Some 56,000 baseball fans arrived on buses and motorbikes, by Uber and on foot. They wore flip-flops and treasured jerseys pulled from the bottoms of drawers. They wore tube tops, T-shirts and the first sunburns of spring.
It was like a bounce house crossed with a church picnic at the Dodgers’ 60th opening day Thursday. Some fans sat quietly happy, their lunches in their laps. Others chugged lunch with both fists.
Whatever. A little lunacy never hurt anyone. It’s a ballpark, after all, that most egalitarian of places, and L.A.’s town square.
“Let’s go, Dodgers!” they screamed across the land.
As fans streamed into the reserve level, a quartet of men in Dodgers hats — on a tuba, clarinet, trumpet and banjo — played chipper tunes. Among them, of course, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Marlene Uva, 68, smiled as she looked around at the crowd gathering under a beautifully blue sky.
“It’s like the Kentucky Derby of baseball,” she said.
And the favorite, of course, is these Dodgers.
Coming off a World Series, high expectations ran through the crowd. Another Fall Classic appearance felt like a given Thursday. But the thought of Clayton Kershaw going elsewhere after this season for many was chill-inducing.
“If we had won Game 7, there’d be zero stress,” said Joe Fossum, a teacher from Sacramento. “But with Kershaw able to opt out after this season ….”
His voice trailed off.
Yes, there was the sense of now-or-never at the stadium Thursday, but also of celebration.
“How come Sandy [Koufax] looks better in jeans than we do?” asked one fan as the 82-year-old Dodgers legend mingled with dignitaries before the game.
The 4 p.m. start time seemed strange, as if an eclipse had swept over Chavez Ravine. It was 73 degrees at 1 p.m., but even warmer by game time. Usually the Dodgers begin their year in the high sun.
But still the fans arrived early — solo and in pairs, in giant groups, big families and fan clubs, just as they had since 1958, first in the Coliseum and now here.
Andrea and Randy Marino said there was nowhere they’d rather be than Dodger Stadium on opening day. Even after last year’s soul-crushing final loss.
In a nod to Holy Week, Andrea wore a Dodger blue T-shirt with a cross, Jesus’ crown of thorns and the words “God First Family Second Then Dodgers Baseball.”
The married couple grabbed burritos in Pico Rivera and rushed to the stadium, chowing down as they sat in the queue of cars to be some of the first people into the parking lot.
Andrea came prepared to have a good time, carrying sandwich baggies of sliced limes and Tajin seasoning for her Dos Equis beer.
“There wasn’t any question we’d be back for more,” she said. “We’re still excited. There’s nothing like opening day, especially in Los Angeles.”
Still, questions hung in the air, amid the smoke of pregame fireworks.
- When will Justin Turner return?
- Will the toilets flush?
- Just who is Pia Toscano, who sang the anthem?
- Most of all: When will the Dodgers be fully watchable on TV?
But for a few hours, those concerns seemed pushed to the back of the old ballyard. A broken sewage line had cut Tuesday’s final Freeway Series game short. On Thursday, everything was coming up roses.
The new safety netting, extended past the dugouts, didn’t seem to bother anyone, though some baseball purists are sure to yelp.
“When you sit behind home plate, you have netting, so what?” said Ryan Williams of Simi Valley.
Across the stadium, lines were short and drinks were long. An hour before game time, fans could walk up to the counter in the loge section, and even the top deck looked more like a regular season game than a busy opening day.
With the pounding of the pregame music, you could barely think. But thinking just hurts the team, right?
A couple of Scullys — Vin’s son, Kevin, and his wife, Dara — represented the Dodgers’ first family, grabbing tickets Thursday morning, racing up from Orange County and stopping for a pregame meal at El Compadre, another Dodger tradition.
“The drinks were flowing, the music was flowing, everything was good,” said Scully as he settled into a loge level seat with Dara.
On the top deck, David Garcia, 85, celebrated his 60th Dodgers home opener, with his two sons.
In the loge section, legendary peanut vendor Roger Owens was warming up with precise tosses across rows and rows of sets.
He has worked all 60 Dodgers openers, starting with 25-cent bags in the Coliseum (they cost $6.25 today). He seems a storybook character, all mirth and hyperbole, the kind of creature ballparks used to attract like mice.
“I throw a fast nut, a curve nut and knuckle bag,” he brags.
Let the season begin.