It was dark, it was chilly, and the national anthem was interrupted by the flyover.
There were empty seats, rushed introductions that didn’t give the fans enough time to properly serenade Clayton Kershaw, and an initial feeling that this was just another weekday night.
Then the Dodgers showed up, and thousands of their neighbors roared, and their 60-year-old house shook, and suddenly it all made sense.
Welcome back. Welcome home.
For only the fourth time in the last 46 years, the Dodgers’ home opener was at night Thursday, and it initially felt weird, but Dodger Stadium was eventually raucous and rollicking and blue.
In an event that was pushed back two weeks because of baseball’s 99-day lockout — they were first scheduled to begin the season by hosting the Colorado Rockies on the afternoon of March 31 — the Dodgers quickly reintroduced themselves in a game against the Cincinnati Reds.
They brought the emotion, with Jaime Jarrín throwing out the first pitch in honor of the 64th and final season for the Dodgers’ esteemed Spanish-language broadcaster.
They brought the history, surrounding Jarrín with seven former stars whose careers span the length of his career — Wes Parker, Rick Monday, Fernando Valenzuela, Adrián Beltré, Eric Gagne, Nomar Garciaparra and Adrian González.
Then they brought the hammer, banging out five straight singles in the first inning against overmatched opener Luis Cessa, taking a 3-0 lead, shaking the cobwebs from Chavez Ravine, bringing the 2022 home schedule to life. After the Reds tied the score with home runs by Aristides Aquino and Brandon Drury, the Dodgers rocked the house again with six runs in the eighth after newcomer Freddie Freeman led off the inning with a double and elicited what may be the first curtain call for a player standing on second.
“Fred-die, Fred-die, Fred-die!” chanted the welcoming fans as Freeman doffed his cap.
Freeman scored on Trea Turner’s single against new reliever Tony Santillan, 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 an eventual 9-3 victory.
“The thing that stands out is the energy, the newness for fans,” said manager Dave Roberts before the game. “It’s the 40,000 Dodgers fans that bring their families, their kids, some people it’s 25 opening days, some it’s their first, it’s just the newness of opening day, that’s something that always excites me and the players as well.”
This was their sixth game of the season, but eventually it felt like their first, fans screaming as the Dodgers strung together the kind of connected plate appearances befitting of a team that a day earlier had received a lesson in unselfishness.
You might remember, the tone for the Dodgers season was set on Wednesday in Minneapolis, when Clayton Kershaw was willingly pulled from a perfect game after seven innings and just 80 pitches.
Some fans were outraged, but the message delivered by Kershaw and Roberts was far more important than six more outs. Through their actions, they said the Dodgers aren’t about winning one moment, they’re about winning a season.
Then, on Thursday before the game, they actually said it.
“The individual stuff is not why I continue to play the game,” said Kershaw. “I want to win. That supersedes anything individual for me right now.”
Kershaw reminded everyone that he missed last October with an elbow injury, and he didn’t want that to happen again.
“The way my season ended last year, not being able to be a part of October, that’s why I’m here,” he said. “That’s why I came back, to be ready for that. Every decision that we make is geared toward that month of the season, for us.”
Those are two powerful words that were surely 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,” said Roberts. “You’re talking about a person whose done everything in the game, for him to say that, that resonates in our clubhouse.”
The same attitude is the legacy of Jarrín, who is credited with connecting the Dodgers with the Latino community, both through his broadcasting and his stint as Valenzuela’s interpreter.
When Jarrín began as their full-time announcer in 1959, the Dodger Stadium crowd was approximately 8% Latino. Today, it is around 46% Latino.
“In the beginning, we had to teach the people how to follow baseball, and look at it now,” said Jarrín, 86, who is finishing his career as baseball’s longest tenured active broadcaster. “In the beginning the Latinos were only up in the highest bleachers. Now you find them everywhere, in every section of the stadium. This has become a very special place.”
Jarrín, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is retiring to spend more time with his two grown sons and work with the Jaime and Blanca Jarrín Foundation, which was started in memory of his late wife. “Some days I’m a little bit sad. I know I’m going to miss the game,” Jarrín said. “But some days I’m going to be very happy.
“I am totally, totally convinced this is the right time for me to leave the Dodgers, time to change priorities.”
As a way of easing out of the job, Jarrín will not work the road games this year. But his distinctive, historic voice will echo through the city forever.