Saturday's USC-UCLA football game. But that didn't stop people from gazing at the field and recalling their favorite moments.
Newcombe told of a June 21, 1959, game when he pitched for the Cincinnati Reds against the Dodgers. After reaching first base for one of the six times that day, Newcombe, his team leading 17-1 at the time, told Dodgers first baseman Frank Howard that the next time he came up, Newcombe would throw him a batting-practice-speed pitch and give him a chance to see how far he could hit it.
"I think he hit it 578 feet. It went 14 rows from leaving the park," Newcombe said.
The Reds won 17-3 as Newcombe threw a complete game and drove in four runs.
Maury Wills hit his first of just 20 major league home runs on Aug. 6, 1961 at the Coliseum. It came on his 1,167th at-bat, so he didn't really have a home-run trot. He sped past first base before realizing the ball cleared the screen and saw the fans on their feet cheering. He tried to go into a trot and almost tripped over second base.
"I get home, expecting my teammates to meet me on the top step of the dugout," Wills said, "But instead, they're all lying on the ground like they had fainted."
McCourt said the game's proceeds will benefit the official Dodgers charity, ThinkCure, a partnership with two local cancer charities and the McCourt family.
"There are generations of Angelenos who have grown up as Dodger fans and never had the opportunity to experience a game at the Coliseum," McCourt said. "This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans to connect with the history of their beloved franchise and support an incredible cause."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press