Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day Memories

Well as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Opening Day is one of my favorite days of the year. And it's not what the NFL tries to market as Kickoff Sunday Thursday or whatever they might say in the NBA, it's baseball. The only Opening Day that deserves capital letters. With the bunting along the mezzanine, the Presidents, the famous and the semi-famous throwing out the first pitches, and the sell-out crowds no matter what the prospects of the team on the field are for that year. Because of just what Indians manager Manny Acta said the other day.

"I expect to win."

That sums it up perfectly. Everybody expects their teams to win come the first Monday in April. Or, apparently, the last Thursday in March. (When, exactly did this happen? Did we vote and  I sleep through it?)  Of course, those dreams get dashed early for some, and late for others. But Opening Day gives every teams' fans hope, and that makes it a day not entirely unlike Christmas.

At one point, I had attended something like eight or ten Indians home openers in a row. Unfortunately I haven't been able to go to the opener for a couple years, and I really miss that magnet schedule. But a few Openers really stand out to me.

1993 - When the 1993 season opened, Cleveland's "sleeping giant" of fandom was starting to stir.  After a horrible few decades, especially the few years prior to 1993, baseball had just about bottomed out in Cleveland. I remember the marketing tagline in 1985, I believe "Tribe '85, This is Our Team!".  And the gallows humor we made.  Wee little cynical children we were, CSTer Doug and I, joking around with "Tribe's Alive in '95", that year being so far away I don't even think we thought we'd be alive then.  But 1993 brought hope.  There was an obvious core of very strong young talent, much brought in the Joe Carter trade in the form of Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga.  Add to that Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle and the city was starting to buzz a bit.

Of course, tragedy struck only a couple weeks prior to the season, as probable closer-of-the-future Steve Olin and newly acquired Tim Crews were killed in the boat accident that still lingers over the franchise to this day.  I distinctly remember the day I heard the breaking news, and the shock it sent the team (and city) into.  Jeff Darcy of the Plain Dealer wrote an editorial cartoon with Chief Wahoo dedicating the season to Olin and Crews, a tear in his eye, and Doug and I considered making a t-shirt out of it to wear to Opening Day.  (Bobby Ojeda survived the accidents, severly injured both physically and emotionally, but made an extremely emotional return to Cleveland Stadium later that summer.) 

Opening Day was a chilly affair, but I'm reasonably certain just about everybody I knew from school just happened to be "sick" that day.  Bob Feller threw out the first pitch, there were tears for Olin and Crews, Rocco Scotti probably sang the National Anthem, and Cleveland celebrated the beginning last year in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

1994 - This is the classic "Opening Day" in Cleveland Indians history, of course.  Jacobs Field.  Finally, a team that the city agreed with Lou Brown about-- "We're Contenders Now!"  For the first time in my memory, Indians tickets were a hot commodity.  I was one of the lucky ones, calling Ticketmaster (because that's how it worked in 1994) over and over and over the day tickets went on sale, and somehow getting through!   Seats were in the Upper Reserved--sections I'd become intimately aware of over the next decade--but they were IN THE STADIUM!  My mom got me a new replica jersey showing off the shiny new script Indians uniforms and it was on.

The day could not possibly have been better. Sunny skies in April, pomp and circumstance, and an amazing game on top of it all.  Between President Clinton throwing out the first pitch (and later flying straight to New Orleans to watch his Razorbacks in that evening's NCAA Championship) and the thrilling finale, the magic just never stopped.  Despite all the optimism and enthusiasm of the city, Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson outdueled Tribe starter Dennis Martinez (DENNIS MARTINEZ is on our team!), holding the Indians' bats totally silent for seven innings, flirting dangerously with a no hitter. But the eighth inning walk, an Alomar single, and a Manny 2-run double, and it was all tied up. Extra innings wrapped up with Wayne Kirby singling in Eddie Murray (Eddie Murray is on the INDIANS.)  And a delirious crowd went home thrilled.

I still to this day have a framed copy of the Plain Dealer from the following day "Just Perfect!" and the framed panoramic "first pitch" picture as well.  In which you can just barely pick out a little camera toting Brian in the upper deck, wearing the Indians hat, as well as Ryan holding his mom's camcorder, circa 1994.

And, more recently, 2007 - Only because of the crazy circumstances.  Good game--albeit mighty chilly--through the first few innings, and then the snow began to fall.  The Indians were leading and only one out from a victory when the snow turned into a full blown squall that the grounds crew just couldn't keep up with.  Something like 3 days of snow later the city was buried, and not only was that series canceled, but famously the next home series had to be played in Milwaukee.  Which, along with Major League, Sausage Races, and Bernie the Brewer, is why I love the Brewers as well.

It's Opening Day, in so many ways.

And we expect to win.