GARY | Three retired members of the RailCats' 2013 American Association championship team were on hand at the start of Thursday's home opener at U.S. Steel Yard.
The received their championship rings and raised a flag in the outfield to signify the title.
Now, the 2014 season can start.
"You want to get it out of the way and start the new year," said current second baseman Zac Mitchell, who was the shortstop on the 2013 team. "(Opening night is) super exciting. ... the anticipation of seeing the fans and hoping to play well for them. It's always an exciting time."
In addition to the return of Mike Massaro, Adam Klein and Brian Kolb, the 'Cats honored the nine players currently on the roster from last year's team.
"You want to say every year starts new, but there's excitement until this moment happens to get welcomed back by the fans," manager Greg Tagert said. "As I've told the club, this'll be the last night you can kind of enjoy 2013."
Tagert has been through this before. The manager won Northern League titles with the RailCats in 2005 and 2007. After the '05 season, the turnover was similar with only a handful of returning players.
"Going into that '06 season, we didn't have a lot of returners. It was the same kind of scenario, a lot of guys retired and moved on," Tagert said. "In 2006, the whole spring training there were photos and little commercials we ran. Those nine guys there was so much and so much was talked about it, and I don't know if the new guys in 2006 got tired of hearing about it, but they thought this is a new year. I think what we've tried to do is try to balance it. We want these guys to enjoy every moment of it, but tomorrow will be the time to really move forward."
With the fanfare that comes with opening day, the RailCats were eager to start the game. First pitch was delayed by the ring ceremony and a national anthem sung by Blackhawks' regular Jim Cornelison.
"This clubhouse was filled at about 1:30 this afternoon," Tagert said. "Believe me, about a month from now, they won't all be here at 1:30, but today, a lot of guys here early, and it's an exciting time to be a RailCat. It's a reward for our fans, our players and the guys coming back tonight."