LOS ANGELES -- As Dodgers and Red Sox made their slow way down the Coliseum tunnel, normally where crimson-and-gold USC Trojans mill before charging on the gridiron, the baseball players felt like they'd just stepped through Alice's looking glass. They looked at a left-field foul pole 201 feet from home plate, foul territory down the right-field line roughly the width of Pee Wee Herman's belt, and dugouts on either side of the infield -- literally, pits shrouded by blue tents having been dug into the grass. And no warning track.
"It's wild. I look around, and it's like someone dropped acid in my oatmeal this morning," Theo Epstein, Boston's youthful general manager, said with a smile. "I'm glad it's only one game. I'd hate to play in this regularly." "Crazy. Lot of history there," said Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who didn't give away any secrets by detailing how they'd pitch Manny Ramirez: "Down and away, all day." Looking at the midget dimension, the mind reflexively turned to home runs, as if these two Major League teams were about to stage an over-the-line tournament. Yet, playing defense in front of that screen promised more thrills than trying to hit balls over it. Boston columnist Dan Shaughnessy definitely looked forward to Ramirez's adventures in front of what he dubbed The Screen Monster. As for the Dodgers, left fielder Andre Ethier told his manager he would be playing rover and going for anything hit out of the infield. "Just make sure you wear a beacon," Joe Torre told him, "so other guys know where you are." Despite the inviting dimensions, batting practice by both teams indicated they were a mirage. Relatively few balls cleared that 62-foot high mesh fence rising from the left-field corner to left-center. But a lot of line drives into normal base-hit territory were easily gloved by outfielders playing as "deep" as possible. Of all the people in uniform, the only one feeling pangs of nostalgia was Torre, who had actually played several series as a visitor in this perverse environment, with the 1961 Milwaukee Braves. Did he offer any advice to his boys about how to approach this game? "No. I didn't tell them anything," Torre said. "They don't even know if I played baseball." Boston outfielder Coco Crisp, who grew up in Inglewood, site of the once-famous Forum, succumbed to a different sort of nostalgia as he stood outside the Red Sox dugout and surveyed the field. "I came here one time when I was a kid to watch a football game," Crisp said, referring to the Los Angeles Raiders of the Marcus Allen-Bo Jackson era. "This is cool. This is, for me, personally, like it was for Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) going back to Japan. "I'm not going to have the fan support he had, but just the feeling." Crisp also had the feeling that this would be a night made for batting right-handed. A switch-hitter, he wowed to bat only righty, saying, "Then I might have a chance to hit a home run this spring." Torre had to chuckle at the mound opposition fate had thrown at his Dodgers. Boston's Tim Wakefield, when his money pitch isn't knuckling, can allow home runs in the biggest of parks, once having served up six of them in one game in Detroit's Comerica Park. "I have to thank (Boston manager) Terry (Francona) for that," said Torre, who sensed his own left-handed hitters would actually have a better chance at opposite-fielding Wakefield over the screen, because "the whole approach to the knuckleball is to wait on it and try not to pull it." Wakefield apparently had asked for this assignment, at the ripe age of 41 having enough sense of history to appreciate the occasion. "Besides," said Wakefield, "what am I going to do? Refuse to pitch?"
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.