The Los Angeles Dodgers welcomed more than 50,000 fans for Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies, marking the largest crowd to see a U.S. professional sports team event since last year's pandemic struck.
The National League club billed the contest as “Reopening Day,” selling 52,078 tickets at Dodger Stadium as baseball-starved fans reveled in Los Angeles' 5-3 victory.
The battle of playoff-contending clubs came hours after California lifted a wide array of mandates set in place last year to battle the pandemic, which had killed more than 62,000 California residents as of Tuesday.
There are no more state rules on social distancing, and no more limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums or anywhere else. Masks are no longer mandated for vaccinated Californians in most settings.
Dodgers star Mookie Betts, accustomed to packed houses in an eight-year career with the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, belted a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning.
“At the beginning I soaked it in while I could. After that I tuned it out and took care of business. I’m used to playing in front of big crowds,” Betts said.
L.A. Manager Dave Roberts said Betts' blast "felt" like no other home run so far this season.
"It was a jolt," Roberts said. "For them (fans) to get here and hope that your superstar player performs (with a) go-ahead homer, it was big jolt. The dugout felt it, the fans felt it."
The Dodgers captured the 2020 World Series, following a truncated MLB season of just 60 regular season games, a fraction of a normal 162-game campaign.
The Dodgers on Tuesday wore uniforms with gold trim to celebrate the 2020 title and held pre-game ceremonies similar to traditional Opening Day festivities.
The pandemic brought the sports world to a grinding halt in March 2020 with baseball's spring training and college basketball's "March Madness" canceled.
Once high-level sports were allowed to return months later, audiences were limited to create social distancing between spectators.
For example, the Super Bowl — traditionally the costliest and hardest ticket to score in all of sports — was played before a paid crowd of just 24,835 on Feb. 7. The NFL titlegame was played at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, which has capacity for more than 65,000 fans.
Other huge crowds to watch major sports events, across the globe, since the pandemic first struck include:
- More than 70,000 people gathered for a bout between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on May 8.
- A crowd of 78,113 filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground for an Australian rules football contest between Collingwood and Essendon on April 25.
- About 51,000 horse racing fans filed into Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
- And approximately 135,000 IndyCar enthusiasts cheered on racers at the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.