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A squeeze play for L.A.

Times Staff Writers

The lines of fans were as long as the distance to the left-field fence was short. The memories were even longer.

Half a century slipped off the calendar Saturday night and baseball attendance records were shattered as the Dodgers returned to the arena that welcomed them here for good from Brooklyn -- the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The official head count was 115,300, squeezed into every corner of the Olympic venue to watch the current boys of summer commemorate the team’s 1958 move west in an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox.

As the snarled traffic into the Exposition Park stadium made clear, the festival-like crowd was the world’s largest ever tallied at a baseball game, team officials said, adding that they expected Guinness World Records to certify the attendance.

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“Pretty amazing,” said Upland resident Rudy Lima, 45, as he watched the Coliseum fill up from his seat on the first-base side. “The Dodgers are one of the things that brings us together, brings the city together.”

Nostalgia ruled, but the charity event also was part logistical nightmare -- some of the parking, shuttle and hot dog queues were epic -- and part national pastime freak show.

The left-field fence stood a Wiffle-ball 201 feet from home plate, about 50 feet closer than it was in the original baseball makeover of the track-and-football-dimensioned Coliseum, where the Dodgers played for four seasons, beginning on an April afternoon during the Eisenhower administration.

“The fence is wild,” said Larry Stromwell, 57, a San Bernardino County resident who recalled seeing the Dodgers four or five times at the Coliseum. “The field looks pretty close to what it was back then.”

Jake Gribbon, 28, of Costa Mesa landed a seat behind the 60-foot-high netting that vaulted up along the left-field fence, where former Dodger Wally Moon used to dump his famous “Moon shot” home runs.

“It’s awesome,” Gribbon said. “I called my parents and told them, ‘I’m right in left field, and this is great.’ ”

He pointed to the netting. “It’s a good thing it’s here,” he said. “We’re right in the action, and some of these line drives are coming out here pretty fast.”

For the Dodgers, James Loney homered over the screen.

Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier likened the game to a rock concert or football bowl game. “It was fun to have that many fans show up and be into the game and have this atmosphere,” Ethier said, according to the Associated Press.

Mindful that the turnout would fill two Dodger Stadiums, many of Saturday’s ticket-holders hit the road early and made a day of it, holding hours-long tailgate parties in the parking lots around the Coliseum, and milling around the taco stands and souvenir stalls set up on the lawn outside the peristyle.

Thousands took the team up on the offer of free shuttle rides from Dodger Stadium, and many regretted it. The shuttle fleet was quickly overwhelmed as the stadium lot jammed up by late afternoon.

Fans waited for hours to hop the 100 vans and buses the team provided. With the game underway, roughly 3,000 people were still in the stadium lot, said Aram Sahakian, a city transportation engineer.

Dodger spokesman Josh Rawitch said the team had planned to transport about 5,000 people who had shuttle reservations. The team more than doubled the number of shuttles to ferry about 35,000 people. By 8 p.m., Dodger Stadium’s parking lot had been cleared out, Rawitch said.

By the top of the first inning, mortgage banker Dexter Hilliard and his family remained stranded at the stadium.

“It’s like a free-for-all,” the Torrance resident, 53, said.

The wait was punishing for Andie Evans, 14, of La Canada Flintridge, who is recovering from a broken knee and stood in line holding crutches for an hour and 45 minutes."I think we’re about 10 buses away from getting on, so it’s kind of bad,” she said as the game went into its second inning.

Roger Kern, 60, remembered seeing games at the Coliseum “when I was 10 years old.”

He has attended more than 100 games at Dodger Stadium, and arrived there with his son, James, 35, just after 6 p.m. He boarded the bus after 8 p.m.

“I’m extremely relieved to be sitting,” the Playa del Rey resident said. “We stood out in the parking lot for a long time.”

But Kern, wearing a blue Dodgers T-shirt, said he would be happy to see even a few innings of the game: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Regardless of the hassles, many said they were impressed that the equivalent of a midsized city could be herded into the Coliseum without complete gridlock.

A normal sell-out is 92,000. For Saturday’s event, which raised more than $1 million for the Dodgers’ cancer charity, ThinkCure, more than 23,000 extra tickets were sold for bench-style seating beneath the peristyle and a standing-room area behind the right-field fence, a sort of baseball mosh pit.

“It’s gone very, very smoothly,” said Arturo Ortega, 37, of La Puente, who got tickets for 98 family members and friends, all of them sitting on the first-base side. Ortega arrived at the Coliseum about 2 p.m., well before the parking crunch, which boosted the price of close-in spots to $60 each.

“It’s a great feeling to be part of history,” Ortega said. “Who knows when they will do this again? At 75 years? Maybe 100 years?”

Carlos Perez, 43, of Sylmar agreed. “I’ve been Dodger blue since I was in diapers,” he said.

T-shirts and hats emblazoned with “Return to the Coliseum” sold fast, even if the lines to buy them were slow.

“It’s like walking into a wall,” said Nick Cote, 14, of Westwood. “Basically, you can’t move. It’s intense.”

paul.pringle@latimes.com

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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Times staff writers David Zahniser and Jesus Sanchez contributed to this report.


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