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Fan excitement is palpable at Tribe Fest

CLEVELAND -- This is the season of hope for baseball fans. Spring Training is right around the corner, rosters are taking shape and each ballclub features some fresh faces and fresh starts.

There is always a level of optimism and excitement over the season to come, and that certainly seems to be the case right now in Cleveland. On Saturday, those feelings seemed to be spreading from the Indians' clubhouse and running throughout the lower level of Progressive Field, where fans were taking in this winter's Tribe Fest.

Judging by the solid turnout on the event's first day, the Indians' busy winter has caught their fans' attention.

"They really seem to want to be finally invested in something," said lifelong Indians fan Jeff Evans, who made the drive from nearby Westlake, Ohio, for the event.

Coming off a disappointing 2012 showing, Cleveland has made a strong effort to overhaul and strengthen its roster this offseason. It began with the hiring of new manager Terry Francona and continued with a handful of key trades and the additions of free agents Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers.

The moves have fans interested to see what is in store in the coming season.

"I think the Francona thing is going to be very good," Evans said. "You're already starting to hear players say how they like having Francona here. They're getting excited."

Evans brought his 10-year-old son, Jaden, to the Opening Day of Tribe Fest, which will be open between 12-6 p.m. ET on Sunday. Decked out in blue Indians jerseys, they started off by waiting in line to get their photo taken with a group of Indians players, including setup man Vinnie Pestano.

"Seeing Vinnie Pestano up there," Evans said, "he was jumping up and down."

Jaden, who often heads online to read up on his favorite team, said he was excited when Cleveland signed Swisher earlier this month.

"I was very glad about that. I loved it," he said with a smile. "I like how they got Mike Aviles, too."

Aviles was one of the many players on hand Saturday to take part in photo and autograph sessions with the constant stream of fans pouring into the ballpark. The event also included hitting and pitching clinics, interactive games and a main stage featuring discussions with Indians alumni and members of the team's front office.

It was also Aviles' first chance to discuss being traded by the Blue Jays to the Indians in November. Aviles represents one of the first additions in this active winter for Cleveland. Since he was acquired, the utility infielder has watched the ballclub continue to bring more veteran players into the fold.

Beyond reeling in the likes of Swisher, Reynolds and Myers through free agency, Cleveland also landed outfielder Drew Stubbs, pitching prospect Trevor Bauer and relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw via trade.

"I think it's good," Aviles said of the Tribe's moves. "There's no question that there was talent already in this locker room. I think the couple guys that they added to the team are going to make it a little bit better. Adding a guy like Swisher just changes the dynamic. ... A guy like that just changes everything around.

"And then you add a guy like Reynolds, Stubbs, guys like that, you add that into what was already here, I think it definitely changes what the overall outlook was for the season. It's a positive outlook for me."

Stubbs has had the same reaction.

"There's some new faces around here," Stubbs said. "Bringing Tito [Francona] in, and some of the other guys around the clubhouse, they're trying to do the right thing it looks like, and put together a winning product. I'm just happy to be in consideration of that."

The players are hoping the fans are as excited as they are about the season ahead.

"Hopefully, they start thinking, the way we are, that we can win," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "I think we can be competitive this year. I think we're definitely going to be playing the game the right way. I know Swisher and Francona will be big guys in that aspect.

"They wouldn't come here unless they thought they had a chance to win, too. That's a good thing and we're excited about that."

Cleveland Indians