By Don Wanlass
Dodger Stadium was electric June 15.
For the first time since October 2019, the stadium was full of fans as more than 52,000 people attended the Dodgers game against the Philadelphia Phillies in what the Dodgers advertised as Reopening Night.
It was the first game played in Southern California with capacity crowds since Gov. Gavin Newsom put the state on quarantine in March 2020 as the coronavirus started to take its toll on the entire world.
The pandemic caused the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments to be canceled. The NBA, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer seasons were put on hold for more than 90 days and the start of the 2020 baseball season was delayed.
The NFL was the only professional sports league that didn’t lose any regular season games to the pandemic, although the league did cancel its preseason schedule and the owners failed to reap the benefits of sold-out stadiums for much, if not all of the season.
For Dodgers fans, it was the first time a large crowd had a chance to cheer for Mookie Betts, the superstar outfielder acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox about three weeks before spring training was shut down in March 2020. Betts did his part to help the Dodgers win the World Series last October, but he didn’t have a chance to experience a full Dodger Stadium until June 15.
His home run leading off the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie and sent the fans into a frenzy. They cheered some more an inning later when Betts drove in an insurance run in the Dodgers 5-3 victory.
Betts has been his normal self at the plate in the first two months of the season with nagging injuries to his shoulder and back taking their toll. Or maybe he just needed a full house to start performing at a superstar level.
Whichever way it is, the Dodgers will be happy to have Betts playing at an all-star level.
During the first two months of the season, the Dodgers had averaged 15,986 fans in 33 home dates with reduced capacity, including 28 sellouts. The team’s highest single-game attendance mark was 20,220 on June 11 vs. the Rangers.
Other local sports team also will be playing to normal-sized crowds now that Gov. Newsom has lifted restrictions on gatherings.
The Clippers are expected to have a packed house June 18 when the play game six of their series with the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
The Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club both have home games June 19 and are expecting to have close to sold-out crowds for those games.
USC and UCLA both announced June 15 that they will offer full-capacity seating at football games this fall at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Bowl.
Specific policies governing those attending games — such as mask-wearing requirements — haven’t been announced.
“We are beyond excited to welcome the Trojan Family back to the Coliseum for the first time since 2019,” USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn said in the Trojans’ announcement. “Our players can’t wait to see fans and family in the stands and that energy is a difference-maker for us on the field.”
UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond also welcomed back the fans.
“We are excited to welcome back students, alumni and fans to the Rose Bowl and our other outside sporting events,” he said. “Getting the COVID-19 vaccination is strongly encouraged to provide the safest environment for everyone. We will continue to follow local and state health and safety protocols in order to maintain a safe environment for our fans.”
Both teams played to empty stadiums last fall in a season with an abbreviated schedule because of the pandemic.
UCLA opens its home season on Aug. 28 with a game against Hawaii. USC takes on San Jose State in its first home game on Sept. 4.
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood will welcome fans for the first time in August when the preseason schedule begins. The new stadium was empty during its debut season.
Interestingly enough, the first game in SoFi will feature the Rams against the Chargers in the preseason opener for both teams Aug. 14.
The Rams host the Las Vegas Raiders Aug. 21 and the Chargers host the San Francisco 49ers the next day.
UP-AND-DOWN CLIPPERS: At times in these playoffs, the Clippers have looked as advertised — one of the best teams in the NBA. At other times, they look like the Clippers.
The Clippers have started both playoff series the same way, losing the first two games and then bouncing back to win the next two.
Game five was June 16 in Salt Lake City and the Clippers announced the morning of the game that Kawhi Leonard would miss that game because of a knee injury suffered in game four June 14.
That doesn’t bode well for the Clippers, since Leonard is averaging 30.4 points a game in the first 11 games of the playoffs. Paul George has had back-to-back 30-point performances, but George is much better when he is playing Robin to Leonard’s Batman, rather than trying to be Batman himself.
Regardless of what happens in Salt Lake, the Clippers will be back at Staples Center for game six June 18, with real live fans replacing the cardboard cutouts in the floor-level seats for the first time this season.
The Clippers have had a chance to experience packed houses the first two games of this series in Utah, and the three games they played in Dallas in the opening series.
But it’s always good to play in front of a large crowd at home. Just ask the Dodgers.
STICKY STUFF: I have been a baseball fan for more then 60 years and for 59 of those years I didn’t know what a spin rate was.
But baseball spin rates are the main topic of conversation in baseball these days as the leaders of the game try to figure out how to get more balance between offense and pitching in the game. For several years, the hitters had the advantage with shrinking strike zones, balls built to travel and launch angles (another new term I can live without) leading to more home runs — and strike outs.
When I was growing up, no one wanted to strike out, whether you were playing in the major leagues of Little League. But these days, there is no stigma to striking out, and that isn’t good for baseball.
Hence the discussion of spin rates. Apparently, the more the ball spins on its way to the plate the harder it is to hit. So pitchers (and general managers and coaches) are seeking higher spin rates and apparently are applying foreign substances to the ball in order to increase that spin rate.
Major League Baseball announced June 15 that it would begin to check pitchers for use of illegal foreign substances on the baseball beginning June 21. Pitchers caught with the foreign substances, which include pine tar, sunscreen, a combination of the two and other mixtures that are being developed in laboratories throughout the country will be ejected from the game and suspended for 10 games.
Umpires will check pitchers at the end of innings or when a relief pitcher is being removed from a game to keep the games from dragging on (Commissioner Rob Manfred’s biggest concern).
It was interesting to note that when Major League Baseball circulated a memo a couple of weeks back announcing they were cracking down on foreign substances how many pitchers were suddenly giving up more friends, and that includes a couple of Dodgers.
Rosin bags, which have been used by pitchers to help them get a grip forever, will still be allowed, but pitchers have been mixing rosin, pine tar and sunscreen to get a major grip (and increase their spin rate) for many, many years.
Back in the day, pitchers like hall of famers Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton were often suspected of doctoring a baseball to make it move differently and in the days before the umpires put a new ball in play after every batter, pitchers learned how to use small nicks or scrapes in the ball to make it move. And the veteran pitchers passed those tricks on down to younger players.
I have a suggestion for baseball. Make the balls less slick so pitchers don’t need foreign substances to get a grip on the ball. Also, stop babying pitchers with pitch counts and inning restrictions.
In this day of modern sports medicine, why can’t pitchers throw 250 or 300 innings a season like they used to?
Pitchers like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson used to throw 300 innings a season with 25 complete games out of 40 starts. Now, few pitchers throw more than 200 innings and make 30 starts a year.
The Dodgers are currently carrying 14 pitchers on their 26-man roster meaning they have only four back-up position players (or possible pinch hitters) each game.
They don’t need 14 pitchers, especially when two or three of them can’t get anybody out.
BACK IN ACTION: After a three-week layoff, the Galaxy and LAFC return to action this weekend.
The Galaxy are in third place in the Western Conference with five wins, no losses and two ties, three points behind the Seattle Sounders.
LAFC is 2-3-2 and in ninth place in the conference. LAFC is hoping forward Carlos Vela has recovered from leg injuries that have slowed him down so far this year and is ready to ignite the offense.
The Galaxy has bounced back from a couple of awful season with Greg Vanney making a major difference as the new head coach of the team and Javier Hernandez leading the offense.
If you are really a soccer fan, you can catch both games June 19. The Galaxy hosts the Seattle Sounders at 6 p.m. at Dignity Health Sports Center in Carson.
And about the time that game is ending, LAFC will face the Houston Dynamo at 8 p.m. at Banc of California Stadium, less than 10 miles up the Harbor (110) Freeway from the Galaxy’s home field.