Column: Dodgers’ home opener delivers emotion, history and a memorable ‘Fred-die!’ welcome

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman holds his helmet and looks at the crowd
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman acknowledges the crowd as fans chant “Fred-die!” following his double in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Freeman scored the go-ahead run on a RBI single by Trea Turner in the Dodgers’ 9-3 home-opening win.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It was dark, it was chilly, and the national anthem was interrupted by the flyover.

There were empty seats, rushed introductions that didn’t give the fans enough time to properly serenade Clayton Kershaw, and an initial feeling that this was just another weekday night.

Then the Dodgers showed up, and thousands of their neighbors roared, and their 60-year-old house shook, and suddenly it all made sense.

Serenaded by chants of “Fred-die!,” Dodgers newcomer Freddie Freeman scores the go-ahead run before Will Smith homers in a 9-3 win over the Reds.

April 14, 2022

Welcome back. Welcome home.

For only the fourth time in 46 years, the Dodgers’ home opener took place at night, and while Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds initially felt weird, Dodger Stadium was eventually raucous and rollicking and…


“Fred-die! Fred-die! Fred-die!”

In a tiebreaking six-run eighth inning, newcomer Freddie Freeman led off with a ground-rule double over the left-center field fence that elicited both Dodger Stadium’s newest chant and perhaps the first curtain call for a player standing on second base.

The welcoming crowd roared Freeman’s first name again and again as he waved, then doffed his cap, taking two curtain calls despite standing in the middle of the diamond in a tie game.

You’ve never seen it before? Guess what, he’s also never seen it before.

“The fans created a moment for me that I’ll never forget,” said Freeman, an Orange County kid who signed with the Dodgers last month. “I really haven’t gotten chanted for when I just hit a double… that’s as good as it gets, man… it’s really hard to put into words.”

Freeman scored on Trea Turner’s single, then Justin Turner walked, then Will Smith hammered a three-run homer over the center-field fence to highlight the huge inning that led to an eventual 9-3 Dodgers’ victory.

The game ended, “I Love L.A” filled the air, brake lights filled the parking lot and truly, the Dodgers were once again home.

“It’s fun, we have some of the best fans in all of sports, our first game back, 53,000 here, if you don’t have jitters something’s wrong with you,” said Walker Buehler, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings.


Jitters became chills on a night when the Dodgers’ sixth game felt like their first, a night that eventually felt very much like an opening day.

“Some good things tonight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts in an understatement.

Indeed, in an event that was pushed back two weeks because of baseball’s 99-day lockout — they were initially scheduled to begin the season by hosting the Colorado Rockies on the afternoon of March 31 — the Dodgers quickly reintroduced themselves.

They brought the emotion, with Jaime Jarrín throwing out the first pitch in honor of the 64th and final season for the Dodgers’ esteemed Spanish-language broadcaster.

Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrín prepares to throw out the first pitch before Thursday's home opener.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They brought the history, surrounding Jarrín with seven former stars whose careers span the length of his career — Wes Parker, Rick Monday, Fernando Valenzuela, Adrian Beltre, Eric Gagne, Nomar Garciaparra and Adrian Gonzalez.


Then they brought the hammer. Goodness, did they bring the hammer.

They banged out five straight singles in the first inning against overmatched opener Luis Cessa, taking a 3-0 lead, shaking the cobwebs from Chavez Ravine, bringing the 2022 home schedule to life.

Then, after Reds home runs from Aristides Aquino and Brandon Drury tied it, Freeman led the eighth-inning charge with a curtain call that surprised everyone.

“It was a nice welcome home for Freddie,” Roberts said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen something like that… our fans have admired him for so many years… to kind of put their arms around him tonight was kind of the sentiment.”

Stringing together 12 singles amid 14 hits, the Dodgers connected plate appearances befitting of a team that a day earlier had received a lesson in unselfishness.

In 1972, 25 years after he broke MLB’s color barrier, Robinson reflected on the ongoing fight for equality. Former Times sportswriter Ron Rapoport recounts that interview just months before Robinson’s death.

April 14, 2022

You might remember, the tone for the season was set on Wednesday in Minneapolis, when Kershaw was willingly pulled from a perfect game after seven innings and just 80 pitches.

Some fans were outraged, but the message delivered by Kershaw and Roberts was far more important than six more outs. Through their actions, they both showed that the Dodgers aren’t about winning one moment, they’re about winning a season.


Then, on Thursday before the game, they actually said it.

“The individual stuff is not why I continue to play the game,” Kershaw said. “I want to win. That supersedes anything individual for me right now.”

Kershaw reminded everyone that he missed last October with an elbow injury, and he didn’t want that to happen again.

Fireworks shoot off after Dodgers players are introduced before the team's home opener.
Fireworks shoot off after Dodgers players are introduced before the team’s home opener against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“The way my season ended last year, not being able to be a part of October, that’s why I’m here,” he said. “That’s why I came back, to be ready for that. Every decision that we make is geared toward that month of the season, for us.”

For us.

Those are two powerful words that were surely heard throughout the clubhouse.

“What he said yesterday really set the tone for the 2022 Dodgers… that he’s here to win… anything other than that would be selfish,” Roberts said. “You’re talking about a person whose done everything in the game, for him to say that, that resonates in our clubhouse.”


The same attitude can be found in the legacy of Jarrín, who is credited with connecting the Dodgers with the Latino community, both through his broadcasting and his stint as Valenzuela’s interpreter.

When Jarrín began as their full-time broadcaster in 1959, the Dodger Stadium crowd was approximately 8% Latino. Today, it is around 46% Latino.

After starting the season on the road, the Dodgers returned to Dodger Stadium on Thursday to play the Cincinnati Reds in their 2022 home opener.

April 14, 2022

“In the beginning, we had to teach the people how to follow baseball, and look at it now,” said Jarrín, 86, who is finishing his career as baseball’s longest tenured active broadcaster. “In the beginning the Latinos were only up in the highest bleachers. Now you find them everywhere, in every section of the stadium. This has become a very special place.”

Jarrín, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is retiring to spend more time with his two grown sons and work with the Jaime and Blanca Jarrín Foundation, which was started in memory of his late wife.

“Some days I’m a little bit sad. I know I’m going to miss the game,” Jarrín said. “But some days I’m going to be very happy. I am totally, totally convinced this is the right time for me to leave the Dodgers, time to change priorities.”

As a way of easing out of the job, Jarrín will not work road games this year. But his distinctive, historic voice will echo through the city forever.