If the weathermen had their way, the Michigan baseball team wouldn’t have even taken the field for its home opener against Oakland on Friday. All week long, forecasters predicted near-freezing temperatures, high winds and snow showers for Friday afternoon’s first pitch.
But when senior Jim Brauer took the hill for the 78th Opening Day at The Fish, the conditions were near-perfect for late-March in Ann Arbor. The sun shone brightly from centerfield, the grass was relatively dry and light breezes did little to influence play.
With the weather cooperating, the Wolverines cruised past the Golden Grizzlies, winning 10-0. Brauer was dominant in his final opening day at The Fish, scattering four hits over six scoreless innings of work. Redshirt freshman Clayton Richard picked up where Brauer left off in the seventh, pitching three hitless innings in relief to lock up Michigan’s fifth straight home-opening win.
“It felt good, with better weather than we expected,” Brauer said. “You just want to throw a lot of strikes against a team that’s not hitting very well like that.”
The comfortable conditions brought plenty of fans to the park and the stadium’s bleachers were mostly filled on the third-base side behind the Michigan dugout. The attendance total was listed at 614, the largest opening day figure since the 2000 home-opener against Minnesota drew 800 fans.
And this year’s opener featured a surprisingly large student-fan contingent, who added some life to the traditionally docile crowd. The students initiated “C-YA” chants whenever Oakland made a pitching change and heckled the Golden Grizzlies after each run the Wolverines put on the board.
“This is the first (baseball) game I’ve been to since I’ve been at Michigan,” LSA sophomore Sam Rosenblatt said. “I’m just trying to get involved, help the team out, give them a boost.”
In the dugout, the Wolverines noticed the changes in the crowd.
“(The home crowd showed a) big difference from last year,” redshirt junior pitcher Drew Taylor said. “We had some numbers for some games, but, for a nonconference weekend, we would not have had this crowd. They put together some chants, and we’ve never really had that before, so that was awesome. It really got the guys going — guys were talking about it on the bench.”
Built in 1927, The Fish lacks the amenities of more modern collegiate ballparks. Wooden benches are the only seating option, neither team’s dugout connects to its locker room, and the restrooms can only be reached by exiting the stadium. But for fans experiencing The Fish for the first time, the natural charm of the old park was undeniable.
“It’s like Fenway Park,” LSA sophomore Dan Mickelson said. “It’s old, but it’s awesome. Everyone’s got to come out here at least once in their time at Michigan.”
While The Fish certainly remains an old-time ballpark at heart, it made a significant leap into modernity when it unveiled its new lights for the 2005 season. In previous seasons, the Wolverines played only day games at home and were forced to suspend games once darkness set in. But the lighting fixtures — which were installed after last season — now enable Michigan to play at any hour. The lights came on for the first time during the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.