Greetings from Chavez Ravine, where Dodger Stadium just held a 50th birthday party with a bunch of candles, loads of singing, but no cake.
We missed you.
You were absent for only your second home opener in 63 years, yet your voice here has never been louder.
The Dodgers said you have a cold, yet it’s the rest of us who are shivering. The Dodgers said you should return to work in a couple of days, yet it is the rest of us who now feel like calling in sick.
In front of an old-fashioned full house, the Dodgers earned an old-fashioned 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a game you would have loved, yet it was a game the rest us loved just a little less.
Yes, Vin, we know you’re 84 and purposely cutting back your schedule every season, but the home opener is always different. The home opener is a chance for Los Angeles to see you for the first time in six months and welcome you back into our lives for another summer. Frankly, it is impossible to imagine the team opening the doors of Dodger Stadium without you.
Before the Dodgers announced the bad news, I received a text from a friend at 8 a.m. Tuesday that read, in all caps, “Hi, and a very pleasant Tuesday morning to you wherever you may be … opening day, whoo hoo!”
That was a city talking.
When it comes to home openers, Vin, you’re the guy lugging around the giant ring of keys.
“Just knowing Vin wasn’t in the building was really strange,” said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. “I really think it took something away from the afternoon.”
It took the breath out of 56,000 people, that’s what it did. When it was announced before the game that you were sick, a giant “Ohhhhhh” rippled through the crowd. Moments later, when they showed your image on the giant scoreboard, fans regrouped to give you the longest and loudest pregame ovation of anyone.
For once, Vin, here’s hoping you were listening to us.
Mattingly said he texted you best wishes before the game, but he wasn’t sure you texted. You don’t, do you? I would never want to read your voice on a tiny video screen. I only want to hear it, and how I wished we could have heard it Tuesday, if only because it is one of the few days of the season when you address the crowd.
You would have loved to introduce the 1962 Dodgers, particularly Maury Wills, who skipped to the foul line like he was go-go-going again. You would have loved to welcome former owner Peter O’Malley, who regally escorted his sister, Terry Seidler, to the mound for the first pitch ceremony.
Fifty years ago, O’Malley’s mother threw out the first pitch of the first game here at the request of his father. This time, it was his sister throwing the ball. Hard to tell, but I think she threw a full-circle changeup.
“To see us standing in his dream 50 years later, my father would have been very proud,” said Peter.
Thank goodness Walter O’Malley couldn’t have seen the bowels of the stadium during the rest of the game, because it resembled a nightmare. There were endless concession lines, claustrophobic concourses, dirty bathrooms, horrible conditions even for a crowded home opener. The stadium’s face may still be pretty, but the 50th birthday party served as a reminder that its insides have not aged well.
After the ceremonial pitch, Vin, you would walked back upstairs to the television booth, which was crowded in your absence. Yeah, big surprise, two people were required to replace you, Charley Steiner and Steve Lyons.
You would have chuckled at the rest of the pregame ceremonies, which included the unfortunate decision to release a flock of doves before the end of the fireworks display. It was nearly one giant sacrifice fly. You also missed the Beach Boys ... well, not really.
Finally, the game mercifully began with a thing of beauty that would have fit perfectly into your vocabulary.
Dee Gordon singled to right field and stole second on the next pitch. Mark Ellis then battled to bounce a ground ball to the right of second base, moving Gordon to third. Matt Kemp followed with a grounder to shortstop and Gordon scored.
One run on one hit, one sprint, and two great at-bats — particularly from Ellis, who has already given himself up a handful of times this season to help move Gordon along.
“Hey, I know I’m not going into the Hall of Fame, I’m just about helping us win,” Ellis said.
You would have been talking about Ellis’ grounder for two innings, Vin. And then you would have capped the afternoon with your trademark big-hit silence after Andre Ethier hit the game-winning homer in the eighth inning.
Silence, because the crowd roared, and Ethier doffed his cap, and the crowd roared some more, and a few minutes later there were flying outfielders and a fist-pumping closer and a thunderous Dodger Stadium was back in business.
Come a-way back to work, Vin, and soon.