Coliseum Party

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed on KCRW.

Now that I've written books about Los Angeles history, I sometimes get labeled a historian. I'm still not used to it. You mean me, I wonder, looking around to see who they really mean.

I guess, though, on some level I qualify. I am a member of that strange, semi-endangered fraternity the textbooks call Los Angeles native.

And I'm just old enough to have lived through some of what people here call...history.

So I won't be taking part in this weekend's massive exercise in Los Angeles nostalgia.

On Saturday afternoon, as many a hundred and fifteen thousand people plan to cram into the old Coliseum.

Twenty thousand of them won't even have seats. They just want to be at the party.

I totally I get it.

It's spring -- and it's the Dodgers and Red Sox. Baseball played in the place and manner that Angelenos grew accustomed to when the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn to christen LA a major league city.

From 1958 to 61 the Dodgers played in the old Olympic stadium. In '59, they even won a couple of World Series games there.

Isn't a football field the wrong shape, you ask? Well, yes it is. The goofiest baseball field you ever saw was scrunched down onto a corner of the Coliseum turf.

There was way too much grass left over along third base and in right field. Not enough in left, where the outfielder stood so close to the shortstop they could chat.

The shape will be even goofier for Saturday's game. The Coliseum floor has shrunk since the 50's, so the left field fence will loom just 200 feet from the batter.

At that distance, Dodgers noodle arm Juan Pierre might even be able to throw somebody out. Or hit a homerun.

When I explained the layout to my daughter, her gut reaction was, you can't have baseball without a diamond. She had less interest in going than I did.

I've got no problem with the irregular dimensions. Or that it's a charity event tacked on the end of spring training. I wouldn't even mind the traffic, which could be a real mess.

No, it's more that I prefer to remember Coliseum baseball in monochrome black and white. As a young boy, seeing Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Duke Snider in real life for the first time.

Frozen malts melting in the sun. Vendors hawking peanuts. Spying curiously on the first African Americans this kid from the suburbs had ever seen out of uniform.

The Coliseum is where I experienced my first flawless double-play -- Ken Boyer to Julian Javier to some first baseman I can't name. Pure beauty.

And where I learned to be a Dodger fan and hate the Giants.

Those precious senses are fading fast, and I fear they might vanish altogether in the digital dazzle planned for the party.

But I bet that most who go have a great time. It will be kind of like a baseball Woodstock, Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner says. A happening.

Blogger Jon Weisman wrote for Sports Illustrated that the fans crave something brilliantly weird and trippy – and momentous. It will be the biggest crowd to ever see a baseball game in person.

Something else is going on too, I think. Angelenos spend too much time in mutual isolation – at home, in our cars, at work. When an occasion to spend time together comes along that is safe and cool, we celebrate.

You see it along the route of the Marathon. At UCLA during the Book Festival. On a smaller scale, it's why people cruise the Grove or hang at Starbucks. We're starved here for community.

It's part of the reason Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers real home, will be rocking on Monday for the start of the real baseball season.

That's where I'll be celebrating, not with the ghosts of Johnny Podres and the Boys of Summer, but with the spring optimism of Russell Martin and Matt Kemp.

For KCRW this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

Banner image: A general view of the Memorial Coliseum. The exhibition game on March 29 marks the return of the Dodgers to their original Los Angeles home, as the franchise played there from 1958-1961 during the construction of Dodger Stadium. Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images