If you are a true Cleveland baseball fan, you probably have at least one memory of attending Opening Day at either Cleveland Municipal Stadium or Jacobs Field, which of course is now known as Progressive Field.
For me personally, I can clearly recall the several weeks of excitement that led up to the actual day itself. Each and every year I had myself convinced that this particular year was going to be the year my beloved Tribe was finally going to break through and win a World Series.
Sadly, since my youth took me through the really lean baseball decades of the late 60s, 70s and 80s, you are well aware that my dream of a World Series not only didn’t come to pass, but was usually dead and buried by July each season.
But getting back to Opening Day, the one thing that never lost its luster for me was that first home game of the season and all the pageantry that went with it.
It should also be noted that since quite a few of these Opening Days occurred during my school years, the skipping of school came fully endorsed by my mother, who turned out to be a bit of baseball fan herself, with her own Opening Day memories; she played catcher for a softball team in her youth as well. So she understood all too well what it meant to the usual gang of four - me, my brother Dave and our good friends Vik and Rob Baltitus - to miss just one day of school for what was then and remains today an unofficial holiday in the city of Cleveland.
We grew up in Maple Heights (not far from Bedford, the hometown of local Cleveland baseball legend Elmer Flick), which had its own bus service, which included a stop two blocks from our house that took us directly to Public Square and allowed us to then stream into Municipal Stadium with 50,000 to 60,000 other fans hopeful for the season to come.
As we got to the high school years, those that attended evolved pretty much every year, mostly on who had access to a car for the trip down, but the one thing that never changed was the eager anticipation.
That anticipation included the splurging for better seats, the first foot-long hot dogs of the year, and, of course, the opportunities to get those first up-close looks at the team that was surely going to give us a summer to remember.
Flash forward a bit to the Jacobs Field/Progressive Field years, and I was fortunate enough to have secured a job in the wholesale beer business, which eventually led to me managing the local venues and the brand sponsorships that went along with them. Simply stated, it meant for several years I not only got to go to all the stadiums and arenas for free with my yearly vendor pass, but I actually got paid for continuing my streak of Opening Day games well into adulthood.
Before you even ask, yes, even into my adult years, I truly felt each and every year was going to be the year the Tribe broke through, and thanks to the Jacobs family and GM John Hart, they nearly did it in 1995 and '97. And certainly no one can forget the magical season of 2016 that also brought Cleveland fans to the brink of the oh-so-longed-for World Series championship.
My Favorite Cleveland Opening Day Memory
With all these Opening Days under my belt, you might be wondering what my personal favorite may be. In my previous post about Municipal Stadium, I mention Opening Day on April 8th, 1975 and being in attendance when Hall of Famer Frank Robinson started the season as baseball’s first black manager. Our group that day was sitting in the upper left field general admission seats and saw for ourselves Robinson hit a home run in his first at-bat as he doubled as the team’s designated hitter for the day, hitting the historic home run off the Yankees' Doc Medich.
Whether it was Municipal Stadium or today’s Progressive Field, all you have to do is pay attention to the looks on fans' faces as you approach or enter the stadium on Opening Day. What you will see is childlike excitement and anticipation on the faces of both young and old fans. For kids, perhaps they are experiencing the majesty of Opening Day for the first time. For those a bit older, like myself, that same look will include the reflections of so many wonderful memories and, more importantly, thoughts of those Opening Day memories yet to come in the years ahead.
All that's left to be said at this point is this: PLAY BALL!
(Image source: Erik Drost)