By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — A special opening day for the newly named Cleveland Guardians began with a bang.
Not the one they hoped for, either.
As fans were buying the first available Guardians merchandise on Friday as the team officially transitioned from Indians after 106 years, a sign installed outside the team store at Progressive Field broke free from its mount and crashed to the sidewalk.
“Well, that’s an ominous sign,” yelled one onlooker.
A worker was on a ladder checking bolts when the sign snapped a small section of the ballpark’s stone exterior, fell about 15 feet and smashed into pieces. No one was injured.
Fans began lining up early in the morning to buy new caps, sweatshirts, T-shirts and other gear bearing the Guardians’ logos.
“This kind of exceeds expectations,” said Karen Fox, the team’s director of merchandising. “Having people show up at 6:30, and then we had 100 people in by 9:14. You can kind of see the store looks like we’re having a game today.”
Greg Foote and his 15-year-old son, Lucas, didn’t plan to be first in line, but it worked out that way. And as they waited to get inside, Cleveland’s furry mascot, Slider, rewarded them with Guardians’ stocking caps as gifts — perfect accessories on a frigid morning downtown.
Like others in the store, the Footes were getting gear to update their own wardrobes while also crossing off some Christmas shopping lists.
“These are for him,” the elder Foote said, clutching some items as his son playfully pretended not to notice.
After months of buildup and talk about the name change, Fox said the store opening made it all feel real.
“It was like when you were a little kid waiting for Christmas morning,” she said. “That’s kind of how it feels for our merch team and the whole organization. Just that, here we are, a new era and you can see all the fans that are excited about it, too.”
The team also changed its social media handles to complete the changeover, a process that began in June 2020, when owner Paul Dolan announced the major league team was dropping Indians in the wake of a social reckoning on racist names and symbols.
The Guardians ran into a legal issue along the way as a local roller derby team also called the Guardians filed a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement. The sides reached an amicable resolution earlier this week allowing both to use the name.
The team will continue to sell Indians gear — which nearly sold out at the end of last season — at the ballpark with profits going to youth organizations and causes, Fox said.
It’s going to take some time for Guardians to catch on with some fans, and there could be an extended period during which new jerseys and caps are as seen in the ballpark along with familiar, worn ones.
“There are still people who like the name Indians and they can still wear that here,” Fox said. “Really, it’s the team on the field, it’s the city of Cleveland that’s important.”
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