Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw were home. Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser were on the mound, throwing the ceremonial first pitches.
That quartet of Kings combined for 20 starts for the proudest franchise in all of the major leagues.
Then Thursday’s game began, with Julio Urías starting the first day of the season. One and done?
Urías Valenzuela is the heir to the legacy, the torchbearer of a majority Latino fanbase in a majority Latino city.
“The closest thing to Fernando is Julio Urías,” said Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers’ hall of fame recently retired broadcaster. “No question.”
Urías is eligible for free agency after the season, as is Shohei Ohtani. And, even though Ohtani left the Angels and politely said he’d rather play with a perennial contender, the Dodgers are a perennial contender.
What if Urías leaves the Dodgers?
“The community’s reaction would be negative because they really love it,” Jarrin said. “It would be bad if he left the Dodgers.”
Bad for whom?
“For the team,” said Jarrin. “For the community. For him, no, although I’m sure he loves the Dodgers, business is business.
“And, you know, Scott Boras is his agent.”
Boras, who was at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, generally prefers that his clients let the market determine their value. He will no doubt come up with some colorful metaphors to use to sell Urías, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Urías led the National League in earned run average last year. The previous year he won 20 games. He will hit free agency at age 27.
Julio Urías makes the first pitch for the Dodgers in the second inning against the Diamondbacks on Thursday.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
“This guy has an amazing career ahead of him,” Boras said. “He has already had a very good career.”
When the San Diego Padres extended Manny Machado’s contract, Urías Ohtani became the brightest prize in free agency.
Aaron Nola is eligible for free agency, but he’s three years older and will start the season throwing twice as many innings as Urías.
The rest of the free agent pitching class includes the likes of Lucas Giolito, Sonny Gray and Blake Snell. From there the jump to Urías is clear.
If the Dodgers don’t sign Ohtani for $500 million or more—or even if they do—do they sign Urías for $200 million or more?
“In the free-agent world, the Dodgers haven’t been as aggressive as other teams with the players I’ve traded,” Boras said, citing Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg as examples.
And, of course, the Dodgers didn’t make a big offer to retain Corey Seager or Max Scherzer.
“It looked like they had replacements ready at the plate and with their pitching staff when they made those decisions,” Boras said. “When a team looks at that and says they have qualified replacements, it’s not uncommon for a team to not be that strong in the free agent market.”
The Dodgers win. They believe in the development of their players. They do not traffic in feelings.
There are no “must sign” players here. There’s the “would love to sign” category, and that’s where Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman puts Urías.
“Julio has been a big part of our success in the past, and we expect him to be a big part of what we achieve this year as well,” Friedman said Thursday. “Obviously, we’re all focused on 2023 right now, but our hope is that Julio will be wearing Dodger blue for many years to come.”
Mariachi music set the tone before the game. With every starting pitcher, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said there’s a tone.
“When Clayton hits, there’s an anticipation, there’s a little bit of ‘egg on shells,’ there’s an intensity,” Roberts said. “When Julio is making the hat, there’s that extra boost of excitement, joy, fire.”
There was joy in the ballpark on Thursday. In his first start, Urías allowed two runs in six innings in the Dodgers’ 8-2 rout of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“It’s an unforgettable experience,” said Urías after the match, “something like this with a team like this, with the history of the team and all the people who have done it before. It was something very special for me, and of course to send the fans home with a victory is a blessing.”
The signature piece of Urías’ career is throwing the final shot at the Dodgers’ World Series championship in 2020, the team’s first title in 32 years.
However, he is so young that he could play elsewhere long enough to be remembered as the star of another team.
The Dodgers have a Mexican star to call their own, and Latino fans have a star they can claim as their own, at least for one more season. Nothing in life is guaranteed, including Urías starting another game for the Dodgers.