By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writer
DODGER STADIUM.—That baseball begins its season in the spring fosters the ideal atmosphere for optimism, and the glass was definitely half full for the Dodgers and their fans Tuesday, as the L.A. baseballers returned from a not-so-glorious road trip to begin the 2010 season.
Perfectly tailored weather greeted the sellout crowd, with sunny skies and comfortably mild temperatures, and the men wearing the home uniforms were at ease not only in their own clubhouse and dugout, but at the plate as well.
Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier all hit home runs as the Dodgers pushed around the Arizona Diamondbacks for a 9-5 win. The victory is a welcome one, after starting the year on the road with a record of 2 wins and 4 losses, and the dubious statistic of eight errors during that stretch.
But the road woes took a back seat to the ceremony and reuniting with old friends on Tuesday. Opening Day is always an occasion that the players seem to enjoy as much as the fans, with many of the athletes taking a little extra time to sign autographs or pose for photos with spectators.
It’s also a time for heroes of the past to resurface. Former Dodgers Eric Karros, Steve Finley, Don Newcombe, Ron Cey and Fernando Valenzuela were all on hand.
So was former first baseman Steve Garvey, one of the most popular Dodgers of all time, as part of the record-setting quartet of the 1970s that included Cey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell.
As Garvey chatted with dignitaries on the field and near the seats, several fans–some who weren’t born until after his retirement–shouted words of praise, as if he might still consider putting on a uniform.
Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am, who had the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, became a little starstruck himself when Garvey approached.
“That whole era, with Garvey, Fernando, Dusty Baker, that was the best time,” said the singer-producer, who was born William Adams, Jr. and played little league in East L.A. “I’m nervous now. This is a dream, but if I hadn’t been given the chance, I’d be in the stands with kids from our local park.”
For his part, Garvey said even to this day, it’s warmly gratifying to hear the cheers of fans.
“That was a great time to grow up,” Garvey said. “I was very lucky and proud to be a part of it.”
Opening Day is also a time to recognize milestones. Kemp received his Gold Glove Award for outstanding play in the outfield last year, and he and fellow outfielder Ethier were honored for their clutch hitting in 2009.
Off the field, team photographer Jon SooHoo begins his 25th year with the organization, doing a job he said is like a dream.
“Everyday is wonderful,” said SooHoo, an L.A. native and graduate of John Marshall High School in Los Feliz. “I love being able to say I work exclusively for one club. This is my office, not only behind a desk, but everywhere in the stadium.”
Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda, whose 2009 season was marred by the injury he
sustained after being hit in the head by a line drive, said he didn’t alter his off-season activities in Japan, but has tried to change his outlook on the new season.
“I didn’t really change much during my workouts in Japan, but the way I approached them mentally is different,” Kuroda explained. “I want to prepare myself so that I will last the entire season without being injured like last year.”
Now in his third season with the team, Kuroda has been one of the early bright spots in the Dodger rotation in 2010 (1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings), a position he’d like to keep.
“Aside from the numbers or stats, I ‘d like to pitch the whole season without any injuries, that’s my first goal. Since I’m a starter, I’d like to throw at least 200 innings this season,” he said.
The newly-remodeled Dodger clubhouse is lined with quotes above the lockers, from former greats who have passed through in years gone by. Asked what he might say if his own words were to be immortalized on the wall, Kuroda let out a hearty chuckle and took several moments to consider.
“Don’t take it for granted that you get to wear this uniform every day,” he said. “You have to work hard to be at this level. Work hard every day.”
* * *
For more photos check out our Dodgers Opening Day photo journal here.