Plaschke: Opening day at Dodger Stadium is another empty moment in pandemic

“Play ball?” Not here.

The eternally hopeful cry that begins every baseball season at Dodger Stadium was missing, the silence enveloped a beautiful spring afternoon.

“Is it time for Dodger baseball?” Not Thursday.

Planned first throw of the Dodgers season opener against the San Francisco Giants at 1:10 PM, the entrance to Dodger Stadium on Vin Scully Avenue was virtually empty. There was no herd of excited fans crossing the street, no line of frightened drivers filling the parking lanes, no horns, no music, no buzz.

The situation was best described in three words found in front of the gate, printed on the saddest opening day signs: “No public access.”

On a day when the pandemic-suspended suspension of the baseball season toppled baseball fans like a high-speed ball, a stadium that should have sold out was empty, surrounded by solitary cheers.

A pedestrian looks at an entrance to the Dodger Stadium that is closed on what would have been opening day, if not for the coronavirus outbreak.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Go Dodgers!” a man shouted through the turned-down window of his truck, clapping his hands with hygienic gloves and driving away.

On a day when the entire city seemingly flows to Chavez Ravine for an annual celebration of renewal and rebirth, the only traffic jam – stretching half a mile – led to the parking lot of the Los Angeles Fire Department training center on Stadium Way.

The cars were lined up for drive-through tests for the corona virus.

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You will never forget your first day.

When I stood in front of the “Welcome to Dodger Stadium” sign on Thursday, I could hear the sounds of my first opening day.

“Huuu-beee, Huuu-bee.”

It happened 30 years ago, my first full season for The Times team.

It was April 9, 1990, eighth inning, the San Diego Padres with a 2-1 lead, two Dodgers on base, and another move to rightfielder Hubie Brooks.

He was a boy from Compton who signed with the Dodgers last winter. He played for a large gathering of family and friends.

Were you there? Do you remember? Not only do I hear it, I also feel it.

Brooks hit a ball into the left-side pavilion for a three-run homerun, which eventually won the game and inspired a new Dodger Stadium chant.

“Huuu-beee! Huuu-beee! ‘

I’m not the only one who heard that song on Thursday.

“You don’t forget. I don’t forget, I will never forget,” said Brooks, 63, when I reached him by phone at his home in Woodland Hills. “Opening day is opening day, nothing beats it.”

Brooks only played here a year before being traded. He spent 14 seasons with other teams, hitting 148 other home runs, but he says nothing compares to that debut.

“To do that in a new team in your hometown was big, very big,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re in the Little League or the big leagues, the opening day is always special.”

The public entrance to Dodger Stadium is closed on what would have been opening day had it not been for the corona virus outbreak.

The public entrance to Dodger Stadium is closed on what would have been opening day had it not been for the corona virus outbreak. At the far right is an employee entrance.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Pitching for the Dodgers that day was Orel Hershiser, who then felt goosebumps like the Dodgers bait, and now like a Dodgers broadcaster.

“Spring is in the air, in the stands and on the field,” he said this week. “The energy is palpable. The goosebumps are always there. ‘

The Dodgers didn’t organize a big opening day in Los Angeles for the first two decades. They played most of their home openers at night to an audience of about 30,000.

In 1977, Fred Claire, the club’s vice president of marketing, decided to turn the opening day into an event. In Tommy Lasorda’s debut season as manager, the game was moved to noon, Frank Sinatra showed up to sing the national anthem, and the Dodgers have been hosting parties every year ever since.

“I grew up in Ohio and knew the impact of opening day,” said Claire, who eventually became the Dodgers’ general manager. “It was the end of winter and the start of something new – a real start to the year for baseball. I felt strongly that this could work in Los Angeles. ‘

It worked so well that the stadium essentially hosts a neighborhood block party every opening day, making the Thursday afternoon even gloomier.

Those partygoers were missing. The first pitch was canceled. Spring stopped.

The hymns of “Huuu-bee” had to be replaced by shouting “Mooo-kie” for new Dodger Mookie Betts. Clayton Kershaw would be inundated with cheers for his ninth opening day franchise record.

“Obviously, the past few weeks have been incredibly surreal on a number of fronts, and I think it really takes home today with what we all expected to do on March 26 and what we do,” Andrew Friedman, Dodger’s President baseball operations, reporters told the conference call.

If baseball returns this year, there will be another opening day and it will be joyful, but the memories of the initial absence will last forever.

In the street of the stadium on Thursday, a yellow duplex on Vin Scully Avenue seemed empty. There was no one on the veranda, no one on the stairs, no one on top of a closed garage.

For the past five years, this has been the unofficial opening day party house, overflowing to the beams, Dodgers jerseys everywhere, over 175 partygoers last season.

This year, party host Daniel Garcia was so upset by the silence that he left the neighborhood and drove to his office.

“This just feels surreal,” said Garcia, 31, a paralegal. “Usually this place is full, everyone honks and wears Dodger blue. Now it is just sad. “

“Happy opening day?” Not in these streets.

Alicia Garcia, Daniel’s mom, woke up Thursday morning and offered her son the opposite of a traditional greeting.

“Sad day,” she said. “Nobody is here.”

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