Dodgers hit the big 5-0
No. 50 started with No. 4.
He appeared from behind a blue outfield wall, walked carefully across the deep green grass, startled huge cheers from a stunned Dodger Stadium crowd.
Then, halfway to second base, he stopped, and so did our hearts.
Duke Snider had returned to center field.
Fifty years after they arrived, the Dodgers are returning to Los Angeles.
From the dark Coliseum to the sunny Chavez Ravine, the milestone is being celebrated as a cornerstone, the Dodgers reminding us who they are, reminding us who we are.
At Monday’s opening day, Los Angeles was 56,000 Dodgers lovers with peanuts in their throats and Cracker Jack in their memories.
During a surprising pregame ceremony, the field breathed Dodgers history, exhaling the sweetness of old stars, the smoothness of recent heroes, the shout that was Fernando, the whisper that was Sandy.
Who ever thought the McCourts could be so McCool?
“This was way beyond cool,” said former pitcher Jerry Reuss, an honoree. “You take cool, then go a step beyond, then a step beyond. This was something for which they have not yet invented a word.”
This was a 15-minute production that began with Snider walking alone to center field wearing a Brooklyn jersey. It continued with 40 other mostly uniformed former Dodgers stars appearing one by one from different parts of the outfield fence to man their old positions.
From left field marched Don Newcombe, the Dodgers’ last remaining living link to Jackie Robinson.
From right field ran Steve Sax, the Dodgers’ last world champion second baseman.
From left field walked Maury Wills, the Dodgers’ inventor of the stolen base.
From right field sprinted Steve Finley, whose division-title-clinching grand slam is still rattling around out there somewhere.
On and on the parade went, each name more surprising than the next, each figure accompanied only by the solemn announcement of his name and the tinkling of music from a “Field of Dreams” medley.
“With just Duke walking out in the beginning, fans weren’t sure what was happening,” Reuss said. “Then when they saw players coming from everywhere, when they realized what it was, it became surreal.”
Here was Bill Russell, making his first appearance on this field since his managerial firing a decade ago, running out to huge overdue applause deserved by one who has played more Los Angeles Dodgers games than anyone.
There was Eric Karros, the classy link from the past to the present, running out to the sort of applause that was often missing in those years.
They cheered Jimmy Campanis, and you wondered if they weren’t also cheering the memory of his father.
They cheered Don Miles, and he played in only eight games for those 1958 Dodgers -- only eight games in his career -- and you wondered how they knew?
“I can just imagine what it was like in the stands,” Reuss said. “There were grandfathers probably telling their sons about players they remember, and then those sons turning to their sons and talking about different players.”
It was long moments of “Look at that!” and “Is that him?” and “Wow.”
Then, finally, it was the closing stretch of royalty, beginning with Fernando Valenzuela stepping from the dugout, one of the only two players who did not wear a uniform, of course not, he would never wear anything old, right?
His cheers rattled the building, echoing into the entrance of another man from the left-field bullpen, Tom Lasorda, and you knew he was wearing a uniform because he never takes it off.
By now, everyone was standing, folks hooting and stomping and struggling to keep their composure.
“And here came Sandy,” said Manager Joe Torre.
Indeed, here came the cleanup pitcher, the final memory, Sandy Koufax, the only other player not wearing a uniform, as if anyone cared.
Koufax has been on this field maybe once in the last 25 years, he’s so private, yet he came today because the owners asked, and he understood.
Once he stepped to the mound, the cheers still reaching to the center field hills, the current Dodgers players filed out of the dugout to show their own special appreciation by greeting their ancestors.
“It gave me goose bumps,” Matt Kemp said.
The original idea was for Koufax to then end the ceremony by throwing out the first pitch, but, typically Sandy, he didn’t want to do it alone, so he was joined by Carl Erskine and Newcombe.
Nobody was swinging, of course, but on that pitch, a home run was hit by the McCourts, who have proved to be worthy caretakers of the Dodgers culture.
They have rediscovered what the Fox Corp. had lost. They are rebuilding the glorious memories that years of chaotic behavior had eroded.
When it comes to Dodgers history, the owners get it, they really get it.
The only Dodgers legend who was available but missing from Monday’s ceremony was the ever-humble Vin Scully, who preferred to watch it from his broadcast booth, speaking only to announce that ceremonial first pitch.
Appropriately, the mere sound of his voice over the loudspeaker may have elicited the biggest cheers of the day.
“This was about connecting the last 50 years to the next 50 years,” Jamie McCourt said. “The players today, their time has never passed, it will never pass. For Dodgers fans, three hours of a game is a lifetime of memories, and we want to celebrate that.”
The creative force behind the pregame ceremony was the Dodgers’ new chief marketing officer, an eternally bubbly guy named Charles Steinberg who has other surprises planned.
“Today, we were hoping to inaugurate a season in which families can bond with each other over their love of the Dodgers,” he said.
Even the opposing San Francisco Giants did their part Monday, showing up as perhaps the worst team to play here in 50 years, barely making a peep in a 5-0 loss to the Dodgers and Brad Penny.
But this wasn’t about the game. This was about the culture.
This was about a nameplate over a locker next to Penny’s in the Dodgers clubhouse.
“Tom Lasorda,” it reads.
Penny hangs out with Lasorda so much, he insisted the former manager have his own locker, and so he does.
He wants him close. We want all those living memories close, don’t we?
On this most splendid of Dodgers birthdays, they never felt closer.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.