The Dodgers are winning at home again, 28-13 on the season, but that’s not new. They’ve won two-thirds of their home games for six years running, the best home record in baseball during that span. But over the last couple weeks, there’s been a palpable difference.
Dodger Stadium has its buzz back.
“It’s an anticipation, energy, excitement that you can just see. You feel it. 49,000 Dodgers fans just waiting for one of their favorite players to do something special so they can cheer us on and lead us to victory,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s been awesome . We’ve missed it. It just seems like it’s been forever since we’ve had them. But now, as we’ve had them, it just seems like we’re more familiar with having them here. It’s just so great to be at home.”
California lifted coronavirus restrictions throughout the state on June 15. Before then, the Dodgers averaged 15,987 fans in their first 33 home games. Since then, Dodger Stadium has averaged 49,714 fans in eight games. The changeover happened in the middle of a series against the Phillies.
“Just much higher energy. It’s so noticeable to me, especially because when we made the change, we played a game 24 hours earlier with 15,000 fans, then up to 52,000 fans,” said organist Dieter Ruehle. “Sitting on the organ bench, I felt it, especially during Take Me Out To The Ballgame. That was like the way we used to do it.”
Ruehle and Lanier “DJ Severe” Stewart provide the pulse of Dodger Stadium throughout the game, through walk-up music, reactions to plays, and the between-inning soundtrack at the ballpark. They are reaching a much wider audience now, with a fuller, much more energized stadium.
That was evident on Saturday, when Cody Bellinger provided the first walk-off win for the Dodgers this season. From my vantage point in the press box, my view was somewhat obscured by the cameraman in front of me, so I didn’t see Bellinger’s home run go over the fence right away. But I felt it.
“It just feels good to have [fans] back, and it feels a lot better with them in the stands,” Bellinger said after the home run. “Way better.”
It’s a stark contrast from 2020, when the Dodgers had no fans in any of their 32 games at Dodger Stadium during a pandemic-shortened season. The only thing in the stands were cardboard cutouts.
“The [games] feel like they’re supposed to feel, whereas in 2020 they just felt kind of empty, I guess you could say. Literally,” said Ruehle. “There’s a noticeable difference in the feel of having all the fans back. It’s been great.”
The buzz is evident all around the stadium, whether it’s fans reacting during game play, or walking the jam-packed concourse, or traversing the new center field plaza. There’s an energy to it, that just about everyone seems to feel.
“I missed it so much. I think it’s something we took for granted, and then realized how special it is to have a full crowd,” said Clayton Kershaw, who received a loud ovation from 46,315 fans after pitching eight innings on Sunday. “I missed it. It’s awesome. I never want to go back.”