Charity begins at home plate

OK, so how did I end up standing at home plate in Dodger Stadium with a pitching wedge in my hand and a golf ball at my feet?

As far as I can recall, it all began months ago with me up in the stands, sipping a cold brew and letting my jock fantasies run wild.

Under the right circumstances, could I hit a baseball out of the park?

Given that I hit a total of one home run for my high school team, and that it happened 36 years ago, it seemed like a statistical improbability. The ball would have to be a golf ball.

Hey, that's it.

Could I hit a golf ball over the center field wall, not with a bat but with a golf club? And not with a driver or a 5-iron, but with the shortest club in the bag?

Hard to say, but I decided I had to find out. I'd heard that ex-Dodgers great Fernando Valenzuela is a scratch golfer, so why not challenge him to a duel at home plate?

"That's a really stupid idea," sports columnist T.J. Simers told me. "You've got to do it."

I called Dodgers PR man Josh Rawitch and tried to explain why this was worth Fernando's time. He was not wildly enthused, but agreed to pitch the idea.

To my surprise, Fernando said OK, he was in. He told Rawitch he could easily pop one over the center field fence, 395 feet away, without breaking a sweat.

But I think the doubts began to creep in. Fernando kept stalling and I got tired of waiting for him to come around.

Let's get an active player involved, I suggested to Rawitch. If Fernando finally gets up his nerve, the three of us will have a charity shootout. Last one to hit one over the fence donates to charities chosen by the other two.

No way would Fernando miss such an Olympian moment, I thought. But I misjudged the man.

Luckily, Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe was more than happy to step in, and the showdown was set:

D.Lo versus S.Lo at the Ravine.

Just one problem.

It had been about 25 years since I played my last round of golf. The chance of embarrassing myself was at least as great as the chance of injuring myself.

I bought myself a $69 pitching wedge at a Roger Dunn Golf Shop, took two practice swings in the store and didn't dislocate anything.

Then I went to the driving range in Griffith Park twice in three days, paying $5 each time to hit a bucket of balls. I'm going to be hacking away in the Los Angeles Times/United Way Golf Classic on Oct. 1 in Pasadena, and I might as well get reacquainted with the game.

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