From Comerica Park to Coors Field to Angel Stadium, Major League Baseball is set to roll out a big welcome mat on Thursday when Opening Day puts added focus on the fans.
When Gerrit Cole throws the first pitch of the season – weather permitting – nearly 11,000 people could be at Yankee Stadium. Healthcare workers will be celebrated, and everyone will sit in socially distanced seats and wear masks, inside a park that will continue to operate as a mass coronavirus vaccination site.
It’s far from normal, but after a year when fans weren’t permitted at any regular-season games because of COVID-19 protocols, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” will no longer strangely echo around empty ballparks during the seventh-inning stretch. Crowd sizes will vary, in accordance with regional guidelines, with the hope that they will be able to grow as the season progresses.
On the field, the pitching-rich Dodgers open this afternoon against the Rockies (1 p.m. PT) in Colorado, as they begin their quest to become the first repeat World Series champions since the New York Yankees in 1998-2000. Will the biggest threat to their goal be the NL West rival Padres?
The Angels open later Thursday (7 p.m.) at home against the White Sox, and they believe they’ve got the talent and stability to end a streak of five consecutive losing seasons and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Tonight, they’ll try to solve Chicago’s Lucas Giolito, one of three Harvard-Westlake products slated to start season openers: Jack Flaherty will take the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals and Max Fried starts for the Atlanta Braves.
SoCal News Group baseball reporters Bill Plunkett, Jeff Fletcher and J.P. Hoornstra have been busy covering the Dodgers, Angels and MLB since well before spring training opened, but you might have missed some of their work while you were otherwise distracted by the Lakers’ mounting injuries or UCLA and USC making noise in the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a look at some of what the staff has done to get you prepared for the 2021 season:
• Uburdened by ending a 32-year drought, the Dodgers remain motivated
• Dodgers’ quest to repeat could include physical and mental hurdles
• Dodgers position-by-position outlook
• Dodgers regular-season schedule
• Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium can expand capacity under new COVID-19 tier classification
• Trevor Bauer joins Dodgers with a Cy Young Award – and doubters
• Walker Buehler has Cy Young talent if not the hardware – yet
• Clayton Kershaw: ‘I feel like I have a few years left in the tank’
• Kenley Jansen: ‘I know who I am. I know what I’m capable of doing’
• World Series win brought Julio Urias and family joy – and some pain
• Mookie Betts looking for Dodgers to ‘get the job done’ again
• Corey Seager faces challenge of replicating 2020 over longer season
• Dodgers focused on validating 2020 title, not threat of Padres
• Dodgers giving Gavin Lux chance to hit reset button
• Zach McKinstry eager to fill utility role vacated by Kiké Hernandez
• Is Shohei Ohtani finally ready to be a two-way star again?
• Angels expect recent rotation woes to end with six-man group in 2021
• Angels position-by-position outlook
• Angels regular-season schedule
• Angel Stadium, Dodger Stadium can expand capacity under new COVID-19 tier classification
• Angels help José Rojas realize his lifelong dream
• Angels shortstop José Iglesias went from Cuba to a Montana jail on his path to freedom
• Chris Rodriguez’s long road finally leads to Angels’ Opening Day
• Angels see Raisel Iglesias as a closer and a leader
• What does leadoff hitter David Fletcher have to add to his game?
• Mike Trout eager to end the Angels’ playoff drought
• Angels banking on team chemistry to lift their performances
• Griffin Canning ‘on the verge’ of a breakthrough season, Joe Maddon says
• Joe Maddon saw improvement in Jo Adell before Angels sent him down
• Joe Maddon hopes new baseballs bring back ‘1985’ style
• Hoornstra: After a long year, baseball is a spectator sport again
• Hoornstra: 10 MLB storylines to watch in 2021
• Alexander: MLB reverts from sprint to marathon in 2021
• Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres make baseball fun again in San Diego
• Alexander: There’s Dodgers DNA in the Padres owner’s suite
• 2021 MLB Predictions: SoCal News Group staffers call their shots
MARK WHICKER’S SEASON PREVIEW CAPSULES
• NL West
• NL Central
• NL East
• AL West
• AL Central
• AL East
2020 – WHAT DID WE LEARN, WHAT DID WE LOSE?
• Hoornstra: What the pandemic really revealed about baseball
• A Year Lost: Minor leaguers reflect on a canceled season
SCIENCE OF BASEBALL
• Hoornstra: For MLB’s cutting-edge teams, the force is with them
• Hoornstra: Is collective bargaining the secret to MLB injury prevention?