Alejandro Rangel stood on the field level at Dodger Stadium on opening day and pondered how this new season of Dodger baseball will go. He sighed.
Rangel wore a Yasiel Puig jersey. But Puig, his favorite player, was traded in the offseason. And the Dodgers didn’t sign any flashy free agents to lessen the pain.
Clayton Kershaw still needs to get healthy. For the first time since 2010, the Dodgers’ ace did not start on opening day, thanks to an aching shoulder.
And that’s not to mention that the Dodgers are coming off two consecutive seasons that ended in heartbreak in the World Series.
“We’ll make the playoffs for sure,” said Rangel, 21, of Mission Hills. “I don’t know if we can win the World Series this year — but I hope we do.”
The Boys in Blue started their season Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu throwing against former Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke.
For the Dodgers faithful at Chavez Ravine, the dawn of a new season brought out that familiar, stubborn hope.
“Third time’s a charm,” said Jose Yamasaki, 27, of Azusa. He wore a Matt Kemp jersey. But, Kemp, another fan favorite, was traded along with Puig to the Cincinnati Reds.
As fans streamed into the reserve level hours before the first pitch, a quartet of men in Dodgers jerseys — on a banjo, a tuba, a trumpet and a trombone — played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Fans were buying Dodger Dogs and nacho helmets and blue margaritas before 11 a.m. There were mothers carrying babies to their seats, and there was a World War II veteran celebrating his 100th birthday.
In the stands, a man clutching a Modelo wore a faded blue Dodgers bathrobe over a pair of shorts, and a pregnant woman wore a T-shirt that read: “You’re kickin’ me, Smalls.”
The game was filled with home runs: Joc Pederson, then Enrique Hernandez, then Austin Barnes and Corey Seager. Then Pederson again and Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger. Then Hernandez again. The fans roared and stomped their feet. It was a record eight home runs on opening day as the Dodgers won 12-5.
The biggest home run might have been the setting.
From the top deck, fans pointed out the yellow flowers covering the Elysian Park hills behind the stadium and the picturesque puffy white clouds on a 68-degree afternoon.
“It should be a national holiday,” said Gaston Rodriguez, 55, a retired Air Force veteran from Boyle Heights. He wore a jersey that said “Fan Since ’63.” That was the year he was born and a year in which the Dodgers won a World Series championship.
Rodriguez said he was optimistic. Baseball fandom, he said, is like a New Year’s resolution: You just restart it over and over again.
His son, Anthony, 38, said Dodger Stadium is “like Disneyland for adults.” His other son, Robert, 23, said he was heartbroken that Puig wasn’t on the field.
Louie Armendariz, another retired Air Force veteran, stared out at the field for the first time in his life. He was attending his first Dodgers game at age 63. Growing up in East L.A., he could never afford to come in the stadium.
“This is beautiful,” said Armendariz, who now lives in West Virginia. “I’m amazed.”
Seated on the reserve level were sisters Cindee Inez and Lynne Denuccio, who had been impatiently waiting for baseball season. Baseball runs in their family. They got their Dodgers love from their great-grandma and have passed it on to their own grandkids.
“We don’t do football. We don’t do basketball. We don’t do nothing. We do baseball,” said Inez, 65, of Palmdale. Her hair and fingernails were blue, and she showed off the tattoo of Sandy Koufax’s signature on her left forearm.
When Inez was 9, she came to a game with her grandparents and caught a ball from Koufax. He signed it for her and signed her jersey. She swooned over his dimples and said it’s on her bucket list to meet him again.
Denuccio did raise one adult son who became an avid San Francisco Giants fan.
“It’s not pretty,” she said.
Inez and Denuccio practically live at Dodger Stadium and attended the 2017 and 2018 World Series. They think they’ll be back this year.
Denuccio, 61, of Lancaster, said she, like many others, was sad to see Puig go because she liked his antics and cracked up seeing him kiss hitting coach Turner Ward — now also working for the Cincinnati Reds — after he hit home runs.
Seated behind home plate were Tim Cooney, 67, and his uncle, Terrance Cooney, 90, who has had the same seats since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, when he bought tickets for about $3.50 apiece.
“A side note: They’re more now,” Terrance Cooney, a retired attorney, deadpanned.
He has been to every opening day since the team started playing in L.A. in 1958. Asked why, he said, grinning: “It’s something to do.”
Tim Cooney, a retired film sound engineer who now lives in the Philippines, has been attending games with his uncle for decades. In the bad years, he would leave a few extra tickets on his car windshield and a note that said they were free. In the really bad years, when there was hardly anyone in the stands, he said he’d come back to his car to find more tickets than he’d left.
If he were a religious man, Tim Cooney said, Dodger Stadium would be his church.
“I think it’s important for everybody to invest in something bigger than themselves,” he said. “When life is really good and when life is really bad, the Dodgers are always here for you.”