CLEVELAND _ It all started in the morning when traffic was backed up to East 55th Street on I-77 on the way to Jacobs Field for the home opener of the Cleveland Indians.
"Indian Fever" was back in northeast Ohio. Fans in almost every car had their own Indians clothing on in shades of dark blue and red. The Chief Wahoo was the prevalent feature.
The fans were ready. They welcomed the Tribe as the squad received its pennant rings. They applauded Cleveland native Drew Carey as he prepared to throw out the first pitch of the game.
"I've been practicing," said Carey. "I'm not going to throw the ball into the dirt in front of the plate."
Carey's pitch was a perfect strike to Sandy Alomar, the Tribe catcher.
As the game wore on, the fans cheered loud and long. From the beginning, the Indians took a 1-0 lead in classic Tribe fashion.
Kenny Lofton, back for his second stint with the Indians, led off with a double. He stole third base and came home on a sacrifice fly. It was vintage Lofton and the fans cheered.
But that was nothing compared to the 10th inning, when first baseman Jim Thome hit a three-run homer to left field to break a 5-5 tie and win the game while extending the Tribe record to 7-1.
The 42,707 fans who made up the 212th consecutive sellout were deservedly treated to one of the best games they would see this year. As the saying goes, if you don't win the first one, you can't win them all.
"I just was trying to put the ball in play," said Thome. "When I hit the ball hard to left field, I'm in my groove. It is something special to hit the game winner in the opener."
Many Portage County fans were in evidence. One, who shares season tickets on the third base side of Jacobs Field, is Judge Laurie Pittman.
Pittman got to be a fan early. She was an All-Metro League third baseman for Ravenna when she was in high school. She has carried her sports fever on to the Cleveland Indians.
"I got season tickets to the Cleveland Indians two years before Jacobs Field was built," said Pittman. "I like the excitement the Indians bring to the community."
Pitman's favorite players are Travis Fryman, David Justice and Lofton.
"Justice was extremely kind to my nieces and nephews when I took them to some games last year," said Pittman. "My tickets are right by the Indians dugout. He is always patient with the kids."
While Pittman only attends 10 home games a year because she shares her tickets with friends, she plans to travel to see the Tribe in Detroit and New York. She is also thinking about going to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
"I think the Indians could use another good pitcher," said Pittman, as she analyzed the Tribe's chances to repeat as American League champs. "But everyone is looking for one. They will be exciting to say the least."
Prior to the game, the family of Mike Morrow, who manages the Kent State University Golf course and is the women's golf coach at KSU, basked in the sun although the temperature was only 43 degrees.
"I won the right to get tickets for four games in a lottery in December," said Morrow, who was there with his wife Denise, daughters Kelly, Jamie and Mandi plus mother Be Morrow. "We are real sports fans in our family. The girls have even seen a Ryder Cup. This is my first opener since Frank Robinson hit a home run in his first game as a player-manager."
The real fan is Be. She attended the first night game at Cleveland Stadium and saw the last game played there.
"I've seen Babe Ruth play at League Park and Satchel Paige play with an all black team prior to his playing with the Indians," said Be, who is a very active 78.
To be sure, everyone went home happy.