CLEVELAND (AP) — The huge crowd will be red-clad, raucous and ravenous, hungry for a championship. The starting pitcher will be the same, and the air will be chilled and energized.
It's only early April, but Friday's home opener will feel a lot like last October to the Indians.
Six months since their first postseason appearance since 2007 ended with a disappointing shutout loss to Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card game, the Indians, carrying expectations they'll contend again, will begin their home schedule at Progressive Field against the Minnesota Twins.
For All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, the sights and sounds of the home opener are unmatched.
"Having a sea of red come out, seeing nothing but Tribe colors," Kipnis said, envisioning the downtown scene. "Having all the fans show up to the ballpark, the excitement, the balloons, the fireworks, the music going on. The things going on in the streets around the stadium — there's just a buzz around the ballpark the whole day.
"It's a fresh start for everyone. Everyone knows that it's probably the most fun day of the season."
After winning two of three in Oakland, the Indians will send Danny Salazar to the mound in the home opener — 20 years to the day of the ballpark's first game — against Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey.
Rain is in the forecast, but as every Clevelander knows, that could change in five minutes.
Salazar began last season pitching for Double-A Akron before making a meteoric rise through Cleveland's system. It ended with him starting the playoff game against the Rays, and he's excited about the honor of getting things started at home in 2014. This outing won't be nearly as stomach-turning as the 24-yera-old's previous one.
"It's going to be a little bit better, there's less pressure so I can be a little bit more relaxed," said Salazar, named as the club's No. 4 starter this spring.
Still, there's anxiety in getting off on the right foot at home. The Indians started poorly under manager Terry Francona in 2013, losing 10 of their first 15 and ending April at 11-13. It took them winning their final 10 games to finish 92-70 and sneak in to the playoffs, and the Indians can't count on being able to make up so much ground again.
Without Francona, none of it would have been possible.
The two-time World Series winner in Boston instilled a belief in the Indians that they could do anything. From the first day of training camp through the final out in the playoffs, the Indians were united, the entire roster pulling together toward a common goal. Egos were put aside for the sake of winning.
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