Dodgers Present Championship Rings, Raise Banner At Home Opener

Ballparks Remain Empty On What Would Have Been Baseball's Opening Day

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - It was literally a banner day at Dodger Stadium today, as spectators were welcomed back to the stands for the first time following a COVID-19 year that kept seats empty, and returning fans saw the players receive their 2020 World Series rings and watched the raising of the championship banner.

The World Series rings were distributed during a pre-game ceremony that featured pre-recorded video messages personalized for each player, most of them former baseball greats, including Ken Griffey Jr., Will Clark, Jim Thome and Rickey Henderson.

The members of the 2020 Dodgers who left the team via free agency or trades -- Kike Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Pedro Baez, Alex Wood, Jake McGee, Adam Kolarek, Dylan Floro, Josh Sborz and Terrance Gore -- will be presented with their rings throughout the season, a team official told City News Service.

After the rings were presented, the 2020 championship banner was raised in centerfield by team co-owners Billie Jean King and Magic Johnson, Dodger broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman Gil Cedillo.

The team's home opener against the Washington Nationals marked the first time fans were inside Dodger Stadium since Oct. 9, 2019, when the Dodgers lost to Washington, 7-3, in Game 5 of a National League Division Series. That game is best-remembered for Clayton Kershaw allowing home runs on consecutive pitches to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in the eighth inning to tie the score, and former Dodger Howie Kendrick hitting a tie-breaking 10th-inning grand slam off Joe Kelly.

While the orange tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy allows 33% capacity at baseball stadiums and suites limited to 25%, the Dodgers expect to host around 15,000 fans for their games at 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium, nearly 27%, to allow for distancing between seating pods, a team official said.

Continuing the tradition of recent World Series champions, the Dodgers will wear special-edition jerseys and caps for the entire three-game series against the Nationals, featuring gold-outlined logos, a World Series champions patch and a gold VII on the sleeve in recognition of the franchise's seven championships.

The jerseys and caps went on sale exclusively at Dodger Stadium, Dodgers Clubhouse stores throughout the Los Angeles area and at noon, ahead of a broader release on Monday.

A set of the special edition game-worn jerseys will be auctioned with net proceeds benefiting B2B Safe, an initiative of Baby2Baby to provide 10,000 emergency COVID-19 care kits to children who do not have the option of social distancing when they are living in overcrowded conditions or are experiencing homelessness.

Baby2Baby is a Los Angeles-based mega diaper bank and nonprofit organization that provides essential items to children in need across the nation.

The following changes and rules were implemented at Dodger Stadium in response to the coronavirus pandemic:

-- All tickets will be issued digitally and scanned at ballpark entrances from a mobile device.

-- Fans will be seated in physically distanced pods of two to six people, with unused seats cordoned off.

-- Social distancing will be encouraged throughout the stadium, with limited capacity in elevators, restrooms and other indoor areas.

-- Visual markers, signage and queue lines will be in place throughout Dodger Stadium to ensure compliance, facilitate traffic flow and prevent congestion areas.

-- Fans are requested to refrain from congregating when visiting the concourse, follow all posted signage and direction from Dodger Stadium staff.

-- Only clear bags measuring 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches, or about the size of a one-gallon freezer bag, will be permitted inside. Backpacks, coolers and large purses will not be permitted, with the exception of medical bags or diaper bags.

-- All purchases inside the stadium will be cash-less and contact-free. For those who need them, cash-to-card kiosks will be located throughout the stadium so people can load cash onto prepaid Mastercard debit cards.

-- Parking must be purchased in advance.

-- Face coverings will be required for everyone age 2 and older, and can only be removed by people eating or drinking at their seats. Neck gaiters, bandanas and masks with valves do NOT qualify as face coverings.

-- Face coverings should fully cover the mouth and nose and fit snugly against the sides of the face so there are no gaps.

-- The stadium and parking lots will be completely smoke-free, including a ban on electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.

-- Parking lots will have reduced capacity. Following the home opener, they will open 90 minutes before the game with stadium gates opening one hour before the game.

Team officials said hand-sanitizing stations are located throughout the stadium, and additional staff will be on hand to clean high-touch areas. Bathrooms will have reduced capacity and be outfitted with contact-free soap and towel dispensers.

Plexiglass dividers have been added to merchandise locations and other areas of interaction.

Fans are encouraged to visit familiarize themselves with all the changes to the fan experience at Dodger Stadium entering 2021.

Friday's game was also the first for fans to experience a series of stadium improvements, including the creation of Centerfield Plaza, renovations to the Left and Right Field Pavilions, bridges to connect the new pavilion standing room decks to the rest of the stadium and a new sound system.

The game is matchup between the two most recent World Series champions, although that is coincidence. The 2021 schedule was announced July 9, more than three months before the Dodgers' six-game victory over the Tampa Bay Rays gave them their first World Series championship since 1988.

Walker Buehler will start for the Dodgers while fellow right-hander Joe Ross will start for the Nationals.

Buehler allowed two runs and four hits in six innings, striking out four and not walking a batter in his 2021 debut Saturday against the Colorado Rockies. He did not figure in the decision in the Dodgers' 6-5 victory.

Ross will be making his first appearance since 2019. He opted not to play in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dodgers are off to 5-2 start and lead the National League West by one game over the San Diego Padres.

Washington had its planned season-opening three-game series against the New York Mets and opener of a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak on the team.

The Nationals defeated Atlanta, 6-5, in the their season opener Tuesday in Washington, then were swept in a doubleheader, 7-6 and 2-0, Wednesday.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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