Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Home, bittersweet home

Packed house celebrates opener, but Fish flounder

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For over two weeks, the Goldeyes had been waiting for the day, waiting to wear their home white pants instead of visitors' grey.

On Monday night, that long-awaited home opener finally came as over 7,100 fans thronged Shaw Park to watch the Goldeyes host the Sioux City Explorers for the first of three games. The Fish themselves had just rolled into town earlier in the day after starting their season with a grinding road swing down south. So even four hours before the first pitch flew, the clubhouse was abuzz.

Nerves? Maybe there were a few. "You always get a little bit of butterflies in the stomach," said Goldeyes second-baseman Jake Blackwood, who visited Shaw Park back when he was a Northern League star in 2010. So he had an idea of what to expect from this team's 2014 home debut.

"Opening day is great, because all the work you put in in the off-season, all the time you spend in the gym and the cage, all that effort that... we put in to be baseball players, you finally get to feel rewarded," Blackwood said. "Even if you don't have great success right out of the gate, you feel like, 'OK, this is what I did it all for.'"

By the time the night was over, the Explorers had played spoiler, though the Goldeyes rallied hard toward the end.

Still, the beer was cool, Goldie's Grill was sizzling, and the weather couldn't have been any better. It was a far cry from the first time this roster played at Shaw Park, an exhibition game against the Wesmen earlier this month. Then, a sprinkle of snow dusted the stadium and the riverside trees still stood bare of leaves. Clusters of fans huddled in the stands, trying to ward off the decidedly un-baseball-like chill.

"They (the new players) weren't too impressed, because we were building it up pretty good," said pitcher Gabe Aguilar, a bullpen bright spot in his second year with the Fish. "I'm hoping for a good turnout today, so my word's not shot."

Well, Aguilar got his wish. Unlike that cold pre-season debut, on Monday night the sky spanned blue, the sun held heat and the fans -- well, they were a whole lot warmer too. A little hot under the collar, even, after some unpopular calls from one of the base umpires, but that's a whole 'nother story -- after a long winter, even having the chance to boo can come as a relief, in its own way.

"We're excited to be home," Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said Monday afternoon, four hours before the opening pitch. "Every place is different. But there's nothing like playing here in Winnipeg."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 C1

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