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Westward pioneers match up in opener

Westward pioneers match up in opener

LOS ANGELES -- In keeping with Hollywood blockbuster tradition, the Dodgers have begun observing their 50th anniversary in California in typical over-the-top style.

They have brought back old-timers, from (Roger) Craig to (Memorial) Coliseum, given Dodger Stadium another major facelift, and wallpapered their front office with commendations from state and civic leaders.

But if it takes two to tango, it also takes two to do the transcontinental hop and -- oh, yeah, there was another team that escorted the Dodgers away from New York and to California.

The San Francisco, nee New York, Giants are obviously celebrating the same Golden State Anniversary. And while thus far they may have been lost in the dustup of the Dodgers' ceremonies, the Jints are about to draw even with the Bums.

The teams, the pioneers of the Westward shift that now finds seven Major League clubs on the coast, kick off their 51st California season against each other Monday when they meet in Dodger Stadium at 1:05 p.m. PT.

So will Rivalry Week come to an end for Joe Torre, the manager who is the biggest offseason addition without 10 Gold Gloves for the Dodgers.

Torre's week began with the Angels, his new territorial rival, continued with the Red Sox, those old East Coast nemeses, and now arrives at a Giants-Dodgers feud known to escalate to intense heights.

Actually, Torre is hardly new to this feud. He is revisiting it, from a childhood where both the sides and the coasts were reversed. He, remember, was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, where he showed his independent side by becoming a N.Y. Giants fan.

"I grew up with it," said Torre, meaning the Giants-Dodgers wars. "It might have been more intense there, because it wasn't only the same league, but the same city."

But there are always reminders that the glow of this rivalry may flicker but never dies. Torre received a very dramatic one more than a quarter-century ago, when he was managing an Atlanta Braves team trying to outlast the Dodgers for the championship of the old National League West.

The Braves came out on top on the last day of the 1982 season, when Joe Morgan's seventh-inning three-run homer beat the Dodgers, 5-3, in San Francisco.

"I remember seeing how excited everybody in the park was over that. And the Giants weren't even playing for anything themselves," Torre said. "But that's really who makes a rivalry, the fans -- they're the real contributors."

San Francisco fans will definitely contribute to the festivities on this Opening Day. For the first time, AT&T Park will throw open its doors for its own little Baseball Festival, with fans being able to watch the action in Dodger Stadium on the scoreboard while taking batting practice on the field and enjoying free hot dogs (the first 5,000 of them, anyway).

The Giants' home opener next Monday, against the Padres, will be dedicated to honoring alumni of the 1958 charter club. Scheduled to attend are Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda, and Felipe Alou, John Antonelli, Eddie Bressoud, Jim Davenport, Whitey Lockman, Mike McCormick, Stu Miller, Daryl Spencer, Don Taussig and Al Worthington.

San Francisco's by-comparison modest commemorations will also include several 50th Anniversary ballplayer reunions, anniversary-themed promotions, but no revisit to Seals Stadium.

That's because the Giants' home for the first two seasons in San Francisco, while Candlestick Park was under construction, was demolished two months after their final game there on Sept. 20, 1959.

But it is a matter of historical record that the Giants baptized big league ball in the state before the Dodgers, playing their first game in Seals Stadium on April 15. It was, natch, against the Dodgers; three days later the same teams met in the Coliseum in the Los Angeles home opener.

As they open up a season against each other for the first time since 2005, and for the first time in Los Angeles since 2002, the teams share something else: The back hand of most forecasters, who predict also-ran status for them behind the teams which have shared the last three National League West titles (San Diego and Arizona) and the team that made a mad dash into the last postseason (Colorado).

Wonder if that has anything to do with the fact last season finished with the Dodgers and Giants bringing up the rear of the standings for the first time since 1992.

If all goes well and healthy for both teams, however, the Dodgers are considered superior. They have already arrived at the point for which the Giants are just now embarking, reshaping their roster and their future in the wake of an icon's departure.

The Giants relish the challenge, and the opportunity, to turn the corner from Barry Bonds.

"We want to establish that we're a team that can compete," said the remaining Barry -- Zito, who goes in the opener. "We want to show that we have a lot of players who can be counted on, instead of focusing on a void."

Zito will be opposed by Brad Penny, the senior Dodger in terms of continuous service, as well as the NL's senior pitcher in terms of wins the last two seasons. No one can match his 32-13 resume for 2006-07.

So it is time to lose the sizzle and focus on the steak for the Dodgers, who ran out March dealing with more sideshows than a traveling carnival.

Migrating Spring Training bases closer to home, furthering baseball's globalization and celebrating Golden Anniversaries are all worthy diversions. But that is exactly what they were -- and all the hoopla diverted the Dodgers from focused preparation for the onrushing season.

Setting their minds on the Giants should not be a problem. Playing the Giants could be. That last Giants-Dodgers season-opening series in Chavez Ravine didn't go well for the home team, swept miserably in three games by a cumulative score of 24-2.

There's a bit of recent history only one of the two teams will want to recreate.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }