This year, Rob Vaughan and Stephanie Liscio decided to do a point/counterpoint piece on opening day. The following will discuss the magic of baseball’s return, juxtaposed with the argument that attending the home opener is bad and should be avoided.
Opening Day—My Favorite Day of the Year
No matter to what extent the Browns and Cavs have created championship aspiration letdowns (again) over the past year, nothing resuscitates my passion for Cleveland sports like Opening Day… it marks the end of the annual long-term sabbatical with no Cleveland Indians Baseball since the end of the previous season…it means many trips to the ballpark are on the horizon…it signifies Spring weather (maybe) is finally here…it boasts our 0-0 win/loss record and that our quest for the playoffs beings today…Opening Day fosters a new hope, a feeling that “this is the year”…every…single…year!
In baseball circles, Opening Day is referred to by many players, team personnel, and management, simply as “OD”, marking the first game of the rollercoaster that is the grueling, gritty, 162-game MLB season. However, for fans, Opening Day is a spectacle. It creates hope and anticipation, while simultaneously marking the triumphant return of the baseball season. For many, Opening Day is a great tradition, albeit a tradition with varying motives for different people:
- A father taking his kid to OD for the first time, after his dad took him every year when he was a child
- A group of friends who all take a personal day (maybe even a “sick day”) from work every year just to get together and enjoy the spectacle of the first game every year.
- One gigantic all-day party, which starts at 10am (or earlier) at a bar that morning or with a “liquid lunch”.
- Though not as common as yesteryear, some kids even play hooky from school to gather their friends and attend the big game and festivities downtown.
- And, perhaps best of all: Diehard baseball fans or Tribe fans cherishing the return of their favorite sport and team after the long offseason.
Regardless of fans’ motives for excitement on Opening Day—and whether they are casual or diehard fans—the pure energy at Progressive field is electric. From celebrity appearances to the huge flag covering the field during the national anthem to the hopeful enthusiasm that ‘this is the year’, the festivities of the Opener enlighten the ballpark, its fans, and its players. There isn’t a player out there who isn’t hyped up for OD after a long offseason and the desire to kick off the season after Spring Training dragged on. Now the stats count!
Whether we realize it or not, Opening Day in Cleveland takes on special circumstances that other MLB ballparks and their respective fan bases do not experience. We feel the electricity of 42,000+ fans creating a roar throughout Progressive Field…that noise, that energy…it brings back many memories from the glory days of the ballpark, from 455 consecutive sellouts, to walk-off wins, to the thrill of playoff baseball in Cleveland. Yet, in the weeks to follow, that vibrant huge Opening Day crowd sadly morphs into a smaller more subdued fan base. For whatever reason—in Cleveland—fans will steadfastly support our annually pathetic football team with near sellouts every game, yet only sell out the gem that is Progressive Field, once per year, on Opening Day. This trend certainly needs to change.
I will attend 30-40 Indians games in 2016, as I have for many years now. Every year, when I feel the electricity, enthusiasm, loud crowd, and passion of Opening Day…it makes me hopeful that those crowds and that vivacious scene will soon become a consistent site at Progressive Field…that playoff baseball is on the horizon in Cleveland.
So, when Corey Kluber takes the mound Monday afternoon and 40,000 animated hopeful fans experience his thrilling no hitter and the Indians win 5-0, I can’t wait for Opening Day to trigger the start of a magical season for the Tribe. Because…like every year on Opening Day…this…is…the…year!
The Home Opener is the Absolute Worst
If I could sum up the Indians’ home opener each year in a single graphic, it would be this:
Every winter when I hear that tickets for the Indians’ home opener are about to go on sale, I have the same reaction – I race to my computer and buy them the second they are available. Let’s face it, I miss baseball and can’t wait for it to return. Then 2-3 months later when I’m sitting in the freezing cold, or the pouring rain (or a combo of both), and/or watching the Indians play terribly I find myself thinking “why didn’t I watch this at home?” So I figured that perhaps I’d write about the more unpopular view that the home opener is kind of terrible, and perhaps it’s better to just not go.
I’ve been to every home opener since 2008 (I was living out-of-state for several years before that) but decided to look at all of the home openers since 2000. The ones that I’ve attended often have so many things go wrong, it almost becomes hilarious (almost). For example, out of these 8 home openers, the Indians have only won 2 of them. There were multiple rain delays that lasted in excess of two hours, and one freezing game that went 16 innings. In 2011, by the middle of the fourth inning, the White Sox had jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the Tribe (thank you, artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona!) Of the 16 home openers played from 2000-2015, the Indians are 5-10, with one snow-out (who could forget 2007?) The Indians have only started the season at home four times since 2000, and are 1-3 in those games (with 2008 the lone win).
Seriously – who could forget 2007?
For the most part I’ve been complaining about the weather and the fact that the home opener usually ends up being a disaster of a game, but there are other bad things to discuss when we talk about opening day in Cleveland. The Indians are usually lucky to draw 10,000 fans to a game in April, but the opener is the one time that everyone comes out. While a lot of people complain about the poor attendance, I actually like it; I go to a lot of games, and to be honest, it’s a much better experience when barely anyone else is there. The opener sees hordes of people everywhere, and they’re not always the most die-hard fans. Often, the folks that end up grabbing tickets are the casual fans that may not go to any other games for the rest of the season. Which is fine – to each his/her own! However, these are usually people more interested in eating/drinking/generally acting obnoxious and don’t even seem to realize that there is a ball game taking place that people would like to watch (even if it does happen to be 14-0 by the 4th).
Thanks to the afternoon start time (ultimately a positive because it’s slightly warmer), there is almost no place to park downtown because workers are still there for the day. So if you actually find a spot, you end up paying a zillion dollars to park in it. The meters are still ticketed in the afternoon, so it’s tougher to find a spot that isn’t in a paid lot. Each year, we end up migrating downtown earlier and earlier just to ensure that we can find a place to park. Once you arrive downtown, if you want to go grab a bite to eat before the game…good luck with that. Every bar/restaurant has people crammed in like sardines, probably because it’s pouring rain outside and everyone is taking cover. A couple of years ago, I went to use the restroom in the restaurant where we were having lunch. It was still 3-4 hours before first pitch, but I had to step over a woman who was already passed out drunk on the bathroom floor just to use the facilities. Amateur hour.
The last time the Indians opened the season at home was 2012, where they lost to Toronto 7-4. It’s a memorable game, because for once it seemed like the Indians were going to have a neat and clean opening day at home. Justin Masterson pitched masterfully, and the Tribe was up 4-1 heading into the 9th inning. Chris Perez came in to close the game, immediately gave up 3 runs, and sent the game into extra innings. 16 innings, to be exact. It was only 44 degrees at game-time, you can bet that several hours later it was much colder than that. I was dressed in warm clothes, and still felt fine by the 9th inning. But as the sun went away, and the game stretched on (and on and on) the cold began to get pretty rough. It got to the point where I no longer cared who won or lost, I just wanted something to happen so that I could go home and get warm. A 3-run home run in the top of the 16th handed the game to Toronto and put this experience out of its misery.
The Indians only have 2 wins in the home opener since 2008 – in 2008, and in 2014. Believe it or not, 2014 was actually a decent game – they defeated the Twins 7-2. But that was after a two hour rain delay; the rain ushered in dramatically cooler temperatures as well. A lot of the fans actually left by the time Danny Salazar stepped to the mound to throw the first pitch, because they didn’t bring enough warm clothing for the temperature shift. You spend all that money on tickets for the opener, go through the hassle of parking and dealing with those crowds, sit through a rain delay, and then just go “meh, it’s cold…I’m heading home.”
In the past five years, the Indians opened the season at home just twice; the infamous 16-inning game in 2012, and in 2011 when the White Sox were up 14-0 by the fourth. Even though they won in 2008, it was a fairly ugly game (the Indians hung on to win 10-8). The only other time since 2000 that they opened the season at home, was when they lost to the White Sox 7-4 in 2001. So yes, I am a very pessimistic, bitter person. But let’s be honest here – these home openers in the twenty-first century have not been the Indians’ best and brightest moments. When the Indians lost to the Yankees 11-6 in the 2013 home opener, I actually saw a fight where fans picked up the metal chairs on the old right-field patio and turned them into projectiles. That’s the magic of opening day in Cleveland.
So while I want to think of this Monday’s game and dream about the magic of baseball’s return, and all of the great things that could happen, I instead remember being soaked to the bone in an almost four hour rain delay. Of almost freezing to death. Of watching an Indians pitcher essentially throwing batting practice (like Zach McAllister against the Tigers last year). And then I look at the weather report for this Monday, and see a 60% chance of snow, and a high of 41 degrees with high winds.
I think about having to wait in line for 25 minutes just to peel off 12 pairs of pants and use the bathroom. I think about the Indians’ terrible, awful bad luck during the home openers; how some way, somehow, something always goes off the rails somewhere. (This year, Joba Chamberlain will probably somehow be involved).
Am I still excited about seeing baseball on Monday? Sadly, yes. Will I be adding the 2016 opener to my list of “opener catastrophes?” Lord, for once I hope not.