It was a sold out game on a pure Southern California day.
“Isn’t this beautiful? Blue sky, not a cloud in the air, nice little breeze,” said Maury Wills, who was the Dodgers shortstop in 1962. “It’s warm Southern California.”
Wills joined a bunch of his old teammates to celebrate Dodger Stadium’s 50th anniversary. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys. So they sang the national anthem after “Surfer Girl.”
It was a very different mood at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. After last year’s Opening Day game, a fan wearing a San Francisco Giants jersey was beaten into a coma. This year, police were visible in uniform, in the parking lots on horseback and undercover, wearing the jerseys of Tuesday’s opposing team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lifelong fan Luis Granados said he appreciated the change.
“You can see the security’s stepped up — feels safer,” he said. “Everything’s so nice about it. The stadium’s got a nice vibe about it.”
Also helping the new vibe? The Dodgers are about to get new owners. The team’s current owner, parking lot mogul Frank McCourt, was forced by Major League Baseball to sell. The new owners include former L.A. Laker basketball star Magic Johnson and the investment firm Guggenheim Partners. They are paying more than $2 billion for the team, almost double the former record for a North American sports franchise and higher than any other bids.
Wills can’t even fathom the price. Back in 1962, his salary was $30,000. He says he went to see then owner Walter O’Malley after winning the National League MVP award that year.
“All I wanted was a station wagon,” he recalls. “And I came out in 10 minutes happy I was still on the team. I got a $10,000 raise.”
Some experts have questioned the wisdom of paying $2 billion for the Dodgers, but baseball analyst Willy Grossman says the team has potential.
“If they get one more good starting pitcher, they can maybe compete in the division,” he said.
OK, that’d be 12-year-old baseball analyst Willy Grossman. He says he thinks the sale will turn out well, largely because Magic Johnson is on board.
“I think him being who he is during the off-season, just him being the owner of the team can attract free agents,” he said. “Because everyone knows who Magic Johnson is.”
Willy was more interested in getting manager Don Mattingly’s autograph than talking to NPR, but, hey, no one else is talking about the deal until after the new owners take over at the end of April.
It’s been 24 years since the Dodgers have been in the World Series. Right fielder Andre Ethier says getting the team back to the playoffs will take care of whatever problems there are.
“If we win, we’re doing our job and we’re pretty sure these fans how they’ve supported us in the past will keep showing up and always come keep coming back if we’re winning,” he said. “Winning’s the cure for anything.”
Ethier did his part. In the bottom of the eighth, he hit the game-winning home run.