Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Dodgers' Opening Day: 50 Years Later

The “Field of Dreams” music started playing over the loudspeakers and out across the empty baseball field. All 56,000 of us knew that the Dodgers were planning something special for Opening Day 2008, the 50th anniversary of the team’s arrival in Los Angeles. Many of us, less than 48 hours before, watched the Dodgers play the Boston Red Sox at the LA Coliseum. That was pretty special by itself. I wasn’t sure how they’d top the nostalgic majesty of the Saturday night game.

Opening Day 2008: what a beautiful sight.

But then the center field wall swung open, and Duke Snider ambled slowly out onto the grass. He stopped in center field, his home for 15 years with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, and waved to an awestruck stadium full of Dodgers faithful. The silence that pervaded while people processed what exactly they were seeing was deafening; the cheering that followed, ear-splitting.

Before we all had time to fully digest the Duke, out walked Wally Moon from the right field bullpen. Then Don Newcombe trotted in from the left field bullpen. Back and forth it went, the bullpens propelling “Sweet” Lou Johnson, Steve Yeager, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Tommy Davis, Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Jerry Reuss, Carl Erskine, Eric Karros, Steve Finley, Steve Sax, Fernando Valenzuela and Tommy Lasorda to their former positions.

Not without reason, I assumed that Tommy was the last of them. I leaned over to my roommate, who accompanied me to the game, and said, “I wish they could’ve gotten Sandy Koufax to come out. That’s the only thing that would’ve made this better. But he’s pretty private and almost never comes out to anything official anymore.” The second those words left my mouth, a slender, silver-haired man in jeans and a navy blazer walked out of the Dodger dugout. I swear my heart stopped for a second.

Sandy Koufax walked out to the baseball mound where he pitched a perfect game on September 9, 1965 (among other accomplishments too numerous to mention here) and the crowd went absolutely crazy. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The parade started with one of the greatest centerfielders to ever play the game and ended with arguably the greatest pitcher baseball has ever seen. When Koufax walked up to Snider and shook his hand, I thought I was going to die of joy on the spot.

Erskine, Koufax and Newcombe: too awesome for words.

Honestly, the Dodgers could have lost the game that followed 12-0 and I wouldn’t have cared at all. Thankfully, they won only their second Opening Day game in the last seven years (both, funnily enough, against the Giants). Brad Penny, though he struggled with his control in the first few innings, impressed in his 2008 debut, giving up no runs and scattering five hits over 6 2/3 innings. Offensively, the Dodgers scored three runs in the bottom of the first, two off of Jeff Kent’s fifth career Opening Day home run. They added two more runs, one in the second and one in the sixth, to coast to an easy 5-0 victory over San Francisco.

Without a doubt, yesterday was the greatest baseball experience I have ever had…and possibly one of the best days of my life. I know my dad was watching from somewhere as well, loving every minute.

NOTE: My own pictures to come, once I get them off of my camera.

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