CLEVELAND _ Opening Day at first appeared to be a disaster in the making for the Cleveland Indians and their faithful.
But after threatening to ruin what's widely considered a bonafide holiday by local baseball backers, both Mother Nature and the Minnesota Twins wound up cooperating fully with Monday's festivities. The Indians overcame a 2-0 first-inning deficit to earn a convincing 9-5 victory in their 2002 home opener at Jacobs Field, which ended just minutes before a late-afternoon downpour effectively drenched the Cleveland area.
A sellout crowd that included several area faces was all smiles afterward.
"I've made Opening Day for 25 years in a row now, and this ranks right up there with the best," said John McClure, a 1993 graduate of Hiram College. "I'm really enthralled by this team because it's a different team, a more fun team to watch. They're really playing great baseball right now."
McClure attended Monday's opener with six of his closest friends, including Rootstown native Brian Dile and fellow Hiram graduates Glen and Matt Ray. Dile and Glen Ray were standout baseball players for the Terriers while Matt Ray, Glen's son, was a stellar linebacker on Hiram football teams of the early 1990s.
"This is probably my 15th Opening Day," said Glen Ray, an Aurora resident. "I used to bring my son and daughter every year, and now that they've grown up it's become a family tradition. It's something special that we all look forward to."
All seven members of McClure's group, perched near the top of the bleachers in left-centerfield, believe the Indians will be competitive once again in '02 despite the loss of sluggers Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez.
"I have a sign in my office that says the ultimate definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," said McClure. "That's what the Indians have done for the last several years under (former general manager) John Hart. This team may not be as productive offensively as some of the teams we've had, but at least now we're playing the game of baseball the way it was meant to be played."
The Tribe proved it still has some offensive pop on Monday by blasting three home runs, including a game-breaking grand slam by Travis Fryman. But the homers weren't what impressed Matt Ray the most.
"I just like to see them play hard, because I don't want to see a team that sleepwalks through the regular season then tries to flip the switch in the playoffs," he said. "I want to see a team that gets a consistent energetic effort every day from everyone. That's all I ask."
Even skeptical fans such as Randolph resident Shawn Lutey, who attended Monday's game along with nephew Nick Durbin of Brimfield, are intrigued by Cleveland's 6-1 start.
"I still think it's the same old Indians. The bats are solid, but the pitching's still not strong overall," said Lutey. "But everything was pretty good today. If they can keep this up, they're going to prove a lot of people wrong."
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