CLEVELAND, Ohio — Friday was a busy night for Cleveland sports, with the Guardians playing in their home opener and the Cavs in a must-watch game. Progressive Field and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse combined can house over 50,000 fans, and that’s not counting the folks hitting the bars and parties downtown.
Hours before the first pitch and whistleblower, fans began mingling in tailgates outside bars, on patios and between venues. Here’s a preview of Friday night’s sights and sounds:
With supply and demand in play, parking prices rose slightly from February for the NBA All-Star Game. As of Friday, lots and garages near venues ranged from $40 to $60. A Huron lot near the Cleveland Cliffs arena entrance was $60, as were a lot on E. 9th Street. The lot next to Thirsty Parrot was also $60. Other lots nearby were $40 and $50.
The luckiest guy around could have been mike kopp, a sheet metal worker from Cleveland. As he stood on the paved area between the venues, he reached into his pocket to reach for his phone, causing money to spurt out and fly. Passers-by were trampling everywhere to help him recover his dough. He had won $36 playing slot machines at JACK Casino. “I have a blown hamstring, I can barely walk,” he said. “I’m glad there are enough people to block the wind and help me.” He collected everything before heading to the stadium.
More than three hours before the game, bars and pitches filled with hookers. The patio at Clevelander Bar and Grill on Huron was packed, as was Thirsty Parrot’s huge patio with a view of the ballpark. The lot at Huron and E. 4th Street across from Harry Buffalo was cordoned off like a giant beer tent. The longest line wasn’t for beer, though. Two workers were printing and pressing blue or white opening day t-shirts with the Guardians logo. The best part was the price: free. The pre-game could have been a smart move; the long lines at stadium concessions were constant throughout the early innings, forcing fans to weave in and through the concourse.
68 and over
He could have been bundled up in a hoodie and fleece blanket, but Edward Lachowski played their 68th straight home opener. He sat on the side of first base with his daughter, Erin. Being at the game was “emotional – very emotional,” said Lachowski, whose earliest stadium memories date back to when he was 14 or 15, going to the old stadium and selling scorecards. They cost 15 cents each and he earned a penny and a half on each sale. If he sold 100, he would pocket $1.50. On May 7, 1957, he was peddling scorecards with his back to the field when a hush fell from the stands. Cleveland Pitcher Grass score had been hit in the eye by a practice line. “It was quiet,” he said. Nobody knew what had happened. By the way, Erin has her own streak going. Friday’s game was his 26th game in a row.
The traditional Dixieland band trio that greeted fans played again – with a new name. The “Guardians Dixieland Band” – featuring trumpet, clarinet and accordion – performs in the lobby before some games. It’s the first time the band has played in the stadium since 2019. ‘I’m glad we’re back too after this long break’, band member mike fisher mentioned. With different generations of musicians, the group’s concerts date from Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.
… and music outside
Within a block of the stadium, fans could hear a cacophony of different music. Whistle and barrel sounded Neil Diamond“Sweet Caroline” while Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” sounds nearby. From hip hop to “Cotton-Eyed Joe”, all kinds of musical styles could be heard. Unlike post-season games in previous years, no groups were created in the Gateway District.
A nod to the past
Leslie Odom Jr. narrated a brief pre-game video on Jackie Robinson. Major League Baseball marked Jackie Robinson Day on Friday. Seventy-five years ago today, Robinson broke the Major League color barrier in the 20th century when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A few months later Larry Doby did the same in the American League, for the Indians. Video was also shown of Doby as volunteers carried the huge American flag onto the field before the game. On Friday, each player wore number 42 – Robinson’s jersey number.
Kory Kubasek of Akron gets the go-ahead for best jersey in Friday’s game. He wore a homemade shirt with ‘Kwan’ cut out of black electrical tape atop No. 38. “Just a huge Kwan fan,” he said of Guardians’ Steven Kwan, who walked into the match with over 0.500. “He’s a great hitter and he seems really humble.” It took 15-20 minutes to do, said Kubasek, who manages to get to around five games a year.
Cleveland baseball from all eras was represented in fan jerseys. Fictional (Ricky Vaughnfrom “Major League”) to historic (Cleveland Buckeyes Negro Leagues), classic (Bob Feller‘sn°19), recent stars (Francois Lindor, Corey Kluber) and the current ones (Jose Ramirez), the bases were covered. The collection included many names from previous years: Mike Clevinger, Jim Thome, Terry Francona, Trevor Bauer, Jason Kipnis, Grady Sizemore and Carlos Carrasco. And at least one Browns jersey: Running back Nick Chubb.
At least one person outside the stadium wasn’t there for the baseball. Rob Aubertin from Detroit came to collect signatures to obtain Torn Maras on the ballot for Ohio’s secretary of state. Maras, an independent, has a podcast, which has drawn Aubertin into her campaign. Hours before games he had a few dozen signatures but said about 10-12 other supporters were heading down. Auburtin said they hope to get a few hundred and will travel wherever people gather. “Games, events, flea markets – anything that draws people in,” he said.
The Guardians era is officially underway and protests over the team’s old logo are a thing of the past – for the most part. But Joe Meissner, an attorney who filed one of the first lawsuits over the Cleveland team’s use of the Wahoo logo, served on Who’s On First? benches along E. 9th Street, holding a sign demanding reparations on behalf of Native Americans. His original lawsuit was filed in the early 1970s.
This and that …
A Stand Up For Cleveland sign surrounded by lights was placed in the paved area between the stadium and the arena. … Ticket buyers/sellers said things were slow hours before the game. … Lines began to form before 4:30 p.m. at the left-field gates. … Free Guardians airbrush tattoos were on offer outside the stadium. … Lady Bri sang the national anthem and tom hank threw the ceremonial first pitch at Larry Doby Jr. Wilson, the volleyball sidekick to Hanks’ character in “Cast Away,” also made an appearance, rolling near the mound via remote control for a bit of a gag. … At 54 degrees on the first pitch, the weather was pretty subdued for April baseball in Cleveland, a bonus for the 33,469 sold-out fans. …T-shirts and pins were top sellers among dozens of items at the team store along the left-field lobby.
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I am on cleveland.comfrom the Life and Culture team and covers topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I usually talk food and drink at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.
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