© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
03/31/08 9:49 PM ET
History comes in from the cornfield
Parade of Dodgers legends makes for a memorable opener
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- They made their slow way through the bullpen gate in the left-field corner, sepia photographs come to life. The old uniforms they wore were faded, but not the deeds once performed in them. As their names flashed on the scoreboard and an affecting melody filled the most verdant gorge in Chavez Ravine, they swam to their original positions through a flood of memories. Carl Erskine ... Don Newcombe ... Wally Moon ... Maury Wills ... Jim Gentile ... Dick Gray ... Ron Cey ... Sweet Lou Johnson ... and on and on, more than three dozen stepping out of the cornfield back onto a diamond. The crowning moments of Monday's pre-Opening Day ceremonies at Dodger Stadium were right out of "Field of Dreams," or out of "Cocoon." One by one, yesteryear's idols stepped back into the sunshine, dazed, somewhat disoriented, but so grateful to again be able to dig their spikes into the greenest grass and softest dirt. As cheers rained down on them, they doffed their caps and limped along. In no time, both the field and eyes were engulfed. But they kept pouring it on, amping up the music, layering the sentiments. If by that time you were looking around for Steven Spielberg as the wizard behind this production ... well, you would have been only close. The doctor of here was Charles Steinberg, the Dodgers' marketing vice president who pulled similar heartstrings in his last employ, with the Boston Red Sox. Most memorably, Steinberg had orchestrated a similar procession of old-timers in July 2002 for Fenway Park's public memorial following the death of Ted Williams. And just when you thought Monday's stir couldn't get any more climactic -- it did. Just when you felt the Dodgers' 50th anniversary production had peaked, they produced a new peak. They produced The Three Southpaw Magi. The last three to emerge, to escalating ovations, were Fernando Valenzuela, Tom Lasorda -- and Sandy Koufax, withheld from all the prior 50th anniversary events as a crowning wild card. The Koufax de la creme hopped out of the Dodgers' third-base dugout, and also stood out in civvies, jeans and a dark blazer over a white shirt. As he made his way to the center of the diamond, everyone else -- the old-timers already on the field, the contemporary Dodgers who had been watching off the third-base foul line -- swarmed around him. That was the cue for the grand marshal of this week-long Golden State Anniversary parade, Vin Scully, who through his microphone reminded those gathered below his radio booth, "Gentlemen, there are three stages of life. Youth, maturity and 'You're looking wonderful.' You are all looking wonderful today." Left to right, Erskine, Koufax and Newcombe delivered ceremonial first pitches to, respectively, Javier Herrera, Lasorda and Joe Torre. Javier Herrera? He is a Dodgers bat boy who, with no one else available, stepped into the same row, and same sentence, as Lasorda and Torre. "Someone just told me they needed a third catcher and to grab a glove," Herrera said after the game. "I don't even know who I caught, but it was amazing." Then it was Scully's turn again ... "And now, it's time for Dodgers baseball!" elicited a thunderous roar, as everyone began to snake off the field. The game began, but the Dodgers' nod to the first 50 years did not end. One of the forgotten phenomena of the early years in Los Angeles was the trap door where third base ought to be. Before Ron Cey would appear in 1973 to retire the revolving door, the Dodgers went through third basemen like boxes of Kleenex. In observance of that, before even playing a game, the Dodgers revolved three third basemen to the disabled list -- Nomar Garciaparra, Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu. Which is how fourth-string Blake DeWitt, a 22-year-old who opened last season as one of the Inland Empire 66ers of the Class A California League, wound up in the starting lineup and a recipient of one of the day's biggest in-game cheers. The ovation from the 56,000 followed his third-pitch single off Barry Zito in the second inning, a clean conversion of his first Major League at-bat. If DeWitt heard the ovation -- reaction to the scoreboard announcement of his first big league hit -- he would've thought it was for Brad Penny, welcoming him to the batter's box as the next hitter. "But I was so excited I didn't know what was going on. Everything was moving so fast," DeWitt said. "Felt like I was floating down the line." Lot of levitation occurred on this sun-splashed afternoon, which began with thousands saying grace, and ended with a couple dozen saying simply thanks. Even before the old-timers-on-parade finale, the house could roar its gratitude for having someone to cheer -- and to hiss. Although the introduction of the Giants definitely lacked something ... oh, yes: Barry Bonds. The greetings of the Dodgers' New York-to-California dance partners were almost civil. Barry Zito came closest to inheriting Bonds' target, eliciting the loudest boos. But that may simply have been because he would be starting the game. With the visitors aligned on the first-base line, the Dodgers got their turns on the other side, each loud cheer blending into the other until they were all accounted for, standing erect for the Vandenberg Air Force Base color guard's presentation. Jazz impresario Dave Coz blew the national anthem through his saxophone, fortissimo enough to rival the roar of the B-1 bomber flying overhead. In the game, the highest notes continued to be hit by the Dodgers. And after they came off the field with a 1-0 record, each of them, led by Torre, leaned back and exhaled. A two-week whirlpool to China and Arizona and '50s California was over, and they gave thanks that the normal routine could now begin. It might be routine. But, if the high-pitched kickoff to this 2008 season is any indication, it won't see normal for a while.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.