Return of Dodgers fans provides a preview of a warm, welcoming summer for all
We had three warm months last year, but we did not have summer.
On Friday morning, the Hollywood Bowl announced it soon would welcome a live audience. On Friday afternoon, the Dodgers did, for the first time in 18 months.
In Los Angeles, we mark summers by Dodger Dogs and picnics at the Hollywood Bowl.
A limited number of fans see the Dodgers win their home opener and receive their 2020 championship rings Friday.
“It feels like L.A. is back,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “It feels like life is returning.”
For more than a year, we’ve been warned that singing, chanting and yelling is best avoided, for fear of exhaling virus-carrying droplets. On Friday, thousands of fans at Dodger Stadium exhaled loudly, booing Garcetti as if he were Chase Utley in New York.
The Dodgers won real games here last year, but with fake fans. The other night, when Charley Steiner called a road game on radio, he did it here, off a television monitor, with no fans.
“Two painters,” Steiner said.
The Dodgers complete a sweep of the Washington Nationals thanks to three RBIs from Zach McKinstry, great pitching by Clayton Kershaw and a save by Kenley Jansen.
As 15,036 fans found their way to socially distanced seats, Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis welcomed them to the grand old stadium.
“This wonderful place is about to get its voice back,” Davis said. “It’s about to get its soul back.”
The stadium, sure, but the city too. In an era when technology so easily fractures us, Dodger Stadium binds us, as one of the city’s few great gathering places. The Beatles played the stadium, and the Hollywood Bowl too, and how many cities can say the Beatles played in two landmark venues that still exist?
Justin Turner had a story to share Friday, one he said he could not remember sharing publicly. His grandmother grew up in the Southland, as Dodger Stadium turned from vision into reality.
“Her family vacations were to come up here and watch the progress going on, as they were building it,” Turner said. “So I think it’s deeply embedded into the roots of L.A.”
Dodger Stadium turns 60 next year, but never has it been more vital than during the year in which games were played without fans. Los Angeles could vote here, take a COVID test here, get vaccinated here, in this cathedral of baseball.
“Given the number of lives we’ve saved in this parking lot, it takes on an especially sacred meaning,” Garcetti said. “I worked day after day here, and I saw the hope that was put back on people’s faces, the reassurance when they got a test result and the pure joy when they got a vaccine.
“To me, it’s the marriage of two things I love: the Dodgers and L.A.’s spirit. The Dodgers have always embodied that but, when we needed it most, they stepped up and they were here.”
Frank McCourt, the Dodgers’ previous owner, liked to talk about an owner being “the steward” of the team, a private business reflecting a public trust. In a pandemic, this ownership walked that walk, searing Dodger Stadium into the memory of so many Angelenos who might not even be baseball fans.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ first World Series rings in 32 years weigh 11 carats and feature about as much bling as can fit.
“It’s an iconic space in L.A.,” Turner said. “Most people consider it their home away from home, even more so with a testing site and a voting site and a vaccination site, and then obviously being able to come in here and watch their beloved Dodgers play.
“This place holds a very special place in everyone’s heart.”
The Dodgers celebrated their championship Friday, but Garcetti said he has not given up hope of a parade, or some sort of civic celebration, perhaps when the calendar actually turns to summer and public health authorities provide their blessing.
“It’ll feel like an incomplete year if we don’t have something cathartic,” Garcetti said, “with a full stadium or lined streets.”
We can hope, for that and so many more important reasons.
We can cheer, in person, as fans did when Turner hit a home run, and when Corey Knebel — not Kenley Jansen — got the final three outs of a 1-0 victory.
We can even grumble again, at the infernal lines at the parking gates and at the concession stands, at paying $9 for a Coke and $14.75 for a Bud Light. Garcetti got caught in the congestion entering the ballpark, just like thousands of other fans.
Bless the chance to be here to boo. The boys of summer are back, and so is summer itself.
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