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Daily Breeze: It Can Drive You Up A Wall

May 11, 2007

By Phil Collin
The Daily Breeze

The Wall has eyes.

It's nosy, too, obtrusively invading the space of unsuspecting left fielders. Oh, and it has ears, too, but don't let it hear you.

Because it also has a big, fat mouth that will relentlessly hound you for as long as it takes to play nine innings.

Welcome to the land of the Mikos Blue Monster, the elephant in the room at George C. Page Stadium, where Loyola Marymount University invites teams over for an afternoon of baseball. And, the Lions hope, a dose here and there of sheer horror.

It turns heads, simply because it is a replica of the Green Monster in Boston's Fenway Park. It has close to the same dimensions, the same hand-worked scoreboard, the same kind of net rising skyward above it to snag any home run that dares to clear it.

And like any self-respecting monster, it can give you the willies. In fact, you can bet that more than once, an opposing left fielder has slinked off the field thinking, "It's aliiiiiiiiiiive.''

The eyes open in vertical slits, much like a cat, and the fence is officially on the prowl as voices emerge from somewhere beyond the wall. It's no horror-show bellow, but more like a series of frantic shouts from different areas.

So now you have to investigate. You have to be intrepid and put aside thoughts that you'll end up as fodder for the next "Final Destination.''

Walking outside the stadium down the left-field line, past the visitors' dugout and just outside the softball diamond, it's fortunate that LMU sophomore Kacy Sommers is there to greet you. "If you don't know the way, you might never find it,'' Sommers said as he crosses a grassy knoll (yikes) and ducks into the trees. Somehow he makes it through without a machete to clear some of the brush away.

Walking through a door, suddenly you're in a different kind of dugout. A swept slab of concrete is at your feet and the backside of the Blue Monster (it's green on this side, actually) rises directly in front of you. Around you are huge trees, accompanied by seven giant wooden posts that support the net.

Sommers joins two soft-spoken comrades, Jackie Canepa and Colin O'Rourke. Canepa has been putting up the score by innings and out-of-town scoreboard numbers for a couple of years. O'Rourke is a freshman from Baltimore who stumbled on this gig by simply requesting a job from the LMU athletic department.

There's a certain serenity to the place. You can keep an eye on the game (if you miss a run or two, there's always the walkie-talkie to the press box for scoring updates), or keep up with homework. However, on this Friday afternoon, as the Lions prepare to face San Jose State, there's a noticeable scarcity of books and the mind wanders, thinking what college kids could get away with back here.

San Jose left fielder Chris Balatico takes his spot a few steps in front of the warning track, about 20 feet or so from the Monster. Pushing aside the aluminum square that represents the third inning, you find it's tempting to yell something at Balatico.

"We do sometimes,'' Sommers admitted. "I don't know if they can hear us or not. I think we catch them off guard.''The Rustic Lite

The three are quiet on this day, though. And they're thankful "The Creepy Guy,'' a man who sometimes watches games through a slot in the fence where the wall ends in left-center, has not shown up. Then, in the top of the second, it all changes when two smiling kids in LMU athletic sweat suits pop in for a look.

"We're the hecklers,'' Andrew Morris says with a big smile as he joins Joshua Carroll pushing aside an inning marker to take a look at left field.

Carroll picks up the walkie-talkie and asks for the name of No. 1 on San Jose State. LMU baseball sports information director Alissa Zito obliges.

Game on.

"Balatico -- is that Swiss?'' Carroll shouts. "Chris, Christian ..."

"Hey Chris, how does it feel to get out at second? A double play. You coulda ran faster ...''

"I told you, if you start running like a man and pick your knees up, you could have made it to second ... You're lazy.''

Balatico never lets on that he hears anything, even after being part of a trio of Spartans who let a blooper drop for a hit in short left field. The Monster's self-proclaimed "Voices of Fury'' really get to work in the seventh inning, when LMU's DeAndre Miller lines a shot over Balatico. The ball crashes with an echoing thud off the Monster and ricochets right back past Balatico, who chases it down but throws late as Miller slides into third base with a game-tying triple.

"Hey Chris! That's like a blind man playing poker! It just ain't happening!'' Carroll shouts gleefully.

The Dr. Frankenstein of the Blue Monster is LMU coach Frank Cruz, who wanted to copy Fenway's version. He researched the Boston Red Sox Web site, pored over several books and knew exactly what he envisioned.

But before he could complete his castle, he needed the blood so vital to any athletic program: A donation. And this one would be a Green Monster in its own right.Sword Medical

Enter Paul Mikos, a St. Bernard High graduate who played baseball on scholarship at LMU in 1966.

"My motivation was to pay that back to the school,'' said Mikos, who has been on the school's board of trustees for 10 years. "I know how difficult it is to get projects done.

"The school was very cooperative on the thing. ... It was fun to watch it happen.''

Mikos would not reveal how much his gift to the school set him back, but athletic department officials estimated the cost of the wall at about $350,000.

The bottom line didn't seem to bother Mikos, retired after 25 years of helping build the ReadyTemp empire. He was recently skiing with his 4-year-old grandson and one thought struck him:

"I can't wait to see him someday play at that field.''

The officially named Mikos Blue Monster is 37 feet high, meaning it could stand eye-to-eye with Fenway's Monster, and stretches 130 feet wide, which is 110 feet shorter than the Green Monster. The green scoreboard inset is 18 feet high and 46 feet wide.

"We had an open net out there (before), and cosmetically it just didn't look very good,'' Cruz said. "I thought, 'How could we build something knowing history?'

"I just wanted to try and replicate (the Green Monster) as much as you could. I thought it would give our stadium the character I think it needed, and I think it has done that.''