Cleveland Indians’ home opener begins the season of hope

With the Cleveland Indians home opener on Friday quickly approaching, there is only one thing on Mike Hargrove’s mind….nerves. The former Tribe catcher will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to other former Tribe catcher-turned coach, Sandy Alomar, and Hargrove insists he is nervous.

“I did it once before a game in 2007,” Hargrove said. “I was as nervous about that as I was about anything I did in baseball.”

The reason is obvious. Mike Hargrove played in the MLB for 13 years, and seven of those years with Cleveland. He has been a Major League manager for 16 years, including in the Cleveland  from 1991-99.

He said that he doesn’t want to look like a fool on the hill. “My arm is not good,” said Hargrove. “I think I can get the ball 55 feet, but I’m not throwing it from the mound. I’ll stand in front.”

Mike Hargrove and Sandy Alomar are being paired for the pregame ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of  Jacob’s Field – now known as Progressive Field.

It was at The Jake, when Hargrove managed the Tribe to American League titles in 1995 and 1997.

“Something like this is a real honor, I mean it, a real honor. But I’m telling you, I’m going to be nervous as a tick.”

The 20th anniversary of the Indians ballpark is on April 4. The Indians have had many good years there and set a record for selling out 455 games in a row from 1995-2001.

Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton was in Cleveland to do what Hargrove will do Friday- throw out the first pitch.

He wanted to play catch in the basement of the stadium, near the batting cages. Tribe then-Vice President Bob DiBiasio asked Andy Hargrove (Mike’s son) if he wanted to play catch with the president.

“Andy was about 12 and he said, ‘My dad doesn’t like him, so I can’t play catch with him!’ ” said Hargrove, laughing as he recalled the story. Can’t blame Andy, he thought he was backing his father.

Hargrove added that he and General Manager John Hart quickly grabbed the chance to meet the president and have pictures taken with him before that 1994 opener.

Twenty years ago the game time temperature was 48 and Dennis Martinez started for the Tribe. Friday, it will be 63 and Danny Salazar will get the nod due to his “explosive nature”. 

But enough with the comparisons. This years squad is playing with an “Unfinished Business” mentality and they have already started strong with a shut out victory on opening day in Oakland.

Why am I sitting here writing about the Indians home opener? The annual Home Opener, especially in Cleveland, is a day of hope and fresh starts. In Cleveland, those only come about once a year, and its not very often that Clevelanders have legitimate hope. Not to mention the multiple ESPN Baseball journalists who picked the Indians to go far this year in the playoffs.

But besides that, it marks the end of a brutal winter. Unless, a storm of the century type blizzard approaches Cleveland and despite the favorable forecast, don’t ever count snow on the Home Opener out. Tom Hanks once said there is no crying in baseball. Well that may be true but plenty of tears were shed this winter and now that baseball is coming home, the snow can finally go away for good.

The Home Opener is a bit of a religious experience for Cleveland fans especially. When the weather is somewhat nice, and you’re with friends and family, it  doesn’t get much better.

**CATHOLIC CLEVELANDERS NOTICE** There are a lot of Catholics in Cleveland- I would know, I went to a catholic school there. All of you should note that the Home Opener falls of a Friday…during lent. Although the new Pope is the “People’s Pope” and his hope springs eternal, (just like the start of baseball season, may I add), even he wouldn’t eat a hot dog.

And with that, I say Roll Tribe, and may this year finally be next year.