The temperature at game time was 74 degrees, and everything else after that was just as perfect for the Dodgers on Monday.
OK, make that everything except for the jerks arguing with each other in the parking lot afterward and the stabbing that followed. A lethal fight broke out on opening night at Angel Stadium, too. Have our baseball stadiums now become staging grounds for hotheads and idiots?
For those who love baseball, came to watch it and not to showcase their testosterone levels, Monday couldn’t have been better.
It was opening day at Dodger Stadium. In a city that loves baseball like it does sunshine and beaches, this is more ritual than event.
The largest crowd to see a game in Dodger Stadium, 57,099, showed up as testament to that. And in the 3 hours 1 minute of an 11-1 victory, it went beyond mere game to lifetime memories.
There were so many scrapbook moments, there was so much to fall back on in tougher days, as the 162-game season pushes through summer and, ideally for the Dodgers, well into the chill of autumn and early winter.
The victory was against the hated San Francisco Giants. There are rivalries and there is the Dodgers versus the Giants. Juan Marichal’s bat to the head of John Roseboro still lives. They introduced both teams before the game and Dodgers fans booed the Giants’ batboy. Where have you gone, Barry Bonds? A nation of Dodgers fans turns its throaty voices to you.
Pitcher Chad Billingsley, 24, went seven innings, struck out 11 and gave up only five hits. This was his first Dodgers home-opener assignment.
“An awesome experience,” he said.
The Dodger with the most home-opener experience is the late Don Drysdale, who had five such starts. Drysdale went into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1984, the year Billingsley was born.
The Dodgers’ O-Dog, Orlando Hudson, hit for the cycle, a baseball achievement occurring as often as trips to the moon. His single, double, triple and home run marked the first time that had been done by a Dodger at Dodger Stadium. Forty-seven years and never before.
“It’s fantastic,” Hudson said. “It means a lot to do it in Dodger Blue, in front of a passionate crowd.”
Right fielder Andre Ethier hit two home runs, drove in four runs and, fittingly, made a tough running catch to end the game.
Billingsley even contributed with his bat. In a half-hour-long Dodgers fourth inning, after Ethier’s first homer had made it 2-1, Billingsley came to the plate with one out and runners on first and second. Everybody knew he would bunt, and he still dropped the perfect sacrifice down the third base line.
There were bigger bombs in the inning, but perhaps none more important than Billingsley’s 15-foot tap, followed immediately by Rafael Furcal’s two-run single.
As a bunter, “I have good days and bad days,” Billingsley said, with a big smile.
It was suggested afterward to Manager Joe Torre that this game was so perfect for the Dodgers that it was like he drew it up on a chalkboard.
“We had guys on second and third one time when Russell [Martin] lined out,” Torre said, with a big smile.
OK, so perfection is a reach. But in every way, from organization to player, the Dodgers gave it their best Hollywood try.
There were pregame rockets, a Stealth bomber flyover, long strands of blue-and-silver confetti, great renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America.” The pregame introductions that brought boos for the Giants were also orchestrated to maximize the dramatics. They were done numerically, making No. 99, a left fielder named Ramirez, the grand finale. Manny was Manny, from the broad smile to the waves and swaying dreadlocks.
All of this, maybe even the game, played second fiddle to a red-headed Irish guy named Vin Scully. There are franchise players, but only one franchise broadcaster.
On this, the occasion of his 60th season as Dodgers broadcaster, he was to throw out the first ball. Fellow broadcaster Charlie Steiner introduced him as “the best broadcaster in the history of the medium.”
It was to be Scully’s third time throwing out the first ball. The first was in 1973, the second in the early 1990s before a game against Arizona.
“The teams were lined up along both base lines,” Scully recalled. “Don Newcombe was down there with me. He kept telling me to get closer to home, to get down on the grass. Buck Showalter was Arizona’s manager, standing closest to home plate, and I saw him kind of nervous, edging away.
“But I had this one all set up. I went to the stretch and Eric Karros stepped out from the Dodger line. I tossed it to him and he tossed it to the catcher. It was the first-ever first-ball relay toss.”
Shortly before the game, country singer and plate umpire Joe West had given Scully a CD he had done, telling him he wanted him to have it now because the second cut on the new album mentions both Scully and Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas. Kalas had collapsed and died in the booth in Washington earlier in the day.
“Not sure if I want to tell my wife about this,” Scully said.
But just after 1 p.m., the 81-year-old lefty from Fordham went to a spot about 10 feet in front of the Dodger Stadium mound, Joe West’s CD in his pocket. Behind the plate, a 68-year-old catcher.
Scully rocked and threw. Might have been a spitball. Torre gathered it in. The 149-year-old battery had been near-perfect.
Then the Dodgers’ kids took over, and they were, too.