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WHAT A HIT! DODGER FAITHFUL WELCOME SEASON.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

When the sun finally broke over opening day at Dodger Stadium on Monday, it lit Los Angeles' only rite of spring.

Three-dollar Dodger Dogs, grilled. Six-dollar beers, brimmed. And a million-dollar crack of the bat from the highest-paid players in sports.

``For opening day, this is like Christmas - this is what America's all about,'' said Steve Valencia, 30, of Whittier who'd scheduled his vacation around the game, a 1-0 Dodgers win over Milwaukee.

``You get away from the job, you get away from (nasty) people, you get away from brokers, it's like a day away from reality.''

Angelenos - 51,234 of them - ditched work, cut school, abandoned their soap operas and unmoored their routines. For many, the opening day tradition goes back to April 10, 1962, the first Dodgers opener in Chavez Ravine.

``I was here in 1962 on opening day and haven't missed a day since,'' said Fred Lewis, 70, of La Crescenta. ``It means the best game of the year, always.''

``Yeah, buddy,'' chipped in Tim Gamble, 44, who'd driven all the way from Jackson in the Sierra foothills north of Sacramento for a $6 seat. ``It's the best bargain in town.''

Besides the game, there were skydivers, skyrockets, a national anthem ballad by Barry Manilow, a tribute to the Dodgers pantheon and high-fives for each athlete on the lineup.

Dodgers baseball, however, is more than just a game: It's religion with mystic trappings.

Before Monday's game, fans dug up the bottom of their drawers for their best Dodger duds. Blue-bloods who didn't lined up for a warehouse of Dodgers hats and tees.

Some wore blue hair, others balloon helmets in blue and white, others inscribed ``L.A.'' in cheeky tributes to their team.

``Look at those visors, shirts,'' said Damon Shannon, 12, whose friends and family had made a pilgrimage to Dodger Stadium from Templeton outside San Luis Obispo, lacking the requisite Dodgers attire for Monday's ravaging of virgin turf.

During a one-inning wait for a Dodger Dog, Amelia and Barry Alperin of Walnut ruminated over the stadium's most transcendent weiner.

``D-Dogs,'' said Amelia, shaking her head. ``I've tried having 'em at home and it's not the same - maybe it's the atmosphere, it isn't the same.

``It's part attitude,'' interjects her husband.

``The fact that they're grilled,'' Amelia added, a dog searing her vision. ``It has to be grilled - the more grilled it is, the better.''

Dressed head to toe in Dodger blue, the Alperins carried a Dodgers carry- all and a Dodgers pillow, drove up in a Dodgers (blue) car, sported a Dodgers license plate (24DBLUE), and have devoted an entire room to their team.

Scalpers, out in droves at the entrance to Dodger Stadium for such fans, had a field day.

``It's doin' real good,'' said Tony, who declined to give his last name before being rousted by police. ``Eighty bucks for loges; $125 for fields, $35 to $40 for top decks - it's a nice opening day for ticket guys.''

As fog lost out to sun during the pregame confusion, a Dixieland combo shifted from ``Roll Out the Barrel'' to a wholesome ``Saints Go Marching In'' before Manilow hit home plate for his ballad for the nation.

``Barr-ee, Barr-ee,'' fans chanted before the anthem when fleets of rockets and doves took over the field.

``He was great,'' said Bob Chacon, 35, of Simi Valley, who ditched work for the event. ``When the birds were flying, I misted up.''

Others misted up when Gary Sheffield, the $31.5 million All-Star slugger who inflamed teammates and fans this spring by demanding a lifetime extension - or suggesting his performance would seriously suffer - took to the plate.

He was roundly booed.

``Crybaby,'' said Jeff Palmer, 55, of El Segundo, who's never missed opening day at Dodger Stadium, of the notorious hitter. ``That's why they gave us the crying towel when we got to the door.''

Such towels, however, would daub rivers of Dodgers joy. For it was Sheffield who, booed at the plate, would receive a stadium curtain call for his game-winning home run.

Which gave Roger Owens, ``The Peanut Man'' for the Dodgers since 1962, hope for a new contract.

``I've got a mean knuckle bag, fast bag and curb bag working for me,'' said Owens, past 50 and dripping in sweat from expertly slinging goobers along the third-base seats.

``I'm the only (Dodgers) pitcher earning less than $1 million a year.''

For Dodgers fans, however, Monday was a $1 million day.

``Opening day - best atmosphere, best fans, best baseball team, you gotta love it,'' said Paul Baca, 35, of Palmdale. ``We're a little grumpy about Sheffield right now, but we'll get over it.

``He's gotta hit 40 home runs. If not, trade him: He's gone.''

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Dodgers fans J.J. Matis and her husband, Alan, of Sherman Oaks, above, show their support for controversial outfielder Gary Sheffield, whose home run led to L.A.'s opening-day 1-0 victory over the Brewers. At top, Steven Urrutia, 30, and Pedro Valencia, 21, both of North Hollywood, wear their support for the Dodgers during their season opener Monday.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

(3 -- 4) Some Dodgers fans' support is more than skin deep, left. Above, Barry Manilow officially starts the 2001 season with his rendition of the national anthem.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

John Lazar/Staff Photographer
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 3, 2001
Words:899
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