McCourt kicks off Coliseum project

McCourt kicks off Coliseum project

LOS ANGELES -- On a bright, sunny day, Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt took a tour of of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as preparations had begun for a March 29 exhibition game between the Dodgers and Red Sox at the 85-year-old venue, the first baseball game to be played there since the Dodgers left the Coliseum for Dodger Stadium after the 1961 season.

McCourt first addressed members of the media on Wednesday about the game, which will likely break the single-game attendance figure of 93,103 that the Dodgers established in 1959, when they played the Yankees in an exhibition game as a fund-raiser for former Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella, who had been crippled in a car accident the year before.

"We're happy to announce that we've figured out a way to accommodate 25,000 more fans for the exhibition game on March 29," McCourt said. "In fact, some fans will get to watch the game right on the field itself. These additional tickets will be available this Saturday, when single-game tickets for the regular season go on sale."

This is good news for a lot of fans who were unable to purchase tickets for the game at the end of January, and if all of the seats and standing-room sections are filled, the game will feature an attendance of more than 115,000 fans.

"I couldn't be more proud of everybody involved," McCourt said after the news conference and groundbreaking ceremony. "There's a lot of people who have worked hard to make this happen, and it isn't as if we're not busy at this time of the year already. Our club is going to China, which is a huge effort, we have a big season coming up, but this being our 50th anniversary, that only comes once, and the opportunity to play here at the Coliseum and the cooperation we have received from all the parties involved has been unprecedented.

"The combination of celebrating the golden anniversary and raising money for ThinkCure I think has made it something very, very unique and special, and I'm humbled by the whole thing."

The game, which will start at 7:10 p.m. PT, is part of a full day of activity around the Coliseum. McCourt and Dodgers chief marketing officer Charles Steinberg announced that the club will hold a Fan Fest at the Coliseum from noon to 6 p.m. on the day of the game, with carnival-type games, baseball discussions with general manager Ned Colletti and other Dodgers personnel and autograph tables.

"The Fan Fest will start at noon and will be free of charge -- all you have to do is have a ticket to the game," McCourt said. "This way, you can come down at noon and spend the day with your friends and your family. There will be all kinds of activities that you would normally find at a Fan Fest, and this way, you can also beat the traffic and find a parking space.

"That is something we are focused on, because it's going to be a challenge getting all the cars into the stadium area. By coming early, that will help that, and we just got permission to open the gates at 4:10 p.m. so fans can actually be here to watch batting practice, which may be as much fun as watching the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game."

The Dodgers also announced that beginning at 11 a.m. on the day of the game, fans can park for free at Dodger Stadium, and a shuttle service will continue between the stadium and the Coliseum until 11:30 p.m. For parking reservations, fans can call Dodgers guest services at (323) 224-1507. This will enable the organization to know how many cars will be parking at the stadium for the event.

The Coliseum field itself is already shaping up into a baseball field; the infield diamond has been cut, a big circle for the pitcher's mound is in place and two large squares have been dug into the ground where temporary dugouts will sit. The dimensions will not quite be the same as they were from 1958-61, when the Dodgers called the Coliseum home.

"Our goal is to have the field look just like it did when people came here in 1958, and they'll be able to say, 'That's how it was,'" said Dodgers vice president of stadium operations Lon Rosenberg. "The biggest challenge that we have is that the Coliseum has lost 88 feet in diameter since we last played here because they took out the warning track, so we have to make some slight adjustments. We have 200 feet down the left-field line instead of 250, so we have adjusted the screen from 42 feet to 62 feet."

Rosenberg said that the screen, which used to take almost a week to set up in the 1950s and '60s, will now be up in about four days. McCourt knows that baseballs will be flying over that screen during batting practice and the game, so he'll probably double the amount of balls used during batting practice.

"We will bring as many as we need," McCourt said, "because that's going to be a great memento to take back from this event -- to be some kid up there and to watch one of those balls off Andruw Jones or Russell Martin or James Loney's bat and get that memento and say, 'I was there.' That would be pretty cool."

Another thing the Dodgers owner, who hails from Boston and whose grandfather was once a minority owner of the Boston Braves, finds interesting is the participation of his hometown Red Sox in the event. McCourt is supporting ThinkCure, which raises funds and awareness for cancer research with the Jimmy Fund, a charity created by his grandfather's old team and passed over to the Red Sox when the Braves moved over to Milwaukee in 1953.

"It would have been a great event with anyone we would have played," McCourt said. "The fact that the Red Sox understood the historic significance back to the Jimmy Fund -- back to my grandfather's days with the Braves, when they played that exhibition game back in 1953, [which passed the Jimmy Fund from the Braves to the Red Sox] -- the fact that the Red Sox embraced that immediately was great, and I'm very grateful to the Boston Red Sox organization."

McCourt then put the entire event into perspective.

"It's one of those great events," said McCourt, who did not hide his enthusiasm for the game. "It's about history and that kind of celebration that brings people out. It's about uniqueness, because it's a one-of-a-kind event. It's something to see this baseball diamond being laid on this football field in this gigantic venue, and it's about charity. Baseball players are charitable people. Baseball is a very charitable industry, and the Los Angeles Dodgers' fans are the most charitable fans I have ever met both in spirit and whatever the Dodgers get behind."

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.