Monday, April 1, 2024

Darkness before light on Opening Day

My hometown of Cleveland will experience quite a day next week, when the Guardians play their Home Opener two hours after a rare total solar eclipse.

Cleveland is a city in an ideal path for the eclipse, and the Land will be totally dark for nearly four minutes, starting at 3:13 p.m. on Monday April 8. Two hours later ... "Play ball!"

With extra tourists expected to be in downtown Cleveland for the eclipse, this Opening Day could be one of the most memorable in Cleveland history. But for me, I got to go with Opening Day, 1991, as my most memorable. 

Back on April 16, 1991, a few hundred St. Ignatius students, myself included, trekked two miles to Cleveland Municipal Stadium for the Indians' Home Opener vs. the Texas Rangers.

We students bought $5 tickets for the bleachers and saw the Indians lose 3-1 in what turned out to be a 57-105 season — the worst season in Cleveland Indians history. But to cut school for the only time in my high school career and not get in trouble because so many kids did it — that was pretty darn cool.

The attendance for that 1991 Home Opener was 46,606, even though the baseball capacity of the stadium was 74,000. The next day attendance was a mere 6,023. Before you knew it, a scenario of walking up on Opening Day for $5 tickets would be long gone.  

In 1994, the Indians moved to Jacobs Field, where they became a powerhouse and were in the World Series in 1995. If you build it, they will win — apparently. The Jake soon had 455 consecutive sellouts from '95 to 2001.

Mimicking the darkness of this year's Opening Day followed by the light of play, the Tribe experienced A LOT of darkness before stepping into the light. That's a pretty common narrative. I think about the crucifixion then the resurrection, and I personally know many people who've had dark times only to commit to not revisiting those and are having bright lives. 

Reminiscing about Cleveland Municipal Stadium, it's kind of wild how long that dreary stadium hung around. It opened in 1931 as the largest open-air venue in the world. It was a multiple-purpose stadium, then housed the Tribe until 1993 and the Browns from 1946-1995. It was totally outdated for a long, long time.

Even though Jacobs Field — now called Progressive Field — is the 10th oldest facility in Major League Baseball, I think it's still one of the nicer ballparks in the league. 

The "new" Cleveland Browns Stadium, AKA the Factory of Sadness, is the 12th oldest NFL stadium, being built on the site of Municipal Stadium and opening in 1999. There is talk about either putting $1 billion into renovations for the Browns Stadium or possibly constructing a dome in Brook Park.

But baseball and football are much different animals. In baseball, we have 81 home games as opposed to about 10 in football (considering the preseason and playoffs). The United States goes bananas for the NFL, while Major League Baseball is practically an artisan affair by comparison.

TV-wise, the NFL boasted the top 50 watched sporting events in 2023. For the top non-NFL sporting events, Game 4 of the World Series came in at 42nd place. Look, popularity between the NFL and Major League Baseball just isn't comparable.

But for me, Opening Day garners more hope than the Super Bowl. It's a symbol of spring and newness, and I am a devoted Cleveland Guardians fan. Yeah, we could talk about the economic ridiculousness of pro sports and how corporate they are, but win or lose, I genuinely enjoy the Guardians and the process of the 162-game season.

While winning always is nice, World Series, total eclipses — you can have them, sure, but there is a certain comfort, love and brightness when the first pitch comes at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.