Tuesday, April 01, 2008

If You Plan a 50th Birthday Party

They will come...

There was no fertile cornfield with the wind wafting through it. But Bill Plaschke says everything else was in place.

No. 50 started with No. 4.

He appeared from behind a blue outfield wall, walked carefully across the deep green grass, startled huge cheers from a stunned Dodger Stadium crowd.

Then, halfway to second base, he stopped, and so did our hearts.

Duke Snider had returned to center field.

Fifty years after they arrived, the Dodgers are returning to Los Angeles.

From the dark Coliseum to the sunny Chavez Ravine, the milestone is being celebrated as a cornerstone, the Dodgers reminding us who they are, reminding us who we are.

At Monday's opening day, Los Angeles was 56,000 Dodgers lovers with peanuts in their throats and Cracker Jack in their memories.

During a surprising pregame ceremony, the field breathed Dodgers history, exhaling the sweetness of old stars, the smoothness of recent heroes, the shout that was Fernando, the whisper that was Sandy.

Who ever thought the McCourts could be so McCool? Said former pitcher Jerry Reuss, an honoree:
This was way beyond cool. You take cool, then go a step beyond, then a step beyond. This was something for which they have not yet invented a word.
This was a 15-minute production that began with Snider walking alone to center field wearing a Brooklyn jersey. It continued with 40 other mostly uniformed former Dodgers stars appearing one by one from different parts of the outfield fence to man their old positions.

From left field marched Don Newcombe, the Dodgers' last remaining living link to Jackie Robinson.

From right field ran Steve Sax, the Dodgers' last world champion second baseman.

From left field walked Maury Wills, the Dodgers' inventor of the stolen base.

From right field sprinted Steve Finley, whose division-title-clinching grand slam is still rattling around out there somewhere.

On and on the parade went, each name more surprising than the next, each figure accompanied only by the solemn announcement of his name and the tinkling of music from a "Field of Dreams" medley. Reuss, again:
With just Duke walking out in the beginning, fans weren't sure what was happening. Then when they saw players coming from everywhere, when they realized what it was, it became surreal.
Here was Bill Russell, making his first appearance on this field since his managerial firing a decade ago, running out to huge overdue applause deserved by one who has played more Los Angeles Dodgers games than anyone.

There was Eric Karros, the classy link from the past to the present, running out to the sort of applause that was often missing in those years.

They cheered Jimmy Campanis, and you wondered if they weren't also cheering the memory of his father.

They cheered Don Miles, and he played in only eight games for those 1958 Dodgers -- only eight games in his career -- and you wondered how they knew? Reuss:
I can just imagine what it was like in the stands. There were grandfathers probably telling their sons about players they remember, and then those sons turning to their sons and talking about different players.
It was long moments of "Look at that!" and "Is that him?" and "Wow."

Then, finally, it was the closing stretch of royalty, beginning with Fernando Valenzuela stepping from the dugout, one of the only two players who did not wear a uniform, of course not, he would never wear anything old, right?

His cheers rattled the building, echoing into the entrance of another man from the left-field bullpen, Tom Lasorda, and you knew he was wearing a uniform because he never takes it off.

By now, everyone was standing, folks hooting and stomping and struggling to keep their composure.

"And here came Sandy," said Manager Joe Torre.

Indeed, here came the cleanup pitcher, the final memory, Sandy Koufax, the only other player not wearing a uniform, as if anyone cared.

Koufax has been on this field maybe once in the last 25 years, he's so private, yet he came today because the owners asked, and he understood.

Once he stepped to the mound, the cheers still reaching to the center field hills, the current Dodgers players filed out of the dugout to show their own special appreciation by greeting their ancestors.

"It gave me goose bumps," Matt Kemp said.

The original idea was for Koufax to then end the ceremony by throwing out the first pitch, but, typically Sandy, he didn't want to do it alone, so he was joined by Carl Erskine and Newcombe.

Nobody was swinging, of course, but on that pitch, a home run was hit by the McCourts, who have proved to be worthy caretakers of the Dodgers culture.

They have rediscovered what the Fox Corp. had lost. They are rebuilding the glorious memories that years of chaotic behavior had eroded.

When it comes to Dodgers history, the current owners get it, they really get it . . . . .

SNIP! (read the rest!)

Only the inimitable and venerable Vin Scully was missing from the field: He was in front of his mic, switched off, so the broadcast carried only the noise of the announcer and the crowd.

A magical field of memories.

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