Today is the day that signals spring is officially here in northeast Ohio. It’s the home opener for the Cleveland Indians, a day for the even the casual fans around town to stop talking about the NFL draft and salute the return of the Tribe.
We have seen a lot of Opening Days in town and we thought we would share a couple of the most memorable.
The one that stands out right away is 1975, a historic day for the sport of baseball as well as the Indians. It was Frank Robinson’s first game as the first African-American manager of a major league team, and he put his name in the lineup as the DH and hit a home run off Doc Medich in his first at bat, leading his team to a 5-3 victory over the Yankees.
The other obvious choice in most fans’ memories occurred 20 years ago, as then Jacobs Field played host to its first regular season game. Walking into the new building after spending so many years at the armpit known as Municipal Stadium was a thrill. You couldn’t believe a facility like this was built right here in Cleveland.
The game was a classic as well, and it was a harbinger of things to come. The Tribe was being no-hit by Randy Johnson into the eighth inning before rallying to tie and then won the game in extra innings on a Wayne Kirby single, the first of many, many walk off wins by the home team in the new park.
People as old as we are still refer to Progressive Field as the “new ballpark”, and it is now 20 years old.
There were other more obscure games that we recall though.
The ’71 opener was a 3-2 victory for the Indians, highlighted by a game winning single by utility infielder Gomer Hodge who went 2 for 2 and proclaimed he was hitting 2.000 after the game.
In 1974, an opening day record of over 74,000 packed the old stadium to watch Gaylord Perry and the Indians outduel Mickey Lolich and the Tigers 2-1 on Chris Chambliss’ home run.
In 1980, the Tribe came home after a 1-5 west coast swing to beat the Blue Jays 8-1 behind the pitching of Rick Waits and a home run by eventual American League Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau, who went 3 for 3 on the afternoon.
The 1986 loss to Detroit was perhaps the coldest opener we attended. Phil Niekro started for the Tribe and seemingly went 3 and 2 on every Tiger hitter that day which made the 7-2 loss even more chilly.
The first home game in 1992 went 19 innings, before the Red Sox won 7-5 with Tim Naehring winning the game with a two run homer off Eric Bell. In the starting lineup for Cleveland were these guys who were cornerstones of the teams that game the post-season year after year later in the decade: Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, and Sandy Alomar Jr.
The 1996 lidlifter featured the Indians getting their 1995 American League Championship rings in a 7-1 loss to the Bronx Bombers. Why else was that game significant? Yanks’ rookie SS Derek Jeter hit his first big league homer in the game.
Today, someone will have a memory that will stick with them for many years. That is the magic of baseball and the home opener in particular. It’s a special day especially if you are a real fan.
Finally, it’s here. Let’s play ball!