For the past ten plus seasons my buddy and I have had an annual tradition of attending the Toronto Blue Jays home opener at the Dome. The games have always been fun and the crowd is always pumped up (maybe a little too jacked up sometimes) but this year we wanted to switch it up.
He suggested the season opener instead in Cleveland against the Indians. I didn’t hesitate and we scored second row seats beside the Jays dugout in five minutes on Stubhub (great site). I was anxiously waiting for the workweek to be over and was equally excited to be going to a great ballpark I have never attended, Jacobs Field (ok, Progressive).
The night prior was a bit too fun, and long and the next morning was a bit hazy but we hit the road with enough time to spare. The drive was fun as it was a bit different and I hadn’t been heading to this part of Ohio since a childhood trip to Cedar Point.
When we hit Cleveland we were pulled over by an Ohio State Trooper (to no surprise). It was either our foreign license plates, suspicious maple syrup leaking out of the tail pipe or the fact we were going 5-6 mPH over the speed limit.
He must have saw our Blue Jays gear (and the fact we were hung over) and showed mercy on us as he let us go with just a warning for going a bit over the speed limit. We also plead metric ignorance and that might have helped, either way we were back on track.
Traffic was thick trying to exit the freeway near the Stadium and parking was insane. Nowhere near as expensive as Toronto but we had quite a trek in front of us if we wanted to make the opening pitch. We received quite a few chirps from the locals as we strolled past the bar district, nothing too outlandish and it was good motivation for a win.
We got in the ballpark and I was instantly impressed. A sea of red (mixed with a little Blue) and a gorgeous stadium gave a throwback baseball feel. The stadium set a record that day for attendance at a little under 45,000 and you really appreciate how close you feel to the field.
Our seats were insane and as we neared them there was a parade of monster Clydesdale horses directly in front of us. They were cool to watch until the man himself, Jose Bautista exited the dugout and made an appearance. Lucky enough we sat right in front of a four other Blue Jays fans.
We met a ton of great Blue Jays fans and I hate to use the term “true fan” but that is what most of them were. Knowledgeable and realistic is a word to describe most we talked too and by the end of the game our entire section was chanting, taunting and otherwise making it feel like a Jays home game.
We were right on first base but a big shout out to the awesome section across from us in front of the third base line. We all got a pretty big kick out of the “Brian Butterfield” chant, well played Mauer. We took a good share of abuse but the fans were mostly respectful.
I had a chance to discuss shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor with a couple of die-hard Indians fans and they are pretty excited about his future. I gave them a rough time about the Cliff Lee trade and most agreed it was not looking like a solid haul.
We also met some cool Jays fans at a local steakhouse as well and I was very impressed with the overall knowledge they had on the Jays prospect system. There is definitely a buzz coming into the season but also realistic expectations that 2012 might not quite be the year we sneak into the playoffs. But there is no doubting the direction of this franchise under Alex Anthopoulos.
After entering the game as a pinch runner Rajai Davis made a nice play in the field and on his way back to the dugout saw my Blue Jays sweatshirt and even threw me the baseball. Definitely an unexpected but much appreciated souvenir! Thanks Rajai.
As for the game, what more can you ask for? Ricky Romero struggled with his mechanics and was missing his spots pretty much the entire game. Justin Masterson looked absolutely dominant and most of the Cleveland fans were upset he was taken out after 8 strong for the “closer” Chris Perez.
Jose Bautista struck early with a deep fly to left which gave us a good reason to get rowdy but until the ninth it was not looking great. The inning started promising with a Yunel Escobar single and after looking like they were dead all game the Jays made the craziest comeback in opening day history.
By about the 12th inning the Jays/Indians fans split was about 50-50 and as I said earlier our section was pretty insane and littered with Jays fans. We seemed to get out of a huge jam at least every other inning and John Farrell looked like a genius when he brought ex-Indians fan favorite Omar Vizquel to play “roamer”.
It was amazing to see Brett Lawrie drop his glove (like Tie Domi) and rush in front of pitcher Luis Perez when Chin-Soo Choo (dubbed Boo-Hoo the rest of the game) lost his mind and moved towards the mound. Lawrie’s presence seemed to be an instant calming influence!
A huge double play was later made in extra innings and the Jays finally took control in a record long MLB opening day game – 16 innings. JP Arencibia hit a huge homerun to left field and Sergio Santos finished off the game for the Jays with a weak groundball to second base.
It was one of the best games I have ever been too, outside only Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers at Comerica Park in Detroit. It will be hard to top this season opener when you combine the record crowd, late inning heroics and a beautiful outdoor ballpark.
Jays win 7-4 and Jose Bautista was a monster going 3-4 with a HR and 2 BBs. He was also hosed in his first at-bat when he was called out on a “check” swing. He honestly barely even waved at the pitch. Lawrie looked a bit too jacked up and was rushing in the field, looking shaky on almost every play (even in between innings).
If you have never been to Cleveland I would highly recommend you check out a Blue Jays game as it was a great baseball experience overall.
Let’s GO Blue Jays!