Friday has been a long time coming at Dodger Stadium, and not just because the Dodgers will get championship rings for the first time in 32 years. The club’s home opener will mark the first time a game at Dodger Stadium will be played in front of fans in 548 days.
Seating will be limited to somewhere around 15,000 fans to start the season, less than a third of capacity at Dodger Stadium given the various health and safety restrictions in the state. But it’s a hell of a lot better than zero, and should be noticeable whether you are there or not.
“My favorite part of the job is doing games at Dodger Stadium, and literally feeling the roar of the crowd,” said Joe Davis. “To have that back, it’s a huge thing, for just the overall feel as a broadcaster, and I think the overall quality of the broadcast.”
Davis will call the game as he does most days, alongside Orel Hershiser for SportsNet LA. They called the first seven games this season from the very same booth they will be in on Friday, watching the Dodgers’ games in Denver and Oakland from monitors. That’s what they did last year, too, save for a few national broadcasts Davis did for Fox that he would call from a studio in Los Angeles.
At least for Dodgers home games they get to watch the game with their own eyes. But for all of last year, without fans present, something was definitely missing.
I didn’t attend any games during the 2020 season, but went to both Freeway Series exhibition games at Dodger Stadium at the end of March. That was my first in-person experience watching a game without fans, and it was downright eerie.
“Some of the stuff I didn’t anticipate was how I use the crowd to help me judge how well a ball is hit,” Davis explained. “I realized part of my information intake trying to figure out if a ball is gone or not is the rise of the crowd’s volume, and then people in the pavilion reaching.
“The quicker we can get back to doing it normal, the better, from an execution standpoint.”
The Dodgers played 37 home games at Dodger Stadium, counting five exhibition games and the two-game wild card round sweep of Milwaukee. But the last game at Dodger Stadium with fans — not counting the friends and family allowed during the ALDS — was Game 5 of the 2019 National League Division Series.
I got an amusing reminder last week during the Freeway Series.
It’s been so long since there has been a “normal” game at Dodger Stadium, the press box info screen is still showing lineups from Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) March 30, 2021
(but to be fair, Kurt Suzuki *did* start last night too) pic.twitter.com/k4Ks7euq3p
The Nationals were the opponent for that game, and are in town for this series, too. But so much has happened since then! Both teams won a World Series — Washington got to celebrate their title in front of fans on Tuesday, the Dodgers get their rings on Friday.
Oh yeah, and this will be the first time Mookie Betts will play as a Dodger in front of fans in Los Angeles. We’ll see the pent-up combined adulation for acquiring Betts, signing Betts to a 12-year contract, and Betts and his teammates snapping a title drought of longer than three decades.
Though Dodger Stadium won’t be full, it will still be loud, and much more tangibly than piped-in crowd noise.
“Those are 15,000 people who probably have never been more excited to be in the ballpark, given that it’s been so long,” Davis said. “I’m just so excited to feel what those people are bringing, when it comes to emotion and the passion that you’re going to feel, having built up for two years.”