Front Row Seat: Kipnis' contract sets tone for successful Indians home opener

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

The look of joy on the face of Jason Kipnis on a large mural in the lower level concourse behind first base at Progressive Field seems to demonstrate how much the second baseman wants to win.

Kipnis, who is shown celebrating with teammate Michael Bourn, signed a six-year contract that was announced hours prior to the Cleveland Indians' April 4 home opener.

With Kipnis' long-term deal secured, the Indians overpowered the Minnesota Twins, 7-2, in front of 42,487 fans, many of whom were scurrying for the exits as early as the third inning because of the frigid winds. It was my 43rd consecutive Indians' home opener.

The Indians took the lead for good, 3-2, in the sixth inning on home runs by Yan Gomes and Nick Swisher.

Back at home, my 15-year-old son Michael was watching

the late afternoon game on TV, so I bought him a Swisher pennant at the park.

At the home opener, fans wear all kinds of Indians outfits, including countless T-shirts and jerseys of current and former players. Naturally, there were plenty of of current stars like Swisher, Bourn, Gomes, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar and Kipnis.

And there were jerseys of stars from the golden era in the 1990s, including Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar, Robbie Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Charley Nagy, David Justice and Omar Vizquel, the greatest fielding shortstop of all-time.

Vizquel popularized the bare-handed pickup and throw on ground balls that is common today. A genius with a glove, he sometimes caught fly balls with his back to the infield, using his body and cap to shield the bright sun. making a trip to the ballpark was worth it just watch his magic in the field.

There also were jerseys of hall-of-fame indians who played prior to the 1990s, including Bob Feller, Larry Doby, Bob Lemon, Frank Robinson and Gaylord Perry, the right-handed pitcher who captured the 1972 cy young award with the tribe, on his way to surpassing 300 career wins.

Perry could be a tough guy to interview, as I found out as the sports editor of my college newspaper when he appeared for an autograph signing in Lorain at -- amazingly enough -- Gaylord's department store, which bore no family connection.

I asked him to talk for a story I was writing about how he didn't seem to be pitching as well as he did during his cy young season. Perry jumped all over me.

"Whaddaya mean i'm not pitching well?" Perry growled. at the time, i wanted to crawl under the floor tiles of the store. Today, it's just a humorous anecdote.

There were jerseys of other ex-Indians, including Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Jaret Wright, John Rocker, Ellis Burks, Buddy Bell, Len Barker and Alvin Dark, who managed the team in the late 1960s before the Tribe retired the No. 5 jersey that was previously worn by Hall-of-Famer Lou Boudreau.

Dark gained ever-lasting fame in Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four." When Bouton and his brother, as youngsters, approached Dark during his playing days to tell Dark how much they admired him and to ask him for his autograph, Bouton wrote that Dark said to him, "Take a hike, son."

There were jerseys from the movie "Major League," including relief pitcher Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn, No. 99. One fan also wore oversized, dark-framed glasses as actor Charlie Sheen did portraying Vaughn in the movie.

Another fan wore a Pedro Cerrano jersey, No. 13 in "Major League," but the fan did not have the character Cerrano's trademark voodoo doll, Jo-bu.

It was fun for me to remember the Indians of yesteryear as their jerseys seemed to parade in front of me throughout the day. Roy Hobbs' No. 9 jersey from the movie "The Natural," starring Robert Redford, was also in the stands.

The homers by Gomes and Swisher did not shatter the field's lights as Hobbs' did in "The Natural," but they were plenty long enough to help bring a victory to the Indians and their exuberant, chilly fans.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

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