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Dodgers opening days to savor: Robinson’s debut, Fernandomania’s start, Kershaw’s blast

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 2019: Dodgers fan Elliott Kirschenmann, of Bakersfield, c
Dodgers fan Elliott Kirschenmann celebrates Kiké Hernández’s seventh-inning home run on opening day 2019 at Chavez Ravine.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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A look, in chronological order, at five of the most memorable opening days in Dodgers history:

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Erasing the color line
Dodgers facts and figures
Brooklyn Dodgers, from left, John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson pose for a photo on April 15, 1947. Robinson became the first African American to play in a major league game that day.
(Associated Press)

Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in a major league game April 15, 1947, when the former UCLA four-sport standout started at first base and batted second for the Brooklyn Dodgers in a 5-3 win over the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field.

There was racial tension in the Dodgers clubhouse before the opener, with some players insinuating they would sit out rather than play alongside Robinson. Manager Leo Durocher quelled a potential mutiny, telling his team, “I don’t care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a zebra, I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays!”

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Robinson went 0 for 3 in his debut but went on to win National League rookie of the year honors that season and most valuable player honors in 1949, when he hit .342 with 16 homers, 124 RBIs and 37 stolen bases.

He played in six World Series during a 10-year Hall of Fame career, and April 15 is now known as “Jackie Robinson Day,” when players on every team wear No. 42 during that day’s game.

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Housewarming party
First game at Dodger Stadium
Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly catches a foul popup by Frank Robinson on April 10, 1962, during the first game at Dodger Stadium.
(Al Monteverde / Los Angeles Times)

After moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958 and playing four years in the Coliseum, the Dodgers christened 53,000-seat Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine on April 10, 1962, with a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Kay O’Malley, wife of then-Dodgers President Walter O’Malley, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Left-hander Johnny Podres, the hero of the 1955 World Series, got the first start. Hall of Famer Duke Snider got the first hit.

Dodger Stadium was built for $23 million on land seized via eminent domain from its inhabitants by the city of Los Angeles in the early 1950s. The city originally planned to build public housing on the property.

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The Dodgers have spent about $300 million since 2012 renovating the stadium, which is now the third-oldest in baseball behind Boston’s Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914).

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A star is born
3. April 9, 1981 — Start of Fernandomania
Fernando Valenzuela pitched a shutout to beat the Houston Astros in his first major league start on April 9, 1981.
(Rob Brown / Herald Examiner Collection)

When Jerry Reuss was scratched from the 1981 opener because of injury, manager Tom Lasorda handed the ball to 20-year-old left-hander Fernando Valenzuela, who had made 10 relief appearances the previous September.

Armed with a devastating screwball and a herky jerky delivery in which he’d look skyward at the apex of his windup, Valenzuela threw a five-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over Houston, kick-starting a streak in which he went 8-0 with an 0.50 ERA, seven complete games and five shutouts.

Valenzuela became an instant sensation, with thousands of Latino fans flocking to the stadium for his starts and sparking the craze known as “Fernandomania.”

Valenzuela went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA with an NL-leading 180 strikeouts in 25 starts during the strike-shortened season and became the first player to win rookie of the year and Cy Young awards in the same season. He went 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA in five postseason starts to help the Dodgers win the 1981 World Series.

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Giant slayer
Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw celebrates after hitting a home run against the San Francisco Giants on opening day 2013 at Dodger Stadium.
(Christina House / For The Times)

The 2013 opener in Dodger Stadium began with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and ace Clayton Kershaw throwing the last pitch, completing a four-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Kershaw struck out seven, walked none and broke up a scoreless tie with the first homer of his career, a solo shot to center field off reliever George Kontos to spark a four-run eighth inning. Kershaw became the first player to pitch a shutout and hit a homer on opening day since Dodgers Hall of Famer Don Drysdale in 1965.

It remains the only homer of Kershaw’s 12-year career in which the three-time Cy Young Award winner has hit .159 with 200 strikeouts and 13 extra-base hits.

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“I had no idea it was going out because I’ve never hit one like that in a game,” Kershaw said. “What an awesome feeling.”

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Bash brothers
LOS ANGELES, CA, THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 2019 - Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke waits as Dodgers catch
Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke waits as Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes rounds the bases after hitting a fourth-inning home run March 28, 2019, at Dodger Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers’ pursuit of their seventh consecutive NL West title began with a booming 12-5 victory over Arizona in a 2019 opener in which they hit eight homers, four off Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke.

Joc Pederson hit a two-run shot in the second inning and a two-run blast in the sixth; Kiké Hernandez hit a two-run shot in the fourth and a solo shot in the seventh; Corey Seager and Austin Barnes hit solo homers in the fourth, and Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger hit solo shots in the seventh.

The eight homers set a major league record for a season opener and tied the club record set in the May 2002 game in which Shawn Green hit four homers. The Dodgers went on to set the National League single-season record with 279 home runs.

“I don’t know if the balls are juiced or the ball is carrying,” Hernandez said opening day, “but yeah, the ball was going far.”


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Mike DiGiovanna is a sports writer who contributes to the coverage of the Dodgers, Angels and Chargers for the Los Angeles Times. He won Associated Press Sports Editors awards for feature-story writing in 2017 and game-story writing in 2001 and Orange County Press Club Awards for feature and game-story writing in 1996 and 1997. A native of East Lyme, Conn., and a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, he began writing for The Times in 1981. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 1995 and spent 19 years as the paper’s Angels beat writer and two on the Dodgers.