The Dodgers play their home opener today against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game happens 50 years to the day after Dodger Stadium opened at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers are doing a lot to celebrate that early history. The team is also ready to leave more recent history behind.
On Opening Day, diehard fans like Jeremy Spurley pop the top on a can of eternal optimism.
"Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw coming back, hopefully has a great year. Matt Kemp hopefully wins the MVP this yearlike he should have last year," the 24-year-old PE teacher from Glendale said at Dodger Stadium last week. He went there with thousands of other fans to watch the season opener on the ballpark's big screen. The Dodgers fueled his optimism by winning three out of four games in San Diego.
"I was born in '87 so I was a year old when Dodgers won it, so hopefully this is the year," Spurley said, sitting alone in his own row behind home plate. "Its been a long time coming and hopefully, were gonna be able to do it this year."
This year, the home opener is important and not just because it's Dodger Stadium's 50th anniversary. It's also the first home opener since last season's - when San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten nearly to death in the stadium parking lot.
"I don't think any true Dodger fan would really say that that was a Dodger that was doing that," Spurley said wistfully. "He might have been wearing Dodger gear, but that's not a Dodger fan at all."
The beating was the latest sign of turmoil for the Dodgers.
David Carter, head of USCs Sports Business Institute says Frank and Jamie McCourts public and acrimonious divorce had already angered fans.
"What happened in the parking lot was just the last straw," Carter explains. "It was like, 'this is really a mess, we have to find the right kind of ownership, we're just tired of it' was the prevailing attitude in the weeks that followed that beating. "
The beating also prompted a big increase in the number of LAPD officers at home games. The Dodgers won't give specifics about stadium security, but LA Police Chief Charlie Beck says fans should expect the same police presence this season.
"My goal is the first thing that a fan sees when they come through the gates is a Los Angeles Police officer, and the last thing they see when they leave is a Los Angeles Police officer," Beck explained at news conference last week.
To set the tone, Beck assigned extra officers to patrol the parks around the stadium the night before the home opener to look for fans that showed up early to start drinking. During games, he said, police will throw out or arrest fans that violate a code of conduct that includes "not overindulging in alcohol, not terrorizing fans from an opposing team, and acting in a respectful manner that is conducive to a family sport, which is what baseball is."
At the stadium, Director of Ticket sales David Siegel says the Dodgers are doing a lot to remind folks that baseball is a family sport. Hes got a big job: empty stands were common sight last season even after the Dodgers ramped up security.
"A lot of our kids giveaway items, a lot of our value seat pricing is all to get fans back," Siegel said. "Everything were doing is to get fans back in these seats and enjoying Dodger baseball again."
The Dodgers have lowered ticket prices, added special privileges to season ticket holders, plan a promotional calendar that will offer a lot of the famous bobble-heads.
Siegel has worked sixteen years with the Dodgers under three owners. Now hes awaiting the arrival of the prospective new owners: Guggenheim Baseball Partners. A federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware must still approve the teams 2.1-billion dollar sale, but Major League Baseball and Dodger fans are excited about trading Frank McCourt for an ownership group that includes Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
Still, USC's David Carter says the new owners should be careful.
"You have to hope that they don't over-promise, or you hope that the fans don't project onto them success they haven't earned yet," Carter says. "They're gonna have a huge halo effect coming into this season, even though they don't control the team yet. But fans are going to give them the benefit of the doubt for at least this season."
Magic and his partners will get the benefit of the doubt from Dodger fan Jeremy Spurley, who attended fewer games last seasons but says he's sat through some tense match-ups.
"I was here when Barry Bonds was playing for the Giants and I sat out in left field where they had all the booing going on and so forth, and I just never felt any threats."
Spurley says hes satisfied with the increased security, but its still up to fans to exercise self-control. Last year, thousands did exactly that by staying away from Dodger Stadium. This year starts with sellout for the home opener but you'd expect that. Lets see how the next game goes.