Nick Punto defends his head-first dives into first base.

Nick Punto can’t tell you how or why or when he began perfecting his head-first dive into first base.

“I probably started it, my mom said, when I was four or five years old,” Punto said.

Now 34, Punto has ingrained the head-first dive into his brain, to the point of it becoming a reflex whenever there’s a close play at first. Conventional wisdom holds that diving head-first only slows down a runner. Sprinters don’t dive at the finish line of a race, right?

Yeah, Punto’s heard that one.

“And I say that’s because there’s a hard court, a track, at the end of that finish line,” he said.

OK, but why expose yourself to injury, flinging your body fingers-first into a hard canvas base while a first baseman attempts to catch a baseball at the same time, in the same place?

“I’ve been injured running through the base,” Punto counters. “I pulled a hamstring. You can roll an ankle. There’s lots of things you can hurt running through the base as well.”

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Your ‘Carmaggedon’ Dodger Stadium survival guide.

Due to the closure of the 405 Freeway this weekend, the Dodgers will be opening auto gates early on Saturday and Sunday. Auto gates will be opened at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday for the 6:10 game and 10:30 a.m. on Sunday for the 1:10 start.

One alternative: The Dodger Stadium Express picks up fans at Union Station and continues to Dodger Stadium with service starting 90 minutes prior to the beginning of the games and concludes 45 minutes after the end of games. Shuttles make the trip to Dodger Stadium from Union Station every 10 minutes prior to the start of the game and run approximately every 30 minutes throughout the game.

John Ely, Joc Pederson win Branch Rickey Awards.

The Dodgers chose right-handed pitcher John Ely and outfielder Joc Pederson as the Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year, respectively.

They join a list of past winners that includes Pedro Martinez, Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Paul Konerko, Chin-lung Hu, Joe Thurston and Billy Ashley.

“It was a good season,” said Ely, who learned he won the award two days ago. “The accolades and all, they’re great. I’m just honestly happy to have put together the year that I did. The awards aside…this is where I want to be. That’s what I’m happy about, that (my season at Triple-A) was able to get me here.”

Both Ely and Pederson will be honored in an on-field pregame ceremony prior to tomorrow’s 7:10 p.m. Dodger game against the Colorado Rockies.

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