Click here for video interviews with Chiefs' fans and Jason Smorol
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- On Thursday the wait was finally over – and then, it wasn’t. A rainy day spoiled what was to be a fresh start and a new season of Syracuse Chiefs baseball.
“I’ve been here since 9:30 am,” Tim Perez said from his tailgating spot in the parking lot. He’s gone to every opening day at NBT Bank Stadium, and its other iterations, for the past 20 years. He wasn’t about to break the streak.
Asked if he thought there might be a rain delay, he was quick to retort.
“No, it’s a beautiful day,” Perez said. “First pitch 2:05, we’re going to get six innings in. Lets go.”
Fans passed through a new wanding system at the front gate, a measure required for all minor league teams this season.
“So far so good,” security supervisor Tom Bartezel said. “One pocket knife that went back to the parking lot.”
Scores of people trekked up the stairs, rewarded with free programs and opening day coozies once they reached the top. Some grabbed a hot dog for a buck, part of the “Dollar Thursdays” campaign at the ballpark. Others just settled into their seats.
Home Away from Home
The stadium was full of fans like Perez, full of optimism, regardless of whether it was ill-founded or not.
“We come all the way from Auburn on the bus,” Linda Waters said of her and her husband. “Every year we take the time off from work, just to come to opening day.”
Waters was dressed in Chiefs gear, the lone exception a Cleveland Indians cap. Her Auburn Doubledays aren’t playing baseball just yet.
“Gotta see baseball just as soon as we can,” Waters added. “It’s a couple months before [Auburn] opens, so this is how we get our fix for baseball.”
The Doubledays ballpark has a double meaning to Wendy.
“My husband proposed to me at the Doubledays Park 26 years ago,” Waters said. “Yeah, so there’s a special affiliation there.”
She would be doubly disappointed on this day.
With spring comes April showers, and imminent downpours pushed opening day back two more days to Saturday.
Don Adamczyk wasn’t happy with the call.
“Well, it’s disappointing,” he said. “If they were going to cancel it, they could have cancelled it a little bit earlier.”
Adamczyk’s been coming rain or shine to the ballpark for more than 20 years now. The weather doesn’t really affect him.
“I’d come if it was snowing, and they didn’t cancel,” Adamczyk said. “After a long winter, I want to get the cobwebs out. Brighter things to come.”
Rick and Jodi Franey were as giddy as school kids, skipping class to go to the game before the announcement played over the PA system. This was nothing new for Rick.
“Except when I was gone away for college and the military, I’ve been making every home opener since 1970,” Franey said.
When the announcement was made over the PA system, the disappointment was apparent on their faces.
“They just canceled?” Jodi Franey asked. Her expression immediately changed once the realization was confirmed.
“Bummer,” she said with a frown.
In the parking lot, Chiefs General Manager Jason Smorol was greeting fans as they exited, shaking hands of people he met, hugging those he’d seen before.
“I think it stinks,” Smorol said blankly. “Everyone saw the green coming (on radar), and we thought there was a window. We probably had 2,500-3,000 people show up. Unfortunately we couldn’t play.”
Those waiting for months had to wait two more days.
When Saturday arrived on Syracuse, it was a clear, sunny day. on Syracuse's North Side It also happened to be in the mid-forties.
Players can play in the cold, but not all fans want to sit outside in it. A fraction of the size of Thursdays crowd was in attendance for the new Opening Day.
“I’m disappointed,” John Anderson said. He’s not as much of a regular as some of the others that were in attendance, but enjoys coming to the ballpark for a little R&R.
“It’s a beautiful day,” he added. “I know it’s cold, but we still got our winter coats still hanging in the closets.”
You also could have brought your blanket. That’s what Jamie Coyne and his son Cameron did. Coyne remembers when Opening Day was a much bigger deal.
“Back in the day, when I was a kid, well back in MacArthur Stadium, this place would be filled,” Coyne said. “You had to get tickets in advance to come to an opening day game. Now, you don’t see that anymore.”
“It’s cold, but we’re glad baseball’s back!” he added.
Passing Time with a Past Time
The cold didn’t stop lifelong fan Bob Kelty. He’s gone to every opening day since the fifties, and he still umpires high school games.
“I’d say 60 years,” Kelty said. “Used to write an excuse to get out of school to go to the opening game.”
Kelty was in the parking lot on Thursday when he found out the game had been called.
“Back in the old days sometimes it would be a beautiful day for opening day,” he said.
What makes Opening Day so special that fans like Kelty and others keep coming back each year?
“Just the fact that around here, winter’s over,” Coyne said. “It’s the first sign of spring.”
John Anderson thought of some additional reasons.
“I mean look at these guys,” he said. “This is this guy’s first-up for the season. I mean these guys have been waiting, some of them just got pulled up, and this is it, this could be their chance. It’s a big day, a big deal for them.”
There was another reason.
“They’re always undefeated until the first game,” he added. “So there’s a lot of hope, you know? That’s why.”
[The Chiefs were undefeated, until a few hours later, when the Red Wings soured Opening Day with an 8-0 victory.]