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Fans respond to Tribe's playoff return

Cleveland faithful in postseason form for AL Wild Card Game

CLEVELAND -- Five Octobers passed between postseason appearances for the Indians. After the Tribe fell heartbreakingly short of the World Series in 2007, Cleveland had to wait for playoff baseball to come back to Progressive Field. It returned on Wednesday evening, and the excitement at the ballpark was palpable.

The waiting was the hard part. This was the fun part.

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Fans started to flood into Progressive Field for the American League Wild Card Game between the Rays and Indians as soon as the gates opened at 6 p.m. ET. Cleveland wanted fans to wear red. They heeded that message.

Equipped with white towels once inside, the many who showed up for the win-or-go-home duel with Tampa Bay made their presence felt in a variety of frenzied ways. There were painted faces and feather-filled headdresses. There was howling and chanting. The Tribe faithful knew what was at stake, and they were excited.

"I'm pumped," said Kevin Hrouda, a Tribe fan from Eastlake, Ohio. "I can feel it in my blood right now. I'm so pumped. There's so much excitement going on."

For the many thousands of fans at Progressive Field, getting from one place to another on Wednesday was no easy task. It was even more difficult for those few who were trying to maneuver while wearing Rays clothing. If you were rooting for Tampa Bay, you could not take a step without being booed or jeered.

Once the pregame festivities got underway, the fans began moving to their seats, concentrating their collective energy and unleashing it in unison. The first loud ovation came for beloved broadcaster Tom Hamilton, who went out to a podium in the infield to announce player introductions.

Predictable boos rained down from the rafters at the ballpark as Hamilton went through Tampa Bay's starting lineup. Then, as he turned his attention to the Indians, the atmosphere changed.

Each of the Tribe's coaches received nice ovations, with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. -- a six-time All-Star with the Indians during those unforgettable seasons from the 1990s -- coming out to the loudest responses.

Then it was time for the non-starters, who came out to hearty applause, before Indians manager Terry Francona -- the man who brought Cleveland to this point in his first season at the helm -- jogged out of the dugout. After him, Michael Bourn and the rest of the Tribe starters streamed onto the field, each one basking in the outpouring of support from the sea of red.

With everyone having been introduced, the crowd broke into a "Let's Go Tribe" chant that might have gone on all night if not for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Local singer Dan Polk gave a rousing rendition of the national anthem, which fit in nicely among the reds, whites and blues that covered the stadium.

Soon after, Andre Thornton, a member of the Indians Hall of Fame, strode out to the diamond. He was responsible for the game's ceremonial first pitch, which he delivered to thunderous applause.

The fans at Progressive Field had been enthusiastic throughout the pregame proceedings. Once Thornton's pitch was caught, they knew the Wild Card Game was imminent.

"It's so exciting," said Amy Gamber, a Tribe fan who traveled to Cleveland from San Antonio to support the Indians. "I love it. I love it. I get butterflies in my tummy every time I come up here."

With the game's actual first pitch on the way, the electricity at Progressive Field reached shocking levels. While white towels circled overhead, the many in red expressed sheer joy and anticipation. It was time for playoff baseball in Cleveland, and that is a wonderful thing.

Mark Emery is an associate reporter for

Cleveland Indians