CLEVELAND — Talk about high drama.
By the time the first pitch is thrown at the Cleveland Guardians’ home opener on April 8 at Progressive Field, fans will have seen something more unusual than a no-hitter, more rare than a perfect game and astronomically more exciting than an unassisted triple play.
It will be truly an out of this world moment.
At 3:13 p.m. EDT, Cleveland will experience a total solar eclipse — a once-in-generations event — for the first time since 1806, 13 years before the birth of Abner Doubleday, the Civil War hero some have credited with inventing baseball.
The alignment of sun, earth and moon will plunge the city into darkness, and as long as the maddeningly unpredictable Northeast Ohio weather cooperates, people will view a spectacle that lasts just under four minutes but occurs only three times in a 638-year span above the city.
The next one isn’t until 2444.
“It’s a really, really, really big deal,” said Jay Ryan, a self-described “astronomy nerd” and eclipse educator. “It’s hard to communicate to people how big of a deal this is. They’ve seen a partial eclipse in the past, and were like, meh. This is breathtaking.”
Undoubtedly exciting for many, the eclipse does create some logistical concerns for others, especially the Guardians, who are trying to decide an ideal time to start the opener while balancing transportation, parking and other concerns.
Cleveland will be jam packed.
Officials are estimating 200,000 visitors will descend upon the city strictly to view the eclipse, with 50,000 expected to attend an event at the Great Lakes Science Center, where NASA is setting up one of three national broadcasting hubs.
Throw in any college basketball fans still in town from the NCAA Women’s Final Four from April 5-7, on top of the 35,000 coming to see the Guardians game, and downtown Cleveland will be bursting at the seams.
The Guardians have started their home openers in recent years with a 4:10 p.m. first pitch. This year, though, that falls in the partial-eclipse window when fans may still be distracted by the overhead phenomenon and not focused on seeing All-Star third baseman José Ramírez step into the batter’s box against the Chicago White Sox.
The team has spent months weighing whether to embrace the eclipse and open the ballpark early to allow fans to watch it together — an opening act on opening day — or wait until it’s over and play a night game.
The Guardians, who start on an 11-game trip, are expected to announce their decision on the opener in coming days.
Ryan believes the social element of the eclipse can’t be underestimated. As he excitedly described the moon’s 124-mile shadow gradually fading and then temporarily extinguishing the sun’s brightness, Ryan said the moment before darkness is overwhelming.
“The color of the sky goes from bluish, grayish to black,” he said. “And then, boom! Totality. You are in nighttime. It’s heart pounding. It’s exciting. People are screaming. I’ll tell you what, to be with a sports crowd, just imagine someone hitting a grand slam. To be down there with a bunch of fans would be great.”
There could be one problem: Cleveland’s wacky weather.
“You had to go there,” Ryan said.
The Guardians have dealt with snow on opening day before. In 2007, their first four games in Cleveland were snowed out from April 6-9, forcing the team to play its “home” opener in Milwaukee.
Ryan has been closely monitoring the long-term forecast and Cleveland’s weather history. He feels somewhat encouraged that April 8 in 2020 and 2023 there were “blue, crystal-clear skies,” while also noting that wasn’t the case in 2021 and 2022.
“It’s a coin toss,” he said with a laugh.
Who knows. Maybe the eclipse could be a sign of something bigger on the way in Cleveland, which hasn’t celebrated a World Series title since 1948.
“If we get a beautiful day,” Ryan said. “This is going to beat the 1948 World Series.”
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