The plan for how I’d write this story changed at least five times over the course of the Indians’ 16-inning Opening Day loss on Thursday. I had plenty of time for thoughts to percolate as the Indians and Blue Jays shifted the momentum back and forth throughout the game.
One of the exciting things about Opening Day is the widespread optimism at the thought of all of the possibilities for the coming season. Even the most hardened Cleveland fan hasn’t yet had the chance to grumble, “Well, at least there’s next year.” That’s not what Opening Day is about. Rather, it’s all about new beginnings and the hope of a new year. Opening Day is baseball’s New Years Day.
A record crowd packed downtown Cleveland and filled the seats at Progressive Field to welcome the Tribe back home for 2012. The fans made up the largest Opening Day crowd in Progressive Field history, making 2012 the 19th consecutive year that the Indians have been sold out for the start of the season. Entire sections of the stadium that stood vacant for a majority of last season were filled to the brim Thursday.
The fans made their presence known early the game. With a match-up against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tribe diehards showed their pride not only for the Indians, but their country by starting chants of “USA! USA!” (even though only one member of the Blue Jays roster is actually from Canada).
Judging by the buzz surrounding the ballpark early in the game, you’d think that the Indians were on their way to the World Series. There was pride in the way the fans were cheering for and standing behind the players. Everyone was glad to be back. The offseason was too long and Tribe fans were ready for 2012 to begin.
Justin Masterson came out with a strong effort, and the fans picked up on that early. With two out and two strikes on Jose Bautista, a fan in the bleachers shouted, “Everybody stand up!” And we did. Masterson struck out Bautista, and the thunderous cheering that followed reverberated throughout the ballpark. It was just one moment, but it was proof that the fans were into the game.
When Shelley Duncan hit his RBI double in the bottom of the second, it was as though something was reborn at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The steady beat of a drum and the rhythmic clapping of a packed ballpark pulsated through the stands. It was summer again. Baseball had officially begun, and the sound of that drum always means that something exciting is brewing on the field.
It was easy to be excited in the beginning of the game, up by three runs heading into the ninth inning. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end until we tack on a few extra innings, and ultimately, a loss. That’s not what matters though. It was only one game. When the Blue Jays tied it up in the top of the ninth and the Tribe failed to respond in the bottom of the inning, some fans headed for the exit. But what truly matters is that there were still fans in the seats with the final out. More than five hours after the first pitch they were still backing the Tribe, even though things looked bleak.
Despite the heartbreaking finish, it was still great to be at the opener. It was exciting. And let me tell you, you haven’t seen it all until you’ve seen a group of 20-something year-old guys hug over a Jack Hannahan home run. It was one of those times when everyone in the ballpark was into the game.
Opening Day is about the hope for success in the new season, and hope I have. We have 161 games left, and if the rest of the season is anything like the crazy game that played out at Progressive Field on Opening Day, we’re in for an exciting ride.