It was dark, it was cool, and the national anthem was interrupted by the flyover.
There were empty seats, rushed introductions that didn’t leave enough time for fans to properly serenade Clayton Kershaw, and an initial feeling that it was just another weeknight.
Then the Dodgers came along, and thousands of their neighbors screamed, and their 60-year-old house shook, and suddenly everything made sense.
Happy to see you again. Welcome to the house.
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 seemed odd, Dodger Stadium was ultimately loud and cheerful and …
“Fred-die!” Freddie! Freddie!
In an eighth inning of six deciding innings, newcomer Freddie Freeman started with a base-rule brace over the left-center fence that prompted both Dodger Stadium’s newest chant and perhaps- be the first recall for a player standing on second base.
The welcoming crowd yelled Freeman’s first name over and over as he waved and then removed his cap, taking two encores as he stood in the middle of the diamond in a draw.
Have you never seen it before? Guess what, he’s never seen it either.
“The fans created a moment for me that I will never forget,” said Freeman, an Orange County kid who signed with the Dodgers last month. “I really haven’t been sung for when I just hit a double…that’s as good as it gets, man…that’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 the eventual victory 9-3 from the Dodgers.
The game ended, “I Love LA” filled the air, the brake lights filled the parking lot, and truly, the Dodgers were home.
“It’s fun, we have some of the best fans in all of sport, our first game back, 53,000 here, if you don’t have stage fright something is wrong with you,” Walker Buehler said, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings. .
Nervousness turned into chills on a night when the Dodgers’ Game 6 felt like their first, a night that ultimately felt a lot like an Opening Day.
“A few good things tonight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in an understatement.
Indeed, in an event that was pushed back two weeks due to baseball’s 99-day lockout – they were originally scheduled to start the season by hosting the Colorado Rockies on the afternoon of March 31 – the Dodgers are quickly reintroduced.
They brought the emotion, with Jaime Jarrín throwing out the first pitch in honor of the 64th and final season for the Dodgers’ famed Spanish-language broadcaster.
They brought the story, surrounding Jarrín with seven former stars whose careers span the span of his career – Wes Parker, Rick Monday, Fernando Valenzuela, Adrian Beltre, Eric Gagne, Nomar Garciaparra and Adrian Gonzalez.
Then they brought the hammer. God, did they bring the hammer.
They hit five straight singles in the first inning against overmatched opener Luis Cessa, taking a 3-0 lead, shaking the cobwebs of Chavez Ravine, bringing the 2022 home schedule to life.
Then, after Reds home runs of Aristides Aquino and Brandon Drury tied it, Freeman led the eighth-inning charge with a recall that surprised everyone.
“It was a good welcome for Freddie,” Roberts said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this…our fans have looked up to him for so many years…putting their arms around him tonight was kind of a feeling.”
Chaining 12 singles in the middle of 14 hits, the Dodgers chained appearances at the plate worthy of a team which, the day before, had received a lesson in selflessness.
You may remember the tone of the season was set Wednesday in Minneapolis, when Kershaw was purposely pulled out of a perfect game after seven innings and just 80 pitches.
Some fans were outraged, but the message Kershaw and Roberts delivered was far more important than six more outs. By their actions, they both showed that the Dodgers aren’t about winning a moment, they’re aiming to win a season.
Then, Thursday before the game, they said so.
“Individual stuff isn’t the reason I keep playing the game,” Kershaw said. “I want to win. It supersedes anything individual for me right now.
Kershaw reminded everyone that he missed last October with an elbow injury and he doesn’t want that to happen again.
“The way my season ended last year, not being able to be part of October, that’s why I’m here,” he said. “That’s why I came back, to be ready for this. Every decision we make is geared towards that month of the season, for us.
Those are two powerful words that have surely been 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 who has done everything in the game, for him to say that, it resonates in our clubhouse.”
The same attitude can be seen in the legacy of Jarrín, who is credited with bringing the Dodgers’ connection to the Latino community, both through his broadcast and his stint as a performer for Valenzuela.
When Jarrín started as a full-time broadcaster in 1959, the crowd at Dodger Stadium consisted of about eight percent Latinos. Today, it’s about 46% Latino.
“In the beginning, we had to teach people how to follow baseball and watch it now,” said Jarrín, 86, who is ending his career as baseball’s longest-serving active broadcaster. “At first, the Latinos were only in the upper tiers. Now you find them everywhere, in every section of the stadium. It has become a very special place.
Jarrín, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is retiring to spend more time with his two adult sons and work with the Jaime and Blanca Jarrín Foundationwhich was launched in memory of his late wife.
“Some days I’m a little sad. I know I’m going to miss the game,” Jarrín said. “But some days, I’m going to be very happy. I’m totally, totally convinced that now is the right time for me to leave the Dodgers, time to change priorities.”
To relax, Jarrin won’t be working on road games this year. But his historic and distinctive voice will forever resonate in the city.