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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2009

Indians fall, but new park is winner

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Jessie McGuire opens Goodyear Park with the national anthem before the Indians played the Giants yesterday. The state-of-the-art park seats 8,000 and is near the team's training facility. Jessie McGuire opens Goodyear Park with the national anthem before the Indians played the Giants yesterday. The state-of-the-art park seats 8,000 and is near the team's training facility.
NICK OZA / AP Enlarge

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Hall of Famer Bob Feller threw out the ceremonial first pitch, four F-16 fighter jets screamed by in a fly-over, and snakes stayed out of the press box.

Under brilliant sunshine and an infinite blue sky, the Cleveland Indians began a new era of spring baseball yesterday.

After training for 16 years in Florida, the Indians returned to Arizona and christened glistening Goodyear Ballpark with a 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

First baseman Travis Ishikawa homered twice, Nate Schierholtz hit a two-run shot, and NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum worked one scoreless inning for the Giants, who won the Cactus League opener but couldn't dampen the Indians' enthusiasm for their 8,000-seat ballpark located a few tape-measure homers from the player development complex.

The 90-year-old Feller was dazzled.

"If the ballclub is as good as the facility, they ought to win the World Series in four games," he said.

Third baseman Mark DeRosa, acquired by the Indians in a trade with the Chicago Cubs this winter, hit a three-run homer, and Stephen Head and Michael Aubrey added solo shots for Cleveland.

But the star of day was the ballpark.

"Spectacular," team president Paul Dolan said. "It's everything we could have hoped for."

Unable to find a new home in Florida, the Indians picked up and returned to Arizona, where they previously trained from 1946-92. Chain Of Lakes Park had a certain throwback charm, but in recent years the tiny ballpark, along with the Indians' clubhouse and minor league complex, had become dated and dirty.

Rats could be heard scampering above the clubhouse ceiling tiles, and two years ago a black snake slithered across the front row of the outdoor press box.

The Indians' new home features a right-field party pavilion and lawn seating in left and center fields to accommodate up to 2,000 fans. There's a whiffle ball diamond down the right-field line for kids, and fans who park nearby can get a short ride to the stadium's gates by hailing a bicycle taxi.

Once inside, they enjoyed local cuisine as well as ballpark staples like hot dogs, peanuts, and pizza. Feller, as he did in Florida, set up a table on the concourse and signed autographs.

Plans to build a hotel and retail area on the grounds have been put on hold by the sagging economy, and only 4,181 fans paid to see the opener.

But Dolan is confident Indians fans will work their way out West to see the $108 million training complex.

"Cleveland fans love their baseball," he said.

"It might not happen as quickly as we would like, but if it's not this year, then next year. You know, 85 degrees and clear blue skies sells itself."

By next year when the Cincinnati Reds arrive to share their ballpark, the Indians will have eight teams within a 20-minute drive.



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