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For Openers, a Great Day in Dodgerdom

Baseball: Optimism burns bright as L.A. starts season with a victory.

April 03, 2001|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The bunting was hung with great care along the club level, the field perfectly manicured.

The smell of grilled Dodger Dogs wafted through the Chavez Ravine air and competed with the scent of renewed optimism.

The clouds broke just enough for the sun to shine through and a sellout crowd of 53,154 took part in Gary Sheffield performing a heel-to-hero turn that would make pro wrestling magnate Vince McMahon blush.

And, oh, yes, the Dodgers won.

Welcome to opening day 2001, a Dodger Odyssey.

Bob Daly couldn't have come up with a better script.

The former movie executive turned Dodger chairman was walking around the pastoral Dodger Stadium grounds with a smile on his face almost two hours before the first pitch of the Dodger season.

"What a great day," he was saying. "What a cheery day."

And that was before the pomp and circumstance of opening day enveloped the stadium.

Among the festivities:

* A tribute to the 10 Dodgers who have had their numbers retired--Sandy Koufax (No. 32), Don Sutton (No. 20), Tom Lasorda (No. 2), Don Drysdale (No. 53), Jackie Robinson (No. 42), Walt Alston (No. 24), Roy Campanella (No. 39), Duke Snider (No. 4), Pee Wee Reese (No. 1) and Jim Gilliam (No. 19).

* A high school all-star marching band performing in the expansive Dodger Stadium outfield.

* Navy Seals parachuting into the stadium.

* Maury Wills, who was brought back to the organization during the off-season as the club's baserunning and bunting coordinator, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

* Barry Manilow performing the national anthem while playing the piano as doves were released behind him and fireworks exploded around the birds.

* A pair of F-16 jets buzzing the stadium.

* Dodger players greeting fans at the turnstiles and handing out giveaway-day towels.

"This is what it's all about," Dodger reserve outfielder Marquis Grissom said as he passed out towels to fans and shook their hands. "It's all about interacting with the fans and having fun."

Grissom, who came to the Dodgers from the Milwaukee Brewers in a Feb. 25 trade, said such activities were the norm in Milwaukee. Grissom said Brewer players sometimes served as waiters at a dinner for Brewer season-ticket holders.

At Dodger Stadium, though, the fans seemed genuinely shocked to see Sheffield a few feet away from Grissom doling out the towels at the field-level, left-field turnstiles.

"It's a team effort," Grissom insisted. "It's not about him, it's about the Dodgers."

The scene resembled a wedding-reception line; all that was missing was a dollar dance. Fans Geraldo Jimenez, 30, and Javier Lozano, 25, were trying to contribute.

Before being shooed away by security, Lozano tried to pass Sheffield a wadded-up $20 bill, an obvious jab at Sheffield's spring training request for a contract extension to become a "lifetime Dodger."

"It's just a P.R. move," Jimenez said. "I think he was forced to do it [pass out towels]. It's not in his character.

"Marquis would do it but I don't think Sheff would."

After accepting towels from Sheffield and offering pats on the back and handshakes, fans booed his every move to start the game.

But they also booed when a wayward beach ball fell from the pavilion bleachers into the Dodger bullpen and whenever a section failed to keep the wave going.

During pregame introductions, Milwaukee Manager Davey Lopes, who played with the Dodgers from 1972-81, and hitting coach Rod Carew, who played for the Angels from 1979-85, received polite cheers.

That was before the crowd booed Devon White, who went to the Brewers in the Grissom trade, and first-year Dodger hitting coach Jack Clark.

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