CLEVELAND -- Before the Indians and the Rangers played their series opener on Monday at Progressive Field, several fans that showed up to the ballpark sported "Party At Napoli's" T-shirts. One fan in the right-field seats even held up a sign that read, "We Still Party."The shirts and sign were
CLEVELAND -- Before the Indians and the Rangers played their series opener on Monday at Progressive Field, several fans that showed up to the ballpark sported "Party At Napoli's" T-shirts. One fan in the right-field seats even held up a sign that read, "We Still Party."
The shirts and sign were an homage to Rangers designated hitter Mike Napoli, who made his return to Cleveland after a career year with the Indians last season during which he helped lead them to an American League championship.
Prior to the game -- Napoli's first at Progressive Field since the Indians lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Cubs in November -- a short video honoring Napoli for his time with the Tribe played on the scoreboard. After the tribute, Indians manager Terry Francona and president Chris Antonetti presented Napoli with his 2016 AL championship ring.
"That'll be one of the biggest honors I think I've ever had," Francona said before the game. "I'm sure our guys will be out there. As they should be. They did a good job with [Rajai Davis' ring ceremony], they were all kind of out there showing their appreciation. I told Nap it would be one of the funnest honors I've ever had."
Napoli not only made an impact on the baseball field while with Cleveland, but also within the community. Fans rallied behind the team and the "Party at Napoli's" slogan in 2016, as the proceeds from the T-shirts benefited the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.
"Well, everyone just looks at the baseball part," Napoli said. "[Last year] was a special year for me on the baseball field, but the relationships I created on and off the field, being able to do the charity stuff -- the whole 'Party at Napoli's' thing -- was unbelievable with how the fans took to it and to raise all that money. Overall, it was a special year and it'll be something I can hopefully tell my kids someday about. It's something I'll never forget."
Last season with the Tribe, Napoli collected career-highs in home runs (34) and RBIs (101). Despite his season, the Indians opted to sign slugger Edwin Encarnacion instead of bringing Napoli back on a new contract. Napoli then signed with the Rangers, with whom he has hit 14 homers and plated 32 RBIs this season entering Monday.
"It was a tough offseason for me," Napoli said. "What we went through and everything that happened, it was almost like unfinished business. ... The player they got is one of the best hitters in the game. They were trying to get better and they had the opportunity to sign somebody, so I had to go somewhere else. It's the way the sport is these days. Obviously, I would've loved to come back and play here, but it's just the way it worked out."
Both sides were all smiles when Napoli went over to the Indians' clubhouse before the game.
"He came over here," Francona said. "He was sitting on my couch for a while, and it was funny because the guys would walk by and see him and just the reaction, like a couple guys came in and almost tried to tackle him. Tried. It was just funny. It was fun to see their reaction to him because he's so well thought of, [by] myself included."
William Kosileski is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland.