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Record crowd in L.A.
Associated Press
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Published: 3/29/2008 11:47 PM

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Carl Erskine vividly remembers a most distressing experience at the Los Angeles Coliseum 50 years ago. Don Newcombe easily recalls the difficulty of doing his job there.

Erskine and Newcombe had plenty of company as pitchers for the Dodgers in their first four years in Los Angeles, having to ply their trade at a facility that was never meant for baseball.

Routine flyballs, popups actually, soared over a 42-foot high screen in left field, where the distance from home plate to the foul pole was a ridiculous 251 feet.

"I won't say it was a joy to pitch in the Coliseum," Newcombe said. "You felt like you were shaking hands with the left fielder."

Working in his second game at a stadium built for track and football, Erskine faced Chuck Tanner leading off the ninth with the Dodgers leading the Cubs by a run.

"I gave him a high fastball that hit him on the fists. He hit it on the handle straight down the left-field line and out," the 81-year-old Erskine recalled. "As the umpire threw me a new ball while Tanner ran around the bases, I kept glaring at that left-field screen.

"What I wanted to do was throw that new ball over the screen to show how cheap that home run was, to show I could throw a ball that far."

Modern-day pitchers got a taste of what it was like Saturday night when the World Series champion Boston Red Sox visited for an exhibition game at the Coliseum as part of the Dodgers' 50th anniversary celebration of their move from Brooklyn.

Actually, it was even more challenging, because the distance from the plate to the foul pole will be only 201 feet, although batters will have to clear a 60-foot screen.

"It'll be interesting and definitely something that will be talked about for years," Boston's Kevin Youkilis said. "(Batting practice) could be interesting."

The Dodgers said Friday that the full allotment of 115,300 tickets -- with all the proceeds going to ThinkCure, the Dodgers' official charity -- had been sold, including about 25,000 for standing-room only behind the lower fence in right and center fields. Two big-screen TVs will make it possible to watch the action.

Baseball's world record is an estimated 114,000 for an exhibition game between the Australian national team and an American services team during the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956.

"I just feel like this is a huge dividend for an old-timer," said Newcombe, the longtime director of community relations for the Dodgers.

Among other old-timers expected to attend are a pair of former left-handed hitters -- Wally Moon, a journeyman who earned lasting fame for his ability to slice the ball off or over the left field screen, known as Moonshots, and Duke Snider, a Hall of Famer driven to distraction because the outfield fence in the power alley in right field was 440 feet away.

Now 81, Snider remembers Willie Mays' reaction to the dimensions at the Coliseum.

"(Mays) said: 'Duke, it kills you. Look at that right-field fence,' " Snider remembered. "He started laughing. 'They had to put some real estate on the field. They put it all in right field.'

"It was not and never will be a baseball stadium even though baseball was played there."

Maybe not, but the Dodgers beat the White Sox in the 1959 World Series. They moved to Dodger Stadium in 1962.

The Dodgers acquired Moon for outfielder Gino Cimoli after the 1958 season, and he was an immediate success with an inside-out swing that sent the ball toward left on a regular basis.

"I enjoyed every minute of it," said the 77-year-old Moon, who batted .302 and hit all but 5 of his 19 homers at the Coliseum in his first year with the Dodgers. "When I hit Los Angeles for that 1959 season, I went to work immediately. As the year progressed, I got a little bit better with my bat control and especially with my ability to loft the ball."

Former teammate Tommy Davis, a right-handed hitter, said he hit several balls into the screen that would have been homers elsewhere.

"That did disturb me," he recalled.

As far as Moon was concerned, Davis said: "He kind of cut it up there, like a 9-iron, an 8-iron or something. It just went right over the fence, he did that so perfectly. I'd hit the ball hard; if it went over, great. If it didn't, I had to hustle to first base."

Snider recalls hitting a few balls over the screen but said his approach was to go with the pitch and he never changed that.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing the Coliseum the way it was," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see them playing a game there and being a spectator instead of hitting a ball 430 feet and making an out to right field."

Snider remembers the exhibition game played in May 1959 between the Yankees and Dodgers as a benefit for Roy Campanella, a star catcher in Brooklyn who was paralyzed in an automobile accident before the 1958 season. A crowd of 93,103 attended.

"It was a very emotional evening," Snider said. "Being a teammate for quite a few years with Roy Campanella was quite a treat for me."

The night was highlighted by a candlelight tribute to Campanella.

"It was something I'll never forget," Snider said. "I learned how to play the game of baseball by watching Campy and Jackie Robinson."

Moon said he looked forward to taking batting practice before Saturday night's game.

"I haven't picked up a bat in 30 years, but I'll take a shot at it," he said. "Some young lady from the Dodgers wanted to know what my uniform size was. I wouldn't mind taking a shot at it. I'd probably swish, but I'd take a shot at it. I wouldn't run after I hit it. I'm a little slower than I was then. If I hit it out, I could walk."

Astros put Williams on waivers: Woody Williams was put on unconditional release waivers by Houston Astros, who owe the pitcher $6.5 million. The 41-year-old right-hander was 8-15 with a 5.27 ERA last season and had an 11.32 ERA in spring training this year. He gave up 5 runs and 5 hits in 3 innings during Friday's 10-0 exhibition loss to Detroit.

First baseman Lance Berkman questioned the timing.

"Possibly a bit premature," he said. "The game is completely different in the regular season than it is in spring training, especially from a guy like Woody who has been around the block a few times."