Indians fan’s 1994 Opening Day remains a special one
Indians fan’s 1994 Opening Day remains a special one
CLEVELAND, Ohio – For lifelong Indians fan Mary Dwyer-Kueller, the chances of her making it to the 1994 opener at Jacobs Field were truly up in the air.
It was a hot ticket, being the inaugural regular-season game in the stadium.
The Magnifcat High School teacher had called the box office repeatedly, never getting through. She sought out people who might have tickets for the April 4 game.
“That year was our Easter break,” she said. “I knew a lot of kids had parents who had season tickets. I said ‘I know you girls are going on spring break. I’ll buy your tickets.’ ”
But she had no takers.
So days before the opener, Mary, her husband Tom and 5-year-old son Sean headed downtown to the stadium open house, a chance to see the seats she would have on her six-pack ticket deal.
“My husband and I were looking around, and I really did - I started crying,” she said about knowing she would not be in the park for the opener.
After finding their seats, they headed to a place on E. 9th Street to get something to eat.
“We were sitting at the bar with my 5-year-old,” Dwyer-Kueller said. “This guy started talking. I said ‘I was trying to get tickets, I would sell my soul I wanted them so badly.’ He said ‘I actually need some people to hold balloons.’ ”
Dwyer-Kueller almost fell over.
“Are you kidding?”
“The seats aren’t that great,” said the man, who she remembers as Doug.
The only problem was there was only one balloon-holding ticket for her.
“My husband - God love him - said ‘I’ll take Sean.’ ”
She remembers the moment clearly: “We were holding one of the balloons on the field. Randy Johnson was the starter that day. ... I took his picture. I thought ‘He’ll be famous someday.’ (Seattle’s Johnson went eight innings against Dennis Martinez, who lasted seven; neither figured in the decision, a 4-3 Cleveland win. Dwyer-Kueller’s prediction of Johnson’s fame proved prescient. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.)
Dwyer-Kueller found herself as one of four or five people on each of several giant baseball balloons. She was told to wear navy blue slacks, and the team gave them white sweatshirts and hats with the team logos.
″ ‘Oh my God I’ve died and gone to heaven,’ ” she remembered.
The disappointment that turned to joy swooped into elation when Doug, her baseball guardian angel of sorts, told her: “I have a couple more tickets, if you get ahold of your son and husband.” They sat in auxiliary centerfield bleachers.
“It was the greatest thing in the world to be there and to be at the game and for Wayne Kirby to win it at the end,” she said. (Kirby’s extra-inning RBI single was the difference.)
The story doesn’t end there. Coming back from a vacation to Cape Cod in 2000, the family stopped at Cooperstown, New York, to visit the Hall of Fame. There she saw a photo – of herself.
She doesn’t remember where in the hall she saw it, but it was there, the image capturing balloons floating over a packed Jacobs Field.
“That was a crazy, crazy thing,” she said. “I’m in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Dwyer-Kueller is about as die-hard a fan as you will get, and she hangs on to her memories with as much passion as she has had for the game since she was 6. Originally from Euclid, she now lives in Avon and still teaches at Magnifcat in Rocky River. She won’t be at Friday’s game, but still follows the Tribe.
There were other games, each etched in her mind. The first one she attended was Aug. 11, 1963, with her dad and brother.
“At that time my favorite player was Tito Francona,” she said. “He was with Vic Davalillo and another Indian, hitting to each other.” A ball bounced their way. Her dad gave it to her.
“My brother wasn’t real happy,” she said. (Davalillo and Francona each went 2-4 in the game, which the Indians won, 2-1.)
She is quick to offer a preface about her attendance at one of the greatest Indians games, ever.
“I know people say this, but I have the ticket stub and everything, I know people say it: I was at Lenny Barker’s perfect game,” she said. “That was a surreal experience. I have that framed.” Long after Barker’s 3-0 gem on May 15, 1981, she brought her stub to a game and had him sign it, she said.
The first of her 10 to 12 openers came in 1966, when she sat with her dad in an upper-deck box behind home plate, watching Sam McDowell throw a four-hitter over eight innings to earn the 5-2 victory. On April 8, 1975, during spring break from college, she went to the stadium on a chilly day and watched Frank Robinson in his debut as player-manager, the first African-American manager in the Majors. He homered and went 1-3 as the Indians beat the Yankees, 5-3.
Dwyer-Kueller’s family realizes how important baseball is to her. Two days before the ’94 opener, they attended the Indians’ exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A man reached for a foul ball, momentarily squashing Sean. As Indians attendants checked on Sean, it became apparent the man was not going to give up the ball.
″ ‘Give the kid the ball, give the kid the ball!’ they started chanting,” she said. He didn’t, but an attendant gave one to the boy.
Years later, Sean would buy his mother an Indians purse and opening-day tickets for Christmas.
“He knows how much I love all of that,” she said.
“I felt like I was the luckiest person in the whole world,” she said.