LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles Dodgers will face the San Francisco Giants in their season opener at Dodger Stadium tonight with an opening day unlike any other in their illustrious 131-season history.
Instead of the customary 53,000-plus capacity crowd, no one will be sitting in Dodger Stadium's seats because of public health directives prohibiting public events and gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 4,500 seats will be filled by 18-inch by 30-inch cutouts of fans which cost $149 for field and loge-level locations and $299 for the Dugout Club or the new Pavilion Home Run Seats.
Sales of the cutouts has raised approximately $800,000 for the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, the team's official charity, whose mission is to improve education, health care, homelessness and social justice for all Angelenos.
The Dodgers on Wednesday announced an expansion of the cutout program,offering fans the opportunity to have cutouts of fans' dogs placed in loge sections 143 and 145 for $149.
With the absence of fans all 30 MLB teams will use ambient and reactionary background audio to create crowd sounds during the season. MLB is providing each team with an array of crowd sounds and a touchpad device that can be integrated into their ballpark sound system to help manage the playing of the sounds.
The crowd sounds will be audible to on-field personnel and during television and radio broadcasts.
The crowd backgrounds and reactions provided to the teams are all derived from exclusive, original source audio recorded by developers of the MLB The Show'' video game at MLB regular season games.
The audio was edited into sound cues used in MLB The Show 20, with a focus on authentically replicating crowd sound and behavior. Selected content was then further refined for real-time playback over ballpark audio systems and allows for about 75 different effects and reactions to be used during a game.
The crowd sounds will work in conjunction with stadium announcers, walkup music and in-stadium video to replicate the in-game experience as closely as possible.
Public address announcer Todd Leitz, stadium DJ Lanier Stewart, known as DJ Severe, and organist Dieter Ruehle will all be on site at Dodger Stadium in an attempt to create as normal a gameday atmosphere as possible.
Many roles in MLB in 2020 will be performed remotely in an attempt to minimize exposure at stadiums for all involved.
ESPN play-by-play commentator Karl Ravech will call the 7 p.m. exclusive telecast from the network's studios in Bristol, Connecticut, while analyst Eduardo Perez will call the game remotely from his home studio using the “Live from Home Commentary'' setup initially used for the network's coverage of the Korean Baseball Organization.
Dodger broadcaster Charley Steiner will call all games from his living room in Brentwood on the advice of his doctor because he has medical conditions that put him at high risk for the coronavirus. His broadcast partner Rick Monday will be at Dodger Stadium Thursday and for other home games.
Monday will not travel with the team but instead will broadcast road games from Dodger Stadium.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted MLB to make several rule changes for the 2020 season, which has been shortened to 60 games per team, 102 less than usual.
National League games will include the use of the designated hitter for the first time in an attempt to avoid pitchers being injured when they are batters or baserunners. The DH had been limited to American League games and interleague games when an American League team is the home team.
Each half-inning of a game going into extra innings will begin with a runner on second base in an attempt to reduce long games and the strain they place on pitchers.
Teams may have up to 30 players on their active rosters for the first two weeks of the season, five more than usual. The active roster must be reduced to 28 players by Aug. 6 and 26 by Aug. 20. Teams will be permitted to have a three-player taxi squad on road trips, one of whom must be a catcher.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, MLB adopted a rule requiring pitchers to face at least three batters before being relieved in an attempt to speed up the game.
Major League Baseball has instituted a set of health and safety protocols intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The protocols include calling for players, umpires and other on-field personnel “to practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball;'' strictly enforcing prohibitions against unsportsmanlike conduct to prevent unnecessary physical contact and support physical distancing between individuals on the playing field; requiring teams to provide expanded dugout and bullpen space; and having all non-playing personnel wear face coverings at all times in the dugout and bullpen.
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to make his ninth opening day start for the Dodgers, extending his team record. Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Don Sutton are tied for second with seven each.
Kershaw's streak of eight consecutive opening day starts ended last season when left shoulder inflammation prompted the team to place him on the injured list. Hyun-Jin Ryu, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, was the Dodgers opening day starter last season.
Kershaw was 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 2019. He tied for third in the National League in victories, was third in winning percentage and seventh in ERA. Kershaw enters the season third on the Dodgers career strikeout list with 2,464, trailing Sutton (2,696) and Drysdale (2,486).
Right-hander Johnny Cueto will make his first opening day start for the Giants. He started four consecutive openers for the Cincinnati Reds from 2012-15. Cueto signed with San Francisco as a free agent on Dec. 16, 2015 and was 18-5 in his first season as a Giant.
Cueto underwent Tommy John surgery on Aug. 2, 2018 and missed most of the 2019 season recovering from it. He made four starts for San Francisco last September with a 1-2 record and 5.06 ERA. Cueto went 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA in six minor league rehab starts in 2019.
The game marks the Dodger debut of four-time all-star outfielder Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League MVP, one day after he signed a 12-year contract through the 2032 season worth a reported $365 million.
“I just love being here,'' Betts said in a Zoom call. “I love everything about here. I'm here to win some rings and bring championships back to LA. That's all I'm focused on.''
Betts was acquired in a five-player trade Feb. 10 with the Boston Red Sox that also brought the Dodgers five-time all-star pitcher David Price and cash considerations in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo, minor league infielder Jeter Downs and minor league catcher Connor Wong.
Price has opted out of playing this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, tweeting on July 4 it was “in the best interest of my health and my family's health for me to not play this season.''
Catcher Buster Posey is the only Giants player to opt out of playing this season. On July 9, the six-time all-star and his wife, Kristen, adopted twin girls, Ada and Livvi, who were born prematurely on July 3. Because the babies are at high risk for COVID-19, Posey announced he would opt out of playing.
The game is also the debut of Gabe Kapler as San Francisco's manager, succeeding Bruce Bochy.
Kapler managed the Philadelphia Phillies to a 161-163 record the past two seasons. Kapler was the Dodgers director of player development from November 2014 until being hired as the Phillies manager in October 2017.
Kapler was raised in Reseda and played at Taft High School in Woodland Hills.
Also debuting for the Giants is assistant coach Alyssa Nakken, MLB's first female coach.
The 30-year-old Nakken was a softball star at Sacramento State, then joined the Giants in 2014 as a baseball operations intern, later working on the team's Mission Rock Development initiative and in Giants Enterprises, playing an active role in the event logistics, planning, production, marketing, content creation and business development of the team's health & wellness initiatives.
The only element of the opening day festivities the Dodgers have announced is that Keith Williams Jr. will perform the national anthem. The pregame ceremonies can be seen on SportsNet LA and Dodgers social media starting at 5:30 p.m.
SportsNet LA is available to DirecTV subscribers for the first time in its seven-season history.
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