The Cleveland Indians home opener was a welcoming party for Nick Swisher.
Swisher, a first baseman/outfielder who was born in Columbus and played college baseball at The Ohio State University, was the Tribe's biggest free agent signing during the off-season.
At the April 8 home opener, far more fans wore No. 33 Swisher shirts and jerseys than any other player.
"I got my Swisher jersey as a birthday present for myself last month," one fan said outside the ballpark. Fans entering the sold-out Progressive Field received 1-inch by 3-inch refrigerator magnets with Swisher's image on them.
It was my 42nd consecutive Indians home opener, and fans were fired up about the team's new acquisitions including Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Manager Terry Francona. No one received a louder cheer in the pre-game introductions than Swisher.
"Swisher's a spark plug. He energizes the whole team," a fan excitedly told his buddy as the names were being announced.
Swisher was visibly pumped up during the pre-game events, in which he was among five father-son combinations to take part in the ceremonial first pitch, catching a baseball from his dad, former Major League catcher Steve Swisher.
"Nick Swisher would be happy at the North Pole," Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton told fans.
Swisher, playing first base, was also charged up when he made the first put-out of the Indians home season, and when he singled in his first at-bat in front of the home crowd.
OK, so things unraveled for the Tribe that day in an 11-6 loss to the New York Yankees, but it wasn't Swisher's fault. The main culprit was former Indian Travis Hafner, who scorched a 3-run homer in the first inning.
"Why didn't Hafner do that more for us?" said one frustrated fan behind the right field stands, probably speaking for Tribe fans everywhere. "I cheered for him during the introductions. Maybe I shouldn't have."
Shortly afterward, a replay of the 1975 opening day home run by Indians player/manager Frank Robinson was shown on the Progressive Field scoreboard.
"Robinson would only hit .240 today," one fan in right field said of the Baseball Hall-of-Famer.
The fan next to him appeared stunned.
"Heck, he's 77 years old," the first fan said with a smile.
In the fourth inning, the Indians fell behind 5-3. A woman wearing a Charlie Nagy jersey walked down one of the aisles.
"We could use Nagy pitching today," a fan said of the former Tribe all-star.
That's because Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez never made it out of the fifth inning, giving up seven runs.
In the fifth inning, several Indians fans in right field spotted a fellow wearing the No. 3 jersey of former Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, who was a notorious drinker.
Throughout the game, I kept focusing on Swisher. I didn't like him when he previously played for the Oakland A's, Chicago White Sox and Yankees because I thought he was a hot dog.
After the Indians signed him, I remembered something I'd heard baseball announcer Tim McCarver say on TV, referring to the verbal ribbing Swisher enjoys giving to his teammates.
"Swisher gives it to you, and he expects you to give it back to him," McCarver said.
I thought that was pretty cool.
Swisher has quickly become the Indians on-the-field leader, something he embraces. He creates enthusiasm among his teammates and the fans. Signing him was a brilliant move.
I'm glad he's playing for the Indians.
During the home opener, I bought a red No. 33 Swisher T-shirt for my 14-year-old son, Michael.
On the drive home, I listened to a radio announcer talk about how the outgoing Swisher is extremely excited about becoming a first-time father later this year with his wife, actress Joanna Garcia.
You would expect nothing less from him.
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