CLEVELAND - Cleveland Indians fans had to squint, then shake their heads. The sight of Sandy Alomar in a Chicago White Sox uniform at Jacobs Field was a sacrilege to most.
For 11 seasons, Alomar had won the hearts of nearly everyone in Cleveland while the Indians were winning a ton of games. He was the foundation, the rock on which the Tribe's revival was built.
The veteran catcher was a fan favorite, a six-time American League All-Star, and a hero of the postseason when the Indians beat the Yankees in the playoffs in 1997 and advanced to the World Series.
But yesterday, Alomar was in the visitors' dugout on the first base side, and forced to deal with the fact he was no longer an Indian, but was now part of their history.
“Being on the other side was pretty strange,” Alomar said. “I was nervous, and anxious about this day, this moment. I spent a long time as an Indian, so wearing another uniform here in this ballpark is different, but something I'll have to get used to. I've been looking forward to a fresh start with a great franchise.”
After contract talks with Cleveland hit an impasse, Alomar signed a two-year, $5.4 million free agent deal in December with the White Sox, Cleveland's chief rival in the American League Central Division.
The 34-year-old Alomar, who was one of the few Indians to make his year-round home in Cleveland and continues to live there despite his change in teams, was concerned about what the reaction might be when he first came to Jacobs as the enemy.
But the 42,606 on hand gave Alomar a lengthy and raucous ovation, easily the livliest reception any player received, including the Indians. A video salute of highlights from his 11 seasons in Cleveland played on the outfield screen while the applause rolled through Jacobs Field.
“That was very classy, what they did,” Alomar said. “That was something I was not expecting. The fans here and the way they treated me - that's something that will really stay in my heart the rest of my life.”
Alomar's move to the visitors' dugout was something for the Indians to get used to, as well. Included in that group is his brother Roberto, the Cleveland second baseman.
“It was weird. It really was weird,” Roberto said. “I still can't get used to it. But he's happy over there and I wish him the best of luck. Sandy's going to do good for the White Sox and make them a better team.”
RIGHT AT HOME: Juan Gonzalez always is a big hit when he plays in Jacobs Field.
Nothing changed yesterday, even though it was his first game in an Indians uniform.
Gonzalez socked a pair of solo homers, but it wasn't enough as the Tribe lost to the Chicago White Sox 7-4 in their opener.
“He's really strong, “ Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. “He's a good hitter. Any time he gets the ball up in the air, he's got a chance to hit a home run. He's going to hit some home runs for us this year, no question. “
Gonzalez's first homer, which came off White Sox starter David Wells in the sixth inning, was a line shot to left field and traveled 367 feet.
His second round-tripper came off reliever Antonio Osuna in the eighth. It was hit to left-center field and covered 401 feet.
“I am feeling very happy, “ said Gonzalez, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Indians in the off-season after a disastrous season in Detroit last year. “The fans here are some of the best baseball fans in the world. They were cheering like crazy for me after the second homer. It was great.
“This is one of the best ballparks in the majors for a power hitter. I see the ball very well here. “
Gonzalez now has 14 homers in 31 career games at Jacobs Field. It also was his 37th career two-homer game, but his first since May 16, 2000, when he hit two for the Tigers against the Indians at Jacobs Field.
“Juan can hit the ball as hard as anybody in the league, and it showed today, “ said Tribe third baseman Russell Branyan, who also hit a solo homer.
FRYMAN UPDATE: Five-time All-Star third baseman Travis Fryman could be back at the hot corner for the Indians by this weekend.
Manuel said Fryman will field some ground balls from hitting coach Clarence Jones this morning at Jacobs Field, then Fryman will take some batting practice.
“If everything goes well, Travis could be ready to go Saturday, “ Manuel said.
Fryman is eligible to be activated from the disabled list Saturday, when the Indians host the Baltimore Orioles.
Fryman, who is rehabbing a strained ligament in his right elbow, has been at extended spring training in Winter Haven, Fla.
Manuel said Fryman has thrown there every day for the last five days without pain. Fryman also has served as a designated hitter in intrasquad games.
A former Detroit Tigers star, Fryman is coming off of the best season of an 11-year career. He set career highs with a .321 average, 184 hits and 106 RBIs while winning his first Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence.
MAKING THEIR PITCH: C.C. Sabathia, the Tribe's fourth starter, will pitch in a simulated game today in Winter Haven. He is scheduled to make his major league debut Sunday against the Orioles.
Sabathia, the Tribe's first-round draft pick in 1998, was the talk of spring training. The 20-year-old left-hander was 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA while striking out 15 batters in 17 innings.
But of the 232 2/3 innings Sabathia has pitched as a professional, only 90 2/3 have been above Single-A.
Tim Drew, the team's first-round pick in 1997, will be the fifth starter. He was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings this spring. Drew, 22, will make his first start of the season next Tuesday against the White Sox in Chicago.
Two Tribe starters currently on the DL - Jaret Wright (shoulder surgery) and Charles Nagy (elbow surgery) - pitched in Winter Haven yesterday. Wright threw in a minor league game, while Nagy threw on the side in a bullpen session.
STREAK OVER? Cleveland enjoyed its 455th consecutive sellout yesterday, drawing 42,606 fans. It is the longest such streak in major league history, more than doubling the Colorado Rockies' old mark of 203.
However, the Tribe's streak is in jeopardy.
After an off day today, the Tribe and White Sox will square off again tomorrow night at 7:05. More than 5,000 tickets remain.
HONORARY CAPTAINS: The Cleveland Indians celebrated the start of their 100th year of existence as a charter member of the American League by honoring five of their most legendary players. Bob Feller, Larry Doby, Herb Score, Sam McDowell and Andre Thornton were on hand for pre-game ceremonies yesterday and will serve as honorary captains throughout the season along with Mel Harder, Lou Boudreau and Rocky Colavito, who were unable to be in Cleveland for the home opener.
SIMMERING RIVALRY: Keith Foulke pitched the ninth inning yesterday and got the save for the White Sox with an uneventful ninth inning. But he sees the potential for a lot of fireworks in the 18 remaining games between Chicago and Cleveland this season.
“Anytime you're in a divisional race, it's just the nature of the beast - there's going to be tempers flaring at some point,” he said. “If these two teams are fighting it out like everyone expects us to, I would be more surprised if things didn't happen between us.”
NO BACKUP PLAN: Chicago manager Jerry Manuel had no alternate starter in mind when he came to Jacobs Field and saw his scheduled starter, David Wells, stretched out in the training room. Wells was sick with what Manuel called “a severe case of upset stomach.”
Wells, who has a reputation as a partier, said he felt a bit weak from a night of flulike symptoms, but he made the start and got the win in six innings of work.
“He was really, really under the weather,” Manuel said, “but history says he's come in that way before.”