The welcome mat stretched out across the front row in the Dodger Stadium left-field pavilion, a dozen Dodgers fans adorned in cotton and hope.
They were dressed in blue T-shirts bearing one symbol each. Worn separately, the attire would make no sense.
But as Gary Olavarria’s group stood shoulder to shoulder chanting and cheering Monday night, they spelled out a dream.
Standing at home plate for his debut here, Manny Machado could clearly see the greatness of his expectations.
Those fans don’t want just a reprise of the 2008 celebration of Manny Ramirez that resulted in the creation of the original but ultimately failed Mannywood.
They want more. They want that 2.0.
“We’re wearing these shirts because we need to get past Game 7, and we’re hoping he pushes us over the top,” said Bob Ramirez, who wore the first ‘N.’ “This has to be bigger than the first Mannywood. We need this to bring us a championship.”
The fan group, ranging in age from 13 to 47 and wearing shirts ranging from large to 4XL, was organized by Olavarria in just one day, after the Dodgers acquired Machado from the Baltimore Orioles a couple of weeks ago. They are all longtime ticketholders who suffered greatly last season and see Machado as their best hope for what they believe could be this Dodgers team’s last chance.
“I don’t care if he’s a rental, I just know we have to go for it now or it could be another 30 years before we have a chance,” said Olavarria, a self-employed El Monte businessman. “We need this, and we need it now.”
In a 5-2 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers, Machado was indeed welcomed everywhere as a savior for a team that hopes his smart bat and smooth glove can indeed help them survive those final nine innings in October.
When Machado came to the plate for the first time in the first inning, he was greeted with a standing ovation, cheers of, “Man-ny, Man-ny” and an organ-fueled chant of “Let’s Go Man-ny.”
“It was awesome,’’ Machado said after the game. “A very nice ovation my first at-bat. It never gets better than that. Those are moments that you never forget.’’
Machado struck out wildly against Freddy Peralta while swinging for the fences, yet he was still cheered on his way back to the dugout.
“He was trying to hit the ball to us,” said Ramirez from the left-field pavilion. “Can’t blame him for that.”
Machado certainly noticed the Mannywood 2.0 crew, saying, “It was pretty cool. I laughed.’’
Machado swung so hard, he may have blown the lights out, as the stadium bulbs went dark soon thereafter for 23 minutes. But in his second plate appearance, his ability glowed as he drew a two-strike walk and flew around the bases to score on a triple into the right-field corner by Max Muncy.
“Machado is the kind of player that can make everything work,” said Olavarria, who has tattoos of both Dodger Stadium and the Dodger logo on his right forearm. “This is so big.”
In Machado’s first 10 games with the team, all on the road, he has been every bit of big. He is clearly the best player on this team right now, and that includes the league’s best pitching staff.
In those 10 games, he was the perfect antidote to this imperfect swing-from-the-heels era, with a .400 on-base percentage, a .302 batting average, one homer, one double, one triple and seven walks. He reached base safely in each game, contributing in a variety of ways.
In his Dodgers debut in Milwaukee, he had two singles and two walks in a victory. A couple of days later in Philadelphia, he hit an opposite-field triple and sprinted home with the tying run on a fly ball to shallow center field.
Also during the trip, Machado made a pair of spectacular plays at shortstop … and two more jaw-dropping plays at third base.
“This is a bona fide superstar,” said manager Dave Roberts.
Long and lean and limber, the 26-year-old not only looks like a ballplayer, but he talks like one. In his pregame news conference, he acknowledged he was weary of this interview stuff and just wanted to play ball.
“Win games, play, have fun, just go out there, play, win a game tonight, take it all in as much as possible,” he said in his best baseball-speak.
He later added that maybe the only thing he wasn’t loving about his short Dodgers tenure was the craziness of the media attention, noting, “Obviously, we need to stand in front of a camera and answer questions, but ultimately I just play baseball, that’s what I’m good at, that’s what I know.”
It’s OK to fall in love, but don’t get too attached. When he becomes a free agent this winter, his chances of staying here appear slim. Even though he’s already moved to third base here for the ailing Justin Turner, and is playing it well, he reiterated his desire to be a shortstop, and how will that happen on a team with a recuperating Corey Seager?
“Obviously, I’m a shortstop at heart, I want to continue to play shortstop, I will go back over there,” he said rather ominously.
That said, he also didn’t rule the Dodgers out just yet, noting that he will be judging the organization as a potential landing spot during his time here, noting, “I’m going to try new things. It’s definitely going to be a learning experience. I’ll get to know the city a lot better, know the organization a lot better, at the end of the day, we’ll see what happens.”
The Dodgers are certainly trying to get to know him better.
DJ Severe, the Dodger Stadium music man, did his due diligence by meeting Machado in the clubhouse before the game and learning his walk-up music.
It is “Bass Is Gonna Blow Your Mind,” by DJ Uncle Al, a Miami artist who preached nonviolence before being shot and killed in 2001.
Organist Dieter Ruehle also did his homework, playing “Pomp and Circumstance” for Machado because that was the theme song for the late wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
Then, of course, there were the fans, particularly Olavarria’s group, who greeted Machado in a fashion that would surely be unmatched anywhere else.