Impressions of Dodger Stadium Opening Day

The scene approximately one hour before today's first pitch.

Seeing Vin Scully being introduced, in absentia, during the pregame ceremonies for the Dodgers’ first home appearance of the season, his image on the scoreboard without his voice, put pressure directly on my heart.

My understanding is that Scully is going to be fine and is simply doing what any sensible person with a bad cold does – staying home and getting better. I expect him to be in fine fettle in no time.

But the small reminder of the inevitable and just how devastating it’s going to be – for me, for you, for the city – turned me upside down. No person that is not a family member has meant more to me.

We are so, so lucky to have had Scully in our lives for so long. For most of us, he’s been there since before we were born. But it’s a measure of the man that it still doesn’t seem like enough.

It was hard enough to imagine a world without Chick Hearn or a world without John Wooden, or a world without my grandmother. For a moment, I was forced to confront a world without Vin Scully, and I just wanted to turn and run.

* * *

Dodger Stadium has been blessed with wonderful weather in recent home openers. Today was downright exquisite – a vista in which Scully would have found poetry.

* * *

Highlight of the pregame ceremonies: the return of Peter O’Malley and his sister, Terry O’Malley Seidler to the field of Dodger Stadium. They might still be on the ownership sidelines, but it certainly looked like they belonged.

Tommy Lasorda caught Seidler’s pitch, then took off his mitt and waved his fingers as if she had burned them with the heat.

They showed the familiar image of O’Malley with his mother Kay throwing out the original first pitch at Dodger Stadium 50 years ago, and it just is remarkable to me how young he was. Twenty-five years old, with this new stadium as your home base? Could life have been sweeter?

* * *

The appeal of daytime fireworks has long been lost on me. They take something dazzling and loud and replace them with something … loud. But, they’re a Dodger Stadium Opening Day tradition at this point, just like the release of doves in pristine white flight at the end of the National Anthem.

Never, however, had I seen the doves fly directly into the path of the fireworks.

There was a gasp in the crowd as it appeared for a moment that about a hundred birds were being blown to smithereens right before our eyes. However, they continued on their journey, deafened but unbowed, as my brother commented regarding the narrowly avoided avian calamity, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

* * *

I’ve always been one to downplay the legacy of Maury Wills. The subject of one of my earliest posts at Dodger Thoughts was how Wills was not as important as his reputation suggests, nor as revolutionary.

But the folks who watched Wills play insist that I can’t possibly appreciate him without having seen him.  Baseball Analysts founder Rich Lederer, as faithful an adherent to statistics as they come, would always challenge my take on Wills. And it’s not like it was a point I really was interested in strenuously contesting.

Fifty years later, the arrival of Dee Gordon has set the stage for me to have my own Maury Wills experience. On-base percentage and home runs be damned, I just know that every time this guy comes up to the plate, I’m excited, and every time he starts running those bases, even on a grounder to second, I’m on the edge of my seat.

Some people might say that Gordon is no more than Juan Pierre. That might be true, if Pierre played a promising shortstop instead of a feeble-armed outfield and was paid 5 percent of that big contract he signed instead of every penny.

In the first inning today, more than any pregame ceremony could, the Roadrunner brought us back to 1962. A single. A stolen base on the next pitch. A jaunt to third on a 4-3 groundout by Mark Ellis, and another jog home on Matt Kemp’s grounder to short. A 1-0 lead, Kid Koufax on the mound. These are days …

* * *

When Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch that isn’t a strike, I’m surprised. When he gives up a hit, I’m a bit taken aback. And when he gives up a run … give up a run?

Leading off the top of the second inning, Casey McGehee hit a deep fly to center that had a hint of home run potential. One thing’s for sure: Kemp didn’t look like he was going to catch it.  At best, Kemp was in the same zip code – he never got a good read on the soaring sphere in the afternoon sun, and it landed at warning-track distance for a stand-up triple.

(If Vin were here: What’s the old Noel Coward line? ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun …‘)

The play cost Kershaw a no-hitter – which I know I wasn’t alone in speculating about. It also threatened to cause the Dodgers’ lead to disappear just like that.

Strikeout. Strikeout. Fly to left.

These are days, to remember.

* * *

Those of us waiting to see James Loney and Juan Uribe get untracked got mixed results today. Loney drew a walk in his first at-bat, but went 0 for 2, including a meek, check-swing groundout in the fourth, leaving him 0 for 12 this season.

Uribe, on the other hand, went 3 for 3, but his first hit was a tit-for-tat sun single to center field in the bottom of the second, and his third hit was a dribbler well shy of the infield basepaths. But you take what you can get in this game.

A.J. Ellis, who has been my unsung hero in this season’s outer atmosphere, went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Not once in 2011 did he have a hitless game with two strikeouts.

But Kershaw nearly was the game’s other offensive gem. With Loney and Uribe at first and third, it took a strong play by second baseman Neil Walker to steal an RBI single from Kershaw.

* * *

I had a chocolate malt and it seemed less rich than I was used to. The ingredients were led by “skim milk.” Is this something new, or have I just noticed it for the first time?

* * *

Bottom of the sixth inning. Two out. Juan Rivera takes a 1-2 pitch for a ball.

“Deuces wild,” my brother says.

Vin.

* * *

One to nil into the seventh inning, the game proceeding at the quick step. Aside from the triple, Kershaw has allowed one other baserunner, a fourth-inning single by Pirates pitcher Kevin Correia (who was then picked off), while striking out seven.

Alex Presley begins the new frame with an infield single, and Andrew McCutchen sends him to second with the Pirates’ fourth hit. Nobody out, and it’s all on Kershaw’s shoulders again.

McGehee hits another fly ball, this one to left field. Rivera catches it, but thinks he can throw out a tagging Presley at third base. No dice, and McCutchen glides into second. Fundamental error that won’t go in the boxscore.

Sure enough, the next batter, Matt Hague, whom I know nothing about but can only hope hails from The Hague, hits what would be an inning-ending double-play grounder to Gordon. But Gordon can only make the play at first. The game is as tied as can be.

Pirates 000 000 1 – 1 4 0
Dodgers 100 000 - – 1 4 0

Kershaw gets another grounder to end the top of the seventh. He’s thrown only 88 pitches, and I’m not sure there’s anyone on the Dodger bench the fans would rather see at the plate. But he’s still on the mend from his sad stomach of yesterweek. So with Uribe on first and two out, Adam Kennedy pinch-hits. And singles.

Gordon takes a ball, fouls off two pitches, and strikes out swinging. Kershaw’s row in the ledger for 2012 is updated: 0-0, 0.90 ERA, 10 innings, 10 strikeouts.

* * *

Kenley Jansen enters in the eighth inning with Merlin Olsen’s No. 74 on his back. Jansen sacks Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, then tackles Garrett Jones for no gain as the two-minute warning approaches.

* * *

Bottom of the eighth. It’s not even 3:30 p.m. But I’m wondering if we might still be here when 7 o’clock rolls around.

Mark Ellis and Kemp strike out, bringing up Andre Ethier. I’m watching, languidly. I probably should be expecting more, but my thoughts have already turned to whether the Dodger bullpen can keep the Pirates scoreless into dusk.

And then Ethier just blasts one. Boom! Somewhere, a white dove has an aftershock. High, far, long, deep, distant, going, gone.

“Happy birthday, Andre Ethier” flashes the scoreboard. The guy who fought for his job for what must have seemed so long to him, the guy who has fought for respect even after he seemingly earned it … the fighter is now 30. He’s 30 and he’s taking a curtain call from 50,000-plus agog fans at Dodger Stadium.

I spent my 30th birthday at a Westside pool hall, wondering if I might get a kiss from a girl that I didn’t even like that much, then settling in for drinks and bar food with a few close friends. Same thing, right?

* * *

Javy Guerra, future ex-closer according to Jansen’s fantasy league owners, enters in the ninth inning. He strikes out Jose Tabata, but Presley singles.

“Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates’ best hitter,” I tell my brother. “He’s the guy who can hurt us.”

That double play the Dodgers didn’t get in the seventh inning? McCutchen gives it to us in the ninth, Gordon to Ellis to Loney. Ballgame.

Is it over too quick? Too busy celebrating the win to decide.

* * *

The Dodgers are 4-1. They have won four games without Kershaw getting credit for any.

Andre Ethier sounds like the mayor of Los Angeles on the radio postgame show.

Just 76 more wins, I say to myself. That sounds doable, especially if they can keep beating the likes of the Padres and Pirates.

Hours later, I realize I meant 86. Oh well.

* * *

I’m driving home at 4 p.m. after a day at the ballpark. Every day should be like this. Only with Vin.

  • Marcelo .

    Thank you for the recap.  Unlike about 56000, I was stuck in the office just a few blocks from the Stadium.  So close and yet so far.

  • Anonymous

    Is Juan Rivera’s arm that weak? I was at the game and haven’t yet seen a replay, but its not very often you see someone advance to 3rd on what looked like a routine flyball to left.

    • Anonymous

      Not sure how weak it is, but it is certainly weaker than he thinks it is.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Well, he was deep enough that he shouldn’t have really been trying with the go-ahead run on base. 

  • Anonymous

    Great, great post.  You hit all the buttons on that one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/FalloIsFallo Rafael Fallito Nieves

       Remember something, there are 157 games to go.  Poise is needed for the long ride…

      • Anonymous

        Jon can do it!

  • http://profiles.google.com/michaelgreen327 Michael Green

    Jon, great piece, as usual.  My thought was, Vin would have rhapsodized about Drew Drysdale.  And I think of him recalling how Ann brought the kids to the park after Big D’s death, and little DJ clambered up onto his dad’s old chair, and Vin hugged him, and I thought, yes, Vin would have gotten choked up.  Maybe he did at home.

    As for the thought about Vin, I just learned that a dear friend of mine who is older than Vin is seriously ill.  And I thought, how sad, but what a life he has led!  I’m glad I’ve cherished the moments with him, and I’m glad I’ve cherished the moments listening to Vin.  Somewhere, I hear Red Barber saying, “Young Scully, chicken soup!”

  • John Stodder

    Jon, this was a model of fine writing.  I’ve got some writing to do tonight and I will frequently refer to this to keep me from going off the rails.  

    Wish I could have been there, but I saw most of it on TV, including the two Dodger scoring plays.  Yeah, hard to believe, Ethier is 30.  The “kids” of a few years ago are down to Kemp, Loney, Kershaw, Billz and Ethier, which is not bad actually.  But I’m beginning to think time is pressing on them to fulfill LA’s dreams.  Wouldn’t be a bad year for it. 

  • Daniel Zappala

    Made me feel like I was there Jon, though I’m many miles away. What great memories.

  • Anonymous

    Your best piece since I’ve been reading; but, what is gogging? The only definition I could find was in the Urban Dictionary. It is extraordinarily vile to say the least.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      I meant it as my own personal variation on being agog. But it appears I should change it …

      • Anonymous

        and now I’ve gone and regretfully looked it up.

  • Anonymous

     Wow, just…wow. Thanks for the great piece, Jon.

  • Anonymous

    I was at the ballpark, and Jon has it just right.  As the clerk at the Ralph’s in Silverlake wearing a Dodger shirt said to me, when he saw I had a shirt on and saw I had gone to the game, “Its good to get a ‘W’.”  (One other note- I love baseball, go to 20-30 games a year, but I would love it even more if games were under three hours like today’s.  Give me a pitcher who works quickly, and of course, wins.)

  • Onlyatriple

    Your seats were better than mine — I was across the field in that photo but up up up.  So nice to have the game story be about the game and not about drunken louts and beaten heads.  My section had its share of knuckleheads, and there were a few fights in the sun, but nothing like last year.  Perhaps it was the mild weather, the mild opponent, the sharp pitching.  I was too far to see, but can anyone tell me if Mr. McCourt was in his appointed seat?  Or did he stay out of sight for this game?  It was such a wonderful sight to see Mr. O’Malley on the field, and I wondered whether I had ever seen him on the field before.  Anyone recall his ever being honored or acknowledged by the team since that horrible opening day 14 years ago when he sat in the old owners box next to that new owner, Rupert Murdoch?

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      McCourt was in a suite. Bummed to hear there were fights in the stands.

  • http://twitter.com/HoopLABBall Hoop LA Basketball

    Jon,

    Great piece of writing.  I am a frequent lurker and am wondering if you keep a database of all your post you have written?

    You made a post on the old Baseball Toaster blog IIRC that was INCREDIBLY inspirational.  It was very personal.  I believe it had to do with your children and wife.  Does anyone have this saved?  I would go back and read it whenever I felt down or needed some motivation.  I could sure use it now as my grandpa past awa last week at the age of 82.  Unexpected.  Need a lift me up.

    Go Dodgers!

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    I can find it if you give me a few more details about it. I’m so sorry about your grandpa.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the post. You made me feel the all the emotions as if I were there. Been a Dodger fan my whole life and I still have not yet made it to an Opening Day. But your writing is the next best thing. Thanks Jon.

  • http://www.mythphile.com/ Blue-eyed Gal (Ellen)

    Evidently my OCD editing got my comment flagged as possible spam. 

    One not-so-baseball-relevant question: has anyone heard anything about the “THINK BLUE” sign? I know a few letters got knocked down in December, but I was startled to look out and see nothing there at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.jones Ben Jones

    jon – this is a beautifully written post – you done darn did Vin proud.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Tremendous season finale for Justified tonight. 

    • Anonymous

      You’ve got to hand it to the production team.

  • Anonymous

    The Pirates in their first four games of the season have faced: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Clayton Kershaw.

    And they’ve still managed to raise the Jolly Roger twice.

    • Stephen Adkins

      The Pirates are eagerly anticipating Harang.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001115617053 Troy Sexton

      The Pirates faced Vance Worley instead of Cole Hamels.  Hamels got beat by the Marlins.

      • Anonymous

        I hate my good narrative being ruined by truth,

        Sincerely,
        James Frey

    • http://twitter.com/snakealicious75 Snake Smith

      Not going to get too much easier for a while either.  They’re slated to face Timmy and Cain up in SF later this week.

      • Anonymous

        If those two pitch as they did against the Snakes, the Pirates will cruise.

  • Anonymous

    As a first time subscriber, I really enjoyed this read! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Chick/1549252432 Mike Chick

      you ought to do yourself a favor and bookmark Jon

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Chick/1549252432 Mike Chick

    Jon, you are my favorite read of the day. Posts like this one are why I always debate whether to read you first or last (in this case last, but only because you’re bookmarked last in my blog folder) anyway just chiming in to say thank you, as I know you appreciate the encouragement. I too faced the reality that we may not have Vinny much longer, but I’ll still take Steiner over Eric Collins and I pray the new ownership group cuts Lyons quickly (though I doubt it.) As for the team: I’m trying real hard to see how we’re gonna be legitimate contenders for anything with our infield. Outside of the development of the Roadrunner, there is nothing but “why the heck do we have this guy” in my mind anytime Loney, Uribe, or Mark Ellis steps to the plate, I know ellis is a plus defender and so far, so good in the 2 hole but 6-8 are just about automatic outs (I could go 0-11 for $5mil!!!) So I don’t know if 90 wins is a barometer you wanna set just yet…..but who knows? That’s the Joy of Baseball!!

  • Anonymous

    Truly beautiful recounting of an almost perfect day. THANK YOU…you write beautifully and with heart. I cannot bear to think about losing Vinny. Everyone else is a joke. But Rick Monday is a pedantic, boring individual. He has one patriotic moment, he was available when Don Drysdale passed and we’ve been stuck with him ever since. Hopefully, the new owners will realize that some continuity in this case is not deserved. Have you ever tried radio?

  • Anonymous

    I am coming out this summer (from the East Coast) to attend a couple of Dodger games. Can any of the natives recommend a good place to stay somewhat near the stadium. It would have to accommodate a rental car. Thanks. Great game yesterday! 

    • Anonymous

      Unless you are staying in Downtown Los Angeles (which will either be too expensive or too gross, there’s very little middle ground), just about every motel will offer you parking either for free or a reasonable amount.

      I would suggest looking for places to stay in Glendale, Burbank, or Pasadena. All of them off fairly easy commutes to Dodger Stadium and have enough places to eat to keep you well-fed.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, you made me feel like I was there.

    I especially get what you say about Gordon.  My wife, who has tolerated my obsession with the Dodgers since the early eighties, will stop what she’s doing when Dee is at the plate on the basepaths.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shad.rivers Shad Rivers

    Thanks, Jon, for your thoroughly enjoyable reporting.  I’ve been a Dodger fan since they won their first World Series in ’56(it was ’56, wasn’t it)?  As an English major for a year in college, I appreciate your writing. Even more, your recent post detailing the conflicting feelings you have covering the Dodgers and your career as a writer were meaningful to me.  

    Anyway, I live in Wisconsin and have only seen  the Dodgers at a ballpark twice, so to read your account of Opening Day was pure pleasure. Thank you for hanging in there,

    grateful fan
     

    • Anonymous

       I wonder how many of us have rarely seen them in person.  I’ve been lucky enough to catch them on the East Coast a lot over the years, but only twice in Dodger Stadium. First time I saw it, I nearly cried.

    • Anonymous

       It was 1955.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, thanks for the great recap. Made it feel like I was actually there which I needed very much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-Leadman/1178351917 Martin Leadman

    Fine fettle. A fine fiddle is a Strad :)

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DFQ66LD2FTAICQKMRS6LMSAC7A J.

    “I spent my 30th birthday at a Westside pool hall” Qs?

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       Yes.

  • Anonymous

    Just wanted to note that I really enjoyed reading this.