Cleveland Guardians Usher in New Era During First Home Game, Chief Wahoo Still Present

By Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.
April 17, 2022 Updated: April 18, 2022

For the first time in nearly 50 years, representatives from Native American groups could not be seen outside Cleveland’s baseball stadium prior to the team’s home opener protesting Chief Wahoo—the former mascot of the city’s beloved baseball team for 90 years.

That’s because the Cleveland Indians, from 1915 to 2021, now officially are the Cleveland Guardians—baseball with wings and a capitalized G on the ball’s side as its logo. Its mascot name Guardians is derived from the 43-foot-tall Romanesque-looking concrete structures towering over motorists on the city’s Hope Memorial Bridge, depicting the progress of transportation.

From the late 1890s to about 1908, Cleveland was the leading auto manufacturing hub of the United States, ahead of Detroit, and now, Cleveland’s 2022 Major League Baseball season is rolling out a new era.

Although generations of Indians fans throughout the United States still are not happy about the team’s ownership announcing its name change in late July, the excitement among fans for the new name and those who prefer the former one at Cleveland’s sold-out home opener for the regular season on April 15 were pretty evenly divided.

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Sold-out crowd: After being the Cleveland Indians for over 100 years, the Cleveland Guardians held its first home game at Progressive Field on April 15, 2022. The Guardians lost to the San Francisco Giants, 4-1 before a sold-out crowd. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

The San Francisco Giants beat the Guardians, 4-1 with the help of three home runs. The loss stopped the Guardians’ four-game winning streak.

Guardians star player Jose Ramirez, who the team recently, signed to a seven-year contract for $123 million ($12 million in 2022 and $14 million in 2023), notched his 1,000th career hit in the game.

Scalpers outside the ballpark said tickets in the lower level of the historic event were going anywhere from $100 to $400, and a pair of tickets in the second deck behind home plate were about $150 apiece.

Giants pitcher Carlos Rodon, who had pitched a no-hitter against the Indians last year (on April 14 as a Chicago White Sox pitcher), struck out 12 Guardians in its home opener.

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Greg Jones and his girlfriend, Danielle, are ready for the 2022 Cleveland Guardians baseball season. Jones is wearing his Rockford Peaches throwback jersey, similar to the one actor Tom Hanks wore in the 1988 hit movie, “A League of Their Own.” Hanks, who threw out the first pitch at the Guardians’ home opener, played Coach Jimmy Dugan of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the film and was known for the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Actor Tom Hanks, who threw out the first pitch, said prior to the game that he had “Guardians Fever,” voicing his support for the new name despite thousands of fans across the United States who opposed it.

Hanks, who played the role of Coach Jimmy Dugan in the 1988 film “A League of Their Own,” based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was known for the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

The Guardians game had its festive and nostalgic moments for Cleveland fans as Hanks threw the first pitch to Larry Doby Jr. Doby’s father played for the Indians and was the first African American to play in the American League.

The historic occasion also came on the 75th anniversary of the Major League debut of Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers breaking baseball’s color barrier to become the first black to play Major League ball.

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Part of the game: Peanuts and hot dogs abounded at the home opener and inaugural regular-season game for the Cleveland Guardians on April 15, 2022. Some of the vendors had peanusts with the Cleveland Indians logo, and the new ones with with the Guardians logo. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

When the Indians made the announcement in December that it would drop the name Indians because Native American groups continued to find the mascot offensive, the team issued a statement alluding to the riots across the country in 2020 fueled by the Antifa extremist group and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The team’s name change to Guardians came as many professional, college, and high school mascots have been targeted by the cancel culture movement to eliminate them and change the team’s name. In 1997, Miami University of Ohio changed its mascot from Redskins to RedHawks after being pressured from the Miami Tribe. Embattled Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has pressured the Atlanta Braves to remove its mascot, and went as far as to remove the 2021 MLB All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.

The move denied a week-long celebration in Atlanta to honor former Home Run King Henry Aaron, an African American and civil rights advocate.

But, the bottom line is that the 2022 Major League Baseball season is underway, and people appeared more excited about the players more than they are the new team name.

“It’s not about the team name, it’s about the players,” said Tony Yaroshak, 33, of Parma, a west Cleveland suburb. “We’re ready for the year. Hopefully, we’ll make the playoffs.”

Yaroshak was attending Cleveland’s home opener for the 12th year with his buddies, Dustin Godenswager and Kyle, who didn’t want to provide his last name.

“I think the new name is great,” Godenswager said of the Guardians. “I like it.”

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The past and present: A Cleveland Guardians T-shirt on sale for $45 at a vendor booth outside Progressive Field during the team’s home opener on April 15, 2022. Items featuring Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the former team, the Cleveland Indians, still were being sold. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

The new name is steeped in the city’s history, and fronted many fans’ hoodies, T-shirts, and a few caps. But how it will connect with fans remains to be seen.

Not everyone was excited about the new team name.

That was the case for three generations of the Newell family from the Canton area in northeast Ohio, who attended the game.

“I’m sticking with Indians,” Tim Newell said. “We’re attending the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day today.”

Tim Newell and his wife, Kamie, had also attended the Guardians’ inaugural spring training game against the Cincinnati Reds during spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, on March 18. The Guardians won, 3-2.

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Three generations of Cleveland Indians fans at the inaugural Cleveland Guardians game on April 15, 2022. Pictured left to right, Kamie and Tim Newell, Ryan Newell, daughter Emma, 13, and Shanna Newell, and son Blake, 10. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

The sentiment of Newell’s son, Ryan, echoed his father, as did Ryan’s son Blake, who is 10.

“This is Indians Opening Day,” Ryan Newell told The Epoch Times. “The name change is a disappointment, but it’s what we expected to see. If the Indians ownership would not have panicked and waited about a year or two, this likely would have blown over and people would’ve forgotten about it.”

“I’m glad they signed Jose Ramirez to a seven-year contract with a no-trade clause,” Ryan Newell added. “It’s nice to see someone will be staying with the team for a while.”

Blake Newell said he is excited to see how Guardians catcher Austin Hedges does this season.

The Guardians emerged as the team name after reporting slightly more than 1,000 possibilities. Other team names under consideration were Spiders, the original name of Cleveland’s baseball club from 1887 to 1899, the Buckeyes, the Rockers, and the Fellers, as a tribute to Indians pitching legend Bob Feller.

Numerous people were still wearing Feller throwback jerseys with the late 1940s Chief Wahoo on the sleeve and his No. 19 on the back.

Chief Wahoo already had been eliminated from the team’s jerseys and caps following the 2018 season through the push of organizations such as Change.org, the Cleveland Indian Education Center, and the Cleveland-based American Indian Movement (AIM), with the support of MLB Commissioner Manfred.

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Jim Price (R) and his friend, Chuck, have been attending Cleveland baseball games for several years. They are getting ready to attend the Cleveland Guardians inaugural home opening game on April 15, 2022. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Some people who attended the home opener said they believe the team’s fan base will eventually get used to the name, and they’ll get over the disappointment in the team’s owners, Larry Dolan and his two sons, Paul and Matt Dolan.

Matt Dolan is an Ohio State Senator and is running for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s seat on the Republican ticket. He has voiced opposition about the cancel culture movement, and has had to distance himself from his family when asked why he didn’t do more to prevent the elimination of Chief Wahoo and the changing of the team name.

Jim Price from the Columbus, Ohio, area and his friend Chuck have been attending baseball games in Cleveland and told The Epoch Times they have attended eight home openers.

“A lot of thought went into the new name for the team,” Price, 75, said. “The Indians name was better, but people will eventually get used to it after a couple of years.”

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Former Cleveland Indians usher Mike Benezzi outside Cleveland’s Progressive Field before the Guardians’ inaugural home opener on April 15, 2022, Benezzi, 62, of Medina, Ohio, said he believes people won’t mind the team’s name change from Indians to Guardians if the team’s owners create a winner. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Mike Benezzi and his wife, Debbie of Medina, were ushers at Indians games for the last four year. However, Bennezzi, 62, said he had to give that up as it was hard on his knees.

He told The Epoch Times that he believes people are going to be mad about the name change for a while, but there is one key ingredient that needs to be implemented to change that: “If the Guardians start producing teams that win and make the playoffs, people will forget about the name change.”

“Of course, there will be old timers who will still want the Indians. Nobody likes change, but hey, it happens.”

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Going to bat for Guardians: Allen LaPrairie, 81, waits for his wife to join him at the Cleveland Guardians home opener at Progressive Field on April 15, 2022. LaPrairie, who lives in a Cleveland suburb of Geauga County, said he agreed with his son that the Guardians was the best choice for a new team name. LaPrairie has been attending Cleveland baseball games in Cleveland for 62 years. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Prior to the Guardians’ home opener, Allen LaPrairie was sitting to the side on the concourse outside Progressive Field waiting on his wife who was parking their car.

Wearing a Guardians sweatshirt with a monument on it from the nearby Hope Memorial Bridge and resting his baseball bat cane, LaPraieire stood out.

Retired from the Coast Guard and having attended Cleveland baseball games for more than 60 years, LaPrairier went to bat for the Guardians.

“When my son Nathan saw the list of possible new names for the Indians, he said Guardians was the best one,” LaPrairie told the Epoch Times. “I agreed with him, and that was the name they chose. I think they have a good team.”

“I call them the Guardians,” LaPrairie added. “I have the new name down pat.”

The Hope Memorial Bridge is located at the western edge of downtown Cleveland with Progressive Field in the near distance. The “statues” per se, are officially called “Guardians of Traffic,” and it’s as if they are standing guard to Progressive Field near the end of the bridge. Each of the eight “Guardians” are holding a vehicle, one a 1930s-era automobile from about the time the bridge was built in 1932.

Teresa Ringenbach, who used to live in Cleveland for several years, made the trip with her significant other to see the game.

“I definitely still say Indians,” Ringenbach told The Epoch Times. “Guardians still doesn’t slip off the tongue very easily.

“I’m a fan no matter what,” Ringenbach added. “At the end of the day, I still love baseball, and this is my happy place.”

Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.