Bill Plaschke: Newest Dodgers inspire and help set a tone for a season of intrigue

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — It was wet, cold and beautiful.

The lineup was weird, worrisome and wonderful.

Opening day was opening night, the decade-long dynasty was riddled with holes, the summer’s best fans were bundled up and uncertain and yet …

The magic returned, stronger than ever, the Dodgers opening the 2023 season Thursday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an 8-2 win at a Dodger Stadium outfitted with a new and energized buzz.

Folks shivered, but they roared. There were empty seats, but dancing in the aisles. This was an organization last seen collapsing against the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series last season, but the air was filled with forgiveness and forgetfulness and joy.

There was, “Fred-die! Fred-die!” There was, “Mooookie!” And there was, “Who’s that?”

Beneath the pavilion singing and blanket cheering and dazzling new stadium lights lingered that strange Chavez Ravine commodity known as intrigue.

This was a Dodgers team with five new players in the starting lineup, including two rookies appearing in their first season opener. This was a Dodgers team picked to finish second in a National League West Division it has won nine out of the last 10 years.

This was, for once, the beginning of drama, and the joint eventually rocked with it.

New kid James Outman blasted a two-run homer and singled. New kid Miguel Vargas walked and scored. New vet J.D. Martinez drove in a run with a poked single. New vet David Peralta drove in another run with a hard single. And new shortstop Miguel Rojas … well, he booted a grounder for the season’s first error, but this wasn’t a night to be picky.

Combined with the speedy play dictated by the new pitch clock, the game was a blur of new faces and compelling action, all of it anchored by old friend Julio Urias, who gave up two runs in six innings.

Season started, tone set.

This is going to be different. This is going to be strange. This could be a blast.

“We’ve had romance novels every year for the past 10 years, we knew all the characters, we knew we would do really well,” said Orel Hershiser, the former Dodgers pitching great and current broadcaster. “This one is a mystery, and it’s kind of fun.”

The third night season opener here in 47 years was a hoot from the beginning.

First, in a throwback to recent Dodgers’ World Series appearances, Keith Williams Jr. sang the national anthem, once again showing more range than any Dodgers infielder.

Then, as the anthem was ending, there was a flyover that rattled windows in Pasadena.

Next, as an homage to the Dodgers’ esteemed pitching history, the first pitch was jointly thrown out by Cy Young winners Fernando Valenzuela, Eric Gagne and Hershiser, with their catchers being Mike Scioscia, Rick Dempsey and manager Dave Roberts. Stealing the show was Scioscia, who received a huge ovation while making a rare appearance at Dodger Stadium after spending 19 years managing the Angels.

After the familiar comfort of the pregame partying came the unfamiliar parameters of a 2023 Dodgers game.

The ceremonial player introductions featured as many tepid cheers as roars, the fans still trying to figure out who was whom.

After the lineup’s powerful first four of Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Max Muncy, there appeared … who was that again?

Martinez was the designated hitter. Peralta was in left field. Vargas and Outman were at second base and center field, respectively. Rojas batted ninth.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seriously watched any of those last five guys, ever. Raise your hand if you could even recognize any of them?

This isn’t a bad thing. During his pregame news conference, Roberts said as much.

“I think volatility is probably too strong of a word,” Roberts said. “But when you have more veteran ballplayers or proven players, I think that you can sort of bet on the baseball card. When there’s more unknowns as far as service time, I think it adds to that sort of volatility, but with that comes a lot of excitement. And I think that for all of us, we’re going to embrace that.”

The lineup even contained a first-time opening day starter, although he was one of the few fixtures, Urias being the most popular Dodger these days, the Mexican left-hander capturing the affection of the community much like his predecessor Valenzuela.

“Gosh, if you look at this fan base … and you look at how they support Julio, regardless of race,” Roberts said, “I certainly believe that with what Fernando did for baseball and the Dodgers, and how Julio has embraced his Mexican background, it’s always fun to root for people who look like you.”

He might not be a Dodger for long. Urias can become a free agent after this season.

“Yeah,” said Roberts dryly. “I’ve heard.”

One winter after refusing to spend on a top-flight free agent, will the Dodgers pay what it takes to keep their local hero? It’s a story worth watching, but just one of many compelling stories in a season that, for once, should be filled with them.

It all started on an odd, unsettling, blow-on-your-hands Thursday night.

It couldn’t have started better.