After spending the off-season folded up and tucked away, professional baseball is back in Winnipeg.
It's opening day in the Manitoba capital and for the Goldeyes, heading into tonight's initial Northern League matchup with the expansion Lake County Fielders at the Fishbowl will contain all the emotion, anticipation, and promise a new season typically brings.
There are 100 games on the schedule for each NL club this summer. This one is different.
Or so the baseball guys say.
"Why is it different? Because you can't wait to get that uniform back on," Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said prior to the club's final pre-season workout Wednesday afternoon.
Baseball in these parts spends six or seven months in the local sports drawer before it sees the light of spring, a stretch of time that plays out like an eternity for some. Being around the ballpark, taking in the sights and sounds from the dugout steps becomes almost addictive for some, as the long winter between fall and spring seemingly lasts a lifetime for those who remain committed to the game.
"You sit and wait for the season to get going," said third baseman Vince Harrison, who's about to embark on his eighth year of pro ball. "It's hard for some guys. You keep looking at the calendar, looking ahead to when you can get back out there. It's always an exciting time."
Tonight will mark Forney's 20th opening day in professional baseball. He doesn't remember much from his first opening day, other than his young arm was property of the Baltimore Orioles and he spent most of his time trying to find his way through the experience of rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League.
It was a little different than opening day in Winnipeg. Here, players will take the field before 6,000-plus fans. Back in 1991, Forney figured there were a dozen people watching his team play -- mostly made up of parents and scouts.
"You were more concerned about whether or not you were dressed properly," he said. "You just wanted to make sure you had your uniform on the right way so you didn't get sent home the first week."
Price Kendall can relate to what Forney is talking about. The 24-year-old rookie came to Manitoba from the Sacramento Rural League in Northern California without a contract, but did enough during camp to earn a deal and a spot on the opening day roster.
Kendall will come off the bench when Forney needs some extra speed on the bases. At around 6 o'clock this evening, though, the first-year pro will be very slow and deliberate in his approach.
That jersey, the one Forney was talking about, can be tricky. Especially when the nerves kick in.
"With any uniform, whether it was my little league uniform or my semi-pro ball one -- you always take care when putting it on," said Kendall, who even went for a haircut Wednesday in preparation for opening day. "This one is going to be extra special...just seeing my name on the back of that jersey -- that's huge.
"This will be an experience I'll cherish for the rest of my life."
Kendall brushed aside any suggestion that he'll miss a belt loop or forget to tuck in his jersey.
"I'm going to check with a couple of the veteran guys before I get on the field, just to make sure I look presentable."
Opening day hasn't been kind to the Goldeyes in recent memory. Overall, Winnipeg holds a 10-6 record in season starters but in the last seven occasions, the Fish have found just two victories -- one of those a 10-6 win at Kansas City in 2009.
Matt Kniginyzky gets the start for the Fish against fellow right-hander John Brownell. Game time is 7 p.m. (Shaw-TV, 1290 CFRW).
Opening day moments
June 7, 1994
The first opening day in Goldeyes history. Winnipeg hosts Duluth-Superior before a season-high crowd of 14,764 at Winnipeg Stadium, marking the third-highest single game attendance in franchise history.
May 30, 1997
The Goldeyes beat Sioux City 12-10 in a 14-inning, five-hour-plus marathon but the real story was off the field. After the ninth inning finished up, staff at Winnipeg Stadium cut the lights and lit the fireworks, meaning the game had to be completed the next day.
May 26, 2000
Rick Forney and Shawn Onley combine for an efficient 2-0 shutout against the Sioux Falls Canaries. With the sun still bright in the blue sky (the game only took 119 minutes to play), Goldeyes staff implore the fans to wait around another half-hour or so for the fireworks show. "I was already in the middle of my post-game beverage before the fireworks went off," Forney laughed.
May 19, 2006
Forney makes his debut as the Goldeyes manager against former Fish skipper Hal Lanier and his new club, the Joliet JackHammers. Despite a late flurry by the visitors, the Fish hang on to win 5-4 in Winnipeg. Said Forney: "That was an emotional game to be in. It was rough for me, and it was rough for Hal."