August 28, 2014

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Indians: Fans, team ready to celebrate home opener today

Indians fans cheer Oct. 2 during the wild-card loss to Tampa Bay. Progressive Field is expected to be packed again today for the home opener — if weather permits. (AP FILE)

Indians fans cheer Oct. 2 during the wild-card loss to Tampa Bay. Progressive Field is expected to be packed again today for the home opener — if weather permits. (AP FILE)

CLEVELAND — If weather permits, there will be a raucous celebration at Progressive Field today similar to the party held there the last time the Indians were in town.

A sellout crowd is expected for Cleveland’s home opener at 3:05 p.m. against Minnesota, as Tribe fans welcome back their team from a successful three-game series in Oakland to start the season. The Indians used ninth-inning rallies to take two of three from the A’s.

It will be the Indians’ first game at Progressive Field since they lost a one-game AL wild-card playoff to Tampa Bay in front of a packed house.

“Opening Day in Cleveland is going to be insane,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “People are going to try and say you need to keep your emotions in check for that game, but, man, I’m going to be fired up. That place is going to be rocking and rolling playoff-style. Regardless of what the weather’s going to be, we’re going to be full-force, Tribe Nation.”

“Our last memory of being in Cleveland was the playoff game that we didn’t do what we wanted to do on the field, but the fans overwhelmed everybody,” said manager Terry Francona, who will be experiencing the home opener Cleveland-style for the second time after winning the AL’s Manager of the Year award during his debut in 2013. “We want to re-create that and the home opener is the best time to do that.

“I felt like all along (the fans) were dying to like their team (last year). I think they were proud. We may not have set attendance records, but the people that came were enthusiastic and they cared and they’re good fans. And then when everybody showed up, that place was pretty awesome.”

Not surprisingly, Cleveland’s rough weather has the chance of ruining the event. Though there is a projected high of 63 degrees, the forecast calls for rain for much of the day, including the possibility of thunderstorms.

If the game is played, the same pitcher that faced the Rays in the wild-card game — right-hander Danny Salazar — will be on the mound for the Indians in front of another sellout crowd.

“Going back to Cleveland, I can’t wait,” Salazar said. “It’s going to be a little bit better ’cause there’s less pressure (than the playoff game), so you can be a little bit more relaxed and (have) a little more experience, too.”

Among the festivities planned is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of Jacobs/Progressive Field.

A video tribute to the first game at the park will be shown and a 20th-anniversary flag that features eight postseason pennants over the life of the ballpark will be hoisted.

Mike Hargrove, manager for five of the playoff trips from 1991-99, will throw the ceremonial first pitch to first base coach Sandy Alomar, who played catcher for Hargrove.

All of the home-opening pomp and circumstance makes for a memorable day for fans and players alike, according to second baseman Jason Kipnis.

“Seeing nothing but Tribe colors and having all the fans showing up to the ballpark, the excitement, the balloons, the fireworks, the music going on, things going on in the street around the stadium,” he said. “There’s just a buzz around the ballpark the whole day. It’s probably the most fun day of the season.”

Bourn to run?
Center fielder Michael Bourn (left hamstring) was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Thursday in Triple-A Columbus’ season opener, but the game was rained out. Bourn worked out in Columbus on Wednesday, but most likely won’t join the Indians until sometime next week.

New additions
The Indians officially announced the minor league signings of catcher George Kottaras and relief pitcher Mark Lowe, assigning the pair to Columbus.

Kottaras, 30, is a veteran of six big league seasons, serving as Kansas City’s backup catcher last year — .180 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 46 games.

Lowe, a 30-year-old right-hander, has appeared in 264 games in the majors. He made the Angels’ Opening Day roster last year and pitched well this spring for the Rays before being released.

Roundin’ third

  • Former Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga will sign autographs in “Rally Alley” prior to the game.
  • Members of the Cleveland Orchestra will perform the national anthem.
  • All fans will receive a magnet schedule.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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