It has been 610 days since the TinCaps last played at Parkview Field. That's more than 20 months since there was baseball at one of the best parks in the minor leagues.
That ends tonight, when the TinCaps play their first game as a member of the newly formed High-A Central against the West Michigan Whitecaps, another former member of the Low-A Midwest League.
After the 2020 season was wiped out because of the coronavirus pandemic, the TinCaps are as excited to get back on the field as Fort Wayne fans are to watch baseball again at the downtown stadium.
“It's super exciting,” pitcher Gabe Mosser said of the feeling surrounding opening day. “Just to hear the roar of the crowd again, this stadium is incredible with that. The clubhouse is super, super excited to get the ball rolling here.”
The TinCaps have been working out and doing baseball-related activities nearly the entire length of their time away from the game in preparation for its return. They even played actual games at the Padres' training facility in Arizona during minor-league spring training in April.
Getting back on the field to play in games where the statistics count and there will be fans in the stands is a different feeling, however.
“You can emulate a bullpen all you want with emotions and stuff like that,” Mosser said. “But there's no true emotion other than you stepping out on that rubber with a bunch of fans yelling at you, screaming at you and just that rush of adrenaline. You just don't get the same thing when you're throwing a bullpen in a cage.
“That's the most exciting thing and being back with all the guys and stuff like that, having the locker room feel again is just super exciting.”
The feeling in the locker room might be enhanced this season because many of the players have played in Fort Wayne before. Of the 29 players on the opening day roster, 19 have had previous stints in the Summit City and many of them were on the roster together in 2019, when the TinCaps were still a Low-A affiliate.
Those players have been promoted, but they've also been assigned to a familiar organization with familiar teammates, which should help them get into a rhythm more quickly, even after their long stretch away from organized baseball. There are signs of that process taking place already during the few practices the team has conducted in Fort Wayne since Friday.
“The excitement the last few days has been very, very fun to watch,” said manager Anthony Contreras, who is back for a record fifth season leading the team. “Because one, they get to come back to Parkview Field and play in this facility and two, just they haven't seen it in so long. They haven't seen the interaction on the field, haven't heard the music on PA.
“The guys were dancing around (Saturday), during (batting practice) and feeling good about themselves. I think everybody's just kind of itching at the bit to get going.”
Fans will recognize a lot of the players from previous stints in Fort Wayne, but Contreras said many of the returnees are much more mature than the last time they played for the TinCaps, and he has been impressed with how many of them have transformed their bodies and stayed in game shape during the lost 2020 season.
The Fort Wayne manager, who is already the all-time wins leader in TinCaps history, predicted some jitters and racing heartbeats from his team when they finally take the field again tonight, but he expects them to adapt quickly.
Those jitters will extend to Contreras, as well.
“Baseball's in my blood and I definitely know what those opening days felt like as a player,” the manager said. “My concentration isn't on myself, it's on putting (the players) in a position to be comfortable, ... and making sure they don't skip a beat when the first pitch is thrown.
“My heart will be racing like always, if it wasn't racing on opening day, I'm probably not in the right profession. But after that first game it's business as usual.”
vs. W. Michigan
When: 7:05 p.m. todayWhere: Parkview FieldRadio: 1380 AM