Indians Could Use a Different Result in 2014 Home Opener
Craig Gifford | On 04, Apr 2014
Home openers have not been kind to the Cleveland Indians in recent years. The Tribe has not won its first game in front of the home crowd since a 10-8 victory over the Chicago White Sox to kick off the 2008 campaign.
There have been five home openers since and all five times a sold out crowd has gone home disappointed and feeling as though they were continuing to watch the same losing team they had watched the year before.
Each year, it was the same story. The Indians lost in front of one of the few highly attended games they would have all year. Fans, outside of the truly devout ones, assumed the loss to start the home slate signaled another down year on the horizon.
The worst of it came in 2011. Cleveland, fresh of an abysmal 69-93 2010 season, was down 12-0 through four innings to Mark Buehrle and the Chicago White Sox in the initial outing at Progressive Field. By game’s end, the sell-out crowd that had braved a chilly and overcast day, looked more like an intimate gathering.
As opposed to being the one-day event that it has become, the home opener should be the start of an exciting season to come, rather than a one-day gathering before attendance figures take a nose-dive the remainder of the summer.
The home opener should be a sign of new life and rebirth. It is cliché, but each new season offers new hope. It should offer a promise that this season, things are different. That is why today’s home opener is a little different than those of recent history.
As the Indians take the home field for the first time this season, hope already exists. Cleveland won 92 games last season. The team, despite being one and done, reached the postseason for the first time since 2007. Ironically, it was the year after that the Tribe last emerged victorious from a home opener.
The die-hard fans will certainly ascend upon downtown Cleveland this afternoon as the Tribe takes on Central Division rival Minnesota. The fans who have already committed to be at multiple games this year, through season tickets or a never-ending love of the game, are already pumped up for the 162-game slate and 81 home dates.
It is the other 20,000 fans or so in attendance today that may need a little nudge that the Indians are finally worthy of their entertainment dollars. Those bandwagon fans are going to Progressive Field, perhaps still a little skeptical. Was last year a mirage? Was it luck? Is this team for real?
A 2-1 showing in Oakland to begin the season can only go so far. That is especially true since most Cleveland fans were only awake for one of those west-coast games and that was the 6-1 loss.
Today, the Indians can begin to prove they are the real deal and can again compete for the playoffs. They have the perfect set-up, outside of potential rain. It should be around 60 degrees for the kick off to the home schedule.
Perhaps more important than good weather, as Clevelanders will flock to a home opener in just about any conditions, the Indians will be showcasing the future of its franchise. Last year’s rookie sensation and Wild Card game starter, Danny Salazar will take the mound for his first 2014 start today.
The hard-throwing right hander surprised many last year when he shot up from the minors to help spur the Tribe’s September push to the postseason. In 10 starts, Salazar was 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA. He has the stuff and makeup of a possible No. 1 or 2 starter at some point.
If Salazar can go out and deliver a gem and the Indians can show what they are made of with a solid performance against the Twins, it would go a long way toward reawakening a sleeping fan base.
Think about this, today’s game will mark a very rare occurrence in that it will be the second straight sold-out game at the Tribe’s home park. The last sell out, the playoff game against Tampa Bay saw the Indians get goose-egged in front of a fan base that was ready to embrace the team again. Cleveland has a reprieve, of sorts, to do better things in front of a packed house today.
A win would help sway the naysayers to the side of this club having real hope – not just which comes when the season opens. In 2008, when the Indians came off a playoff season and won the home opener, more than 17,000 fans showed up for the second game. It is not a lot, but it is a far cry from the 10,000 – 12,000 the stadium sees far too often.
Reaching the playoffs last year was the beginning of mending ties with a jaded and somewhat hurt fan base. The only way to continue that is continue to win. There is no better time to continue the victorious trend than in front of a sold-out Progressive Field with a group of fans looking for a reason to be excited about one of its local teams.
Any home opener is nice to win. However, this one may have a little more meaning than all those in which the Tribe came up empty. Expectations are now higher, as they should be. A win today does not mean all those expectations will be fulfilled, but it would help to continue providing s little hope to even those fans who barely pay attention beyond day one.
Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images