Return to Dodger Stadium heralds post-pandemic life

Fans are welcomed back for first time in more than a year.

The look of bright green grass surrounded by a sea of blue ball caps. The sound of players’ names echoing over the loudspeaker. The smell of sizzling Dodger dogs. The taste of salty peanuts. The feel of sitting in Chavez Ravine on a perfect, sunny day.

After more than a year without hosting a game because of COVID-19, Dodger Stadium is welcoming fans back Friday afternoon, April 9, for the first home game of the season.

In other words, as legendary announcer Vin Scully would say: “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”

Baseball fan or not, the reopening of this storied landmark is good for the city’s collective spirit, says Timothy Fong, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA Health and lifelong sports fan who estimates he attends about a dozen Dodgers games a season.

“It's a phenomenally important part of recovery for us to have this community opportunity back,” he says. “There is no ‘getting out of the pandemic’ or ‘returning to normal’ unless you have these traditions in the community calendar.”

Even those who don’t intend to go to a game this season can see the reopening of Dodger Stadium as a step toward post-pandemic life, Dr. Fong says.

“It brings a sense of not just normalcy, but confidence that we will recover from this,” he says. “I think that is the most critical part — that returning to Dodger Stadium, a new version of it, should establish confidence in all of us. Life is not quite back to normal, but it will continue to go on in a way that's helpful and useful.”

Things will certainly look different for those returning to the stadium.

According to Los Angeles County COVID-19 reopening guidelines, stadium capacity will be capped at 33%, so don’t expect packed stands. The Dodgers organization announced in March that seating will be limited to “physically distanced pods” of two to six fans. Unused seats will be blocked off and stanchions in high-traffic areas will encourage social distancing.

Everyone over age 2 must wear a face covering at Dodger Stadium, and bandanas, neck gaiters and masks with valves won’t suffice. Purses, bags and backpacks are no longer allowed. Instead, attendees can bring their belongings in a clear plastic bag no larger than a one-gallon Ziplock.

Parking must be paid for in advance and all transactions at the stadium, inside and out, will be contactless. Tickets will be issued digitally and scanned from phones at the gates. Cash-to-card kiosks will allow those without a credit card to load up a Mastercard debit card to make purchases inside. Food and beverage service plans are being determined.

“Initially, it’s not going to be the same as it once was,” Dr. Fong says. “But we have to reframe it and say, while it won’t be that jam-packed experience, it should still be, at its core, what it’s always about, which is bonding with your family and friends, enjoying the team and enjoying L.A.”

Even with safety precautions in place, attending a Dodgers game isn’t risk-free, he notes, and it never was. Pandemic or no, sporting events always carry some inherent potential risk. You could catch a cold, get hit by a foul ball, or trip and fall on the way to your seat.

“There’s going to be risk,” he says. “But the trade-off is you get to be part of your community again, and that’s really valuable.”

The resumption of sports spectatorship is a positive sign of what’s to come, he says. And for Los Angeles residents, the chance to cheer on the world champs and return to a beloved home away from home isn’t just an entertaining way to spend an evening, it’s a boon to mental health.

“It becomes something that all of us can use to really promote healing and recovery,” Dr. Fong says. “As ridiculous as it sounds, it's so crucial for a world that's been under quarantine for a year plus.”

Dodgers players are feeling the excitement, too — especially since they’ll receive their World Series championship rings at Friday’s game in front of their home crowd.

“I’m excited that we’re going to have a few fans there,” says pitcher Clayton Kershaw. “It’s kind of the first time that we’ve been all together with fans to get to celebrate last year, so I’m very excited about it. Friday’s going to be really special for me for a lot of different reasons.”


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