Opening Day — when everyone’s team has a chance to win the pennant

The words just ooze hope. Opening Day! No other team is ahead of yours. You have no ground to make up and there is indeed hope. For some baseball fans the operative term might be confidence. You are positive this will be the year for your favorite team.

Now whether you have hope or confidence probably is determined by which team you root for. My favorite team is the Cleveland Indians. They have won the American League Central Division three years in a row. That might breed confidence. Then again I’m old and the past three years have not been indicative of their history since I’ve been following their fortunes.

I began rooting for the Tribe in the late 1950s. I was nearly 4 years old when Willie Mays made his famed catch in the Polo Grounds. The ball was hit by Vic Wertz (supposedly my relative as my mother’s maiden name was Wertz) and the play helped the New York Giants to a four-game sweep of the Indians.

The Indians had the best record in baseball heading into the World Series that year leading many to assume those glory days would continue. Alas, not so fast my friend. The Indians did not return to the World Series until 1995. Yikes!

In the 1960s and ’70s the Indians would be effectively — if not mathematically — eliminated by the Fourth of July. I remember those days. So does this year have me making playoff plans? Not exactly! Let me explain.

The Indians lost their opener on Thursday dropping a 2-0 decision to the Twins in Minnesota. Like any fan, I drew conclusions from that opener. First and foremost — it was just one game. There were, however, potential negatives.

Cory Kluber pitched a great game. That’s good news. He is also the subject of continued trade rumors. Our ace may be gone before the season is over. That’s not good news.

The Indians did not hit well on Opening Day. That may come from several factors. Pitchers are usually ahead of hitters early in the season, and Jose Berrios is a very good pitcher. The Indians also were playing some people that many fans never heard of before.

That being said, the Indians had trouble hitting in many games last season and they lost a lot of players in the off season. That makes me nervous.

Let’s get back to Opening Day. Major League Baseball claims that Thursday was the earliest Opening Day in history. While I admit that March 28 is indeed early, the season actually started the week before in, of all cities, Tokyo.

The Oakland A’s played the Seattle Mariners in a two-game series in Japan which was a farewell tour for Ichiro Suzuki. The Mariners outfielder, now 45, retired right after the games. It was a great gesture for a great player, but the games counted, leaving A’s fans having to admit they were behind in the standings on the official Opening Day!

There were some great performances on Opening Day. There’s nothing better than a walk off. The best finish of the day involved a “defensive” walk off. Lorenzo Cain went above the fence to catch the final out in Milwaukee’s one-run win. I imagine Brewer fans were ecstatic.

There were some strong pitching performances including the two in Minnesota. Jacob deGrom, coming off a season in which he won the Cy Young Award with a .500 won-loss record, was outstanding in D.C. He bested Max Scherzer in a 2-0 win and most importantly he got the W.

The three “local” teams had mixed results. The Indians lost, the Tigers won and Cincinnati also hit the win column. Speaking of the Reds, it hasn’t been that long ago that they were the team that officially opened the season. The oldest franchise in baseball, the Reds would play at home while everyone else waited a day.

Times have changed as now everyone plays on Opening Day. Well, at least as long as teams don’t go to Tokyo first.

So how did your favorite team fare on Opening Day? Are you confident your team will have a good season? Or are you just hopeful? I suppose another option is that you are just glad the season has started. No illusions. You just like baseball.

As for the Tribe, I am not going to make any predictions. One game does not a season make. They lost a lot of talented players in the offseason and the roster shuffle may not be over. They still have some good players and a great manager. I will be rooting for them every day, but for now …

It’s Opening Day — when hope springs eternal!

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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