Charity begins at home plate

On the day of the showdown at Dodger Stadium, every muscle in my body ached from whacking those buckets of balls. Should I keep that to myself and play intimidator, telling Lowe the ball had been coming off my club like a rocket? Or should I limp onto the field, lulling him into complacency?

All of a sudden, there was no time to strategize. There we were at home plate, and I noticed that not only was Lowe several inches taller than I, but his pitching wedge made mine look like a toy.

I took a deep breath and told Lowe my charity was CASA of Los Angeles, which trains volunteers to be advocates for neglected, abandoned and abused children who enter the foster care system through dependency court.

Lowe's charity was the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA. Lowe began visiting patients at the hospital last year and then formed D-Lowe's Heroes this year, bringing young cancer patients and their families to Dodger Stadium each month for VIP tours. The Dodgers have nominated him for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award for his good deeds.

So how much were we playing for?

"How about $500?" I suggested.

"$500 it is," said Lowe.

Now that I'd put the money on the line, I needed an edge. I told him I hadn't played since I was 14.

"Which hand goes on top?" I asked.

We started at the backstop rather than home plate, so it would be harder for him to end the challenge with one swing. From there, the center field fence looked like it was in Glendale.

I went first, hitting off a little AstroTurf mat so I didn't take a divot big enough to break a Dodger's ankle and put them out of the pennant race for good. My big swing produced a rather anemic little sacrifice fly to left-center.

Not a good start.

Lowe nonchalantly lined one up and took a fluid, sweet swing that caught the ball perfectly, sending it straight at the 395 sign in center. I thought I was done, but Lowe's ball didn't get any help from an incoming breeze and fell about 30 feet short.

We moved halfway to home plate for the next shot, and then all the way to the plate after that. Tiger Woods could probably throw his bag farther than I was hitting the ball, but Lowe's second and third shots caught more wind and hit the warning track and then the wall.

I was still in the game, at least. Lowe advised me to play the ball back farther in my stance.

"You hit one left and you hit one right," he said, telling me the next shot was guaranteed to go straight.

It did. But I hit a sinker as good as the one Lowe throws, and it touched down 60 feet away at the pitcher's mound. Children, on a tour of the stadium, winced and prepared to duck for cover on my next shot.

On his fourth try, Lowe's Titleist cleared the fence and took my wallet went with it, setting me back 500 samolians.

Pride, and stubbornness, wouldn't let me quit. We had agreed that we would keep moving forward until both of us had cleared the fence. Lowe told me he hoped, for my sake, that I didn't end up taking swings from second base.

But his insults were like spit wads off a battleship. I moved halfway to the mound and told him I was feeling it now.

The shot followed the same trajectory as Apollo 11. OK, so it only cleared the fence by inches.

"For conversation's sake," Lowe said, it was more like "30 or 40 feet" out of the park.

S.Lo wrote out the check and handed it to D.Lo, and then I felt guilty about letting down CASA of Los Angeles. So I'm going to write CASA a check too.

I don't think Fernando Valenzuela could have kept up with us, but I'm going to give him a chance to redeem himself. This winter, if he plays winter ball in Mexico as he's been doing for years, I want to take my swings against him in batting practice. With a baseball bat.

He gives me 10 pitches to hit, and if I can drive one to the fence on a fly, a roll, or on the back of a pigeon, he donates to the charity of my choice. If I can't, I'll write a check to his charity.

Come on, Fernando. Don't weasel out on me again.



steve.lopez@latimes.com

see the video of the s.lo-d.lo charity challenge at www. latimes.com/lopezgolf

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