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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The TinCaps’ Jace Peterson stretches before the season opener Thursday against Lake County at Parkview Field.

Another successful opener for TinCaps

The sign on the fence at the corner of Ewing and Jefferson reads First Pitch 0 Days, and so come on in, boys and girls, come on in and throw an arm around summer.

There is blue sky and sunshine and just enough cotton-puff clouds to please the esthetic’s eye, and a middling northeast breeze making the bunting flap and the American, Indiana and POW/MIA flags stir out there beyond center field.

There is July perfume in the air – the smell of grilling meat, and clouds of barbecue smoke beyond the left-field fence – on a night that feels like what it is, early April, sweatshirt/jacket/parka/sweater weather.

There are men and women with a beer in each fist, because this is Thirsty Thursday. There are blankets, um, blanketing the grassy knoll of the picnic area. There’s a toddler eating Dippin’ Dots with a spoon he’s just retrieved from the grass, and another toddler looking wide-eyed at the sky at the aerial bombs that accompany the national anthem, and a white-bearded gentleman in a Yankees cap, clutching a beer as he tunelessly, and contentedly, croaks out a lyric from John Fogerty’s “Center Field.”

“… The sun came out todaaaay,” he mutters to no one in particular, as you walk past.

And here is your Opening Day, ladies and gentlemen, for another baseball season at Parkview Field as the TinCaps fell 4-3 to Lake County. And don’t you dare spell it “opening day.”

That is sacrilege, see, because Opening Day is, as Fogerty writes, the day the sun comes out. And on this day in particular, it’s vindication again for a ballpark the rest of the country appreciates more than we do here sometimes.

This week, for instance, much was written about whether the TinCaps could sustain into a fourth year what they’d built around the downtown experience of Parkview Field, and then the gates opened Thursday and here came the answer. North of 8,300 people were in the place, team president Mike Nutter said when you ran into him out on the concourse in the second inning. The crowd eventually swelled to a record 8,577.

So, the bloom isn’t off the rose yet.

On the other hand, it hardly ever is on Opening Day.

It’s a day of pure, unalloyed joy, and a giddiness, almost, that infects everyone from the kid tucking into Dippin’ Dots to the crustiest dugout veteran. It’s there in the face of this 8-year-old, Sam Brunow, who’s just been handed a baseball by one of the TinCaps. It’s in the face of another kid, a trifle older, who clutches a baseball, too, while his dad – he’s the guy wearing the Petoskey Lacrosse sweatshirt – grins a row or two behind him.

This is Steve Hollocker, and his son Jackson. They’re from Harbor Springs, Mich., way up north of Traverse City. And they’re here tonight mostly by happenstance; as part of an annual father-son spring break ritual, they were on their way to attend tonight’s Pacers-Thunder game in Indianapolis and decided the TinCaps’ opener would be a nice stopover.

“Last spring we went out to Arizona and took in a Diamondbacks game,” Steve Hollocker says. “A couple years ago, we were in Cincinnati for the Reds’ opener.

“Never been to Fort Wayne before. Nice city. Great ballpark.”

And the greatest of days, of course.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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