by Greg Beacham
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Opening day at Dodger Stadium is uncommonly important in Southern California, standing for generations as a daylong celebration of the franchise that put Los Angeles on the national sports map back in 1958.
It’s also among the few team traditions that didn’t lose luster during Frank McCourt’s rocky ownership tenure.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ opener against Pittsburgh on Tuesday is doubly special this year: Their venerable ballpark is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and a guy named Magic just bought the team.
Magic Johnson says the new Dodgers ownership group wants to restore pride in one of baseball’s most storied clubs.
The former Lakers star is part of the group that is buying the Los Angeles franchise for more than $2 billion. Johnson says it’s “all about winning” and restoring “the Dodger pride.”
He says the group will invest to get good players and wants to make sure “the fan experience is great, make sure the fans are safe, make sure the mothers are happy they can bring their kids to the game.
Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw is grateful to be on the mound 50 years to the day after Dodger Stadium opened when Los Angeles looks to build on a 3-1 start to the season against Kevin Correia and the Pirates.
“I definitely think there’s some renewed excitement,” Kershaw said. “With change comes a little bit of excitement, and with some unknown comes a little bit of enthusiasm and everything like that. But opening day is opening day. Last year we had a sellout, and it was an unbelievable crowd. It was awesome. This year I don’t expect any different.”
After Angel Stadium drew more fans than Dodger Stadium for the first time in their 46 years of shared history last season, fans have rallied back to the Dodgers since the ownership group featuring beloved former Lakers guard Magic Johnson reached a deal for the team last month.
Optimism is always the fuel of spring baseball, and Magic’s move into the owners’ box seats has sparked a wealth of good feelings around a team that had little in recent years.
The players are simply grateful to be back at work in beautiful Chavez Ravine without hearing about uncertainty in the front office.
The majors’ third-oldest ballpark is still a sparkling example of preservation and judicious modernization, and the Dodgers are honoring its golden jubilee year in style.
Even the Pirates realize they’re walking into a big party, and former Dodgers catcher Rod Barajas doesn’t mind at all.
“Having Magic involved is unbelievable,” said Barajas, a Los Angeles-area native who spent the past two seasons in Dodger Blue. “He’s an icon down there. Everybody loves him. I loved him growing up. Just to have stability there, to know there’s not going to be any more questions.”
The Pirates are heading out on their first road trip of the season in good shape after consecutive victories over vaunted Philadelphia in their final at-bat.
“I think (last) weekend helps with some confidence going out there (when) we’ve got two more opening days, which is kind of difficult when you’re on the road,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “It doesn’t change our mentality. We have to pace ourselves, but typically the way we played last year was better earlier on than it was later on. Let’s bring on the big dogs early and see where we go from there.”