Indiana Daily Student

Indiana baseball fans welcomed back after two-year hiatus with four-home run home-opening victory

<p>The IU baseball team celebrates a home run on March 1, 2022, at Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana will play Missouri State starting at 4 p.m. March 4 in Springfield, Missouri. </p>

The IU baseball team celebrates a home run on March 1, 2022, at Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana will play Missouri State starting at 4 p.m. March 4 in Springfield, Missouri.

It only took one pitch and the loud crack of freshman Brock Tibbitts’ bat to lift hundreds. 

For the first time in nearly two years, ticketed fans at Bart Kaufman Field celebrated the ball flying over the outfield fence from inside the stadium's stone walls. 

"It's great to be back," Bloomington resident Tom Vrough said. "I'm retired now, so I'll be able to come to pretty much all the games. Before, I used to (go) most on the weekends and sometimes during the week but not very often." 

Vrough was on vacation and not in attendance when former Indiana outfielder Grant Richardson homered in Indiana's 6-2 win on March 11, 2020. That game marked the final home game of the year before the rest of the season was canceled due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday evening, Vrough was one of the record-breaking 1,984 fans at Kaufman Field that saw three different Hoosiers hit four home runs in Indiana's dominant 15-2 home-opener victory over Miami University. Tuesday’s crowd surpassed Indiana’s previous record home-opener total of 1,809 fans set in 2016. 

Tibbitts, Perfect Game’s Big Ten Preseason Freshman of the Year, led the Hoosiers’ long-ball fest with a pair of home runs in back-to-back plate appearances. In the bottom of the second inning, he narrowly cleared the right-field wall for his first-career home run to give Indiana an early 3-0 lead. 

Tibbitts' second home run in the bottom of the fifth inning went over the left-field wall to extend Indiana's lead to 11-2. He struck the ball more emphatically the second time around, and the ball quickly cleared Indiana’s bullpen and exited the stadium. 

"It was a solid pitch, came in (and) put a good swing on it," Tibbitts said. "Watched it fly a little bit, and then the party started in the dugout." 

The celebrations were also happening amongst fans. Vrough said another fan nearby hollered that Tibbitts’ second home run's distance allegedly clocked in at 431 feet. 

Sophomore Kip Fougerousse also hit his first home of the season, a high fly ball that landed over the painted 400-feet marker on the wall in straight away center field. 

Junior Matthew Ellis kept his recent form of long-ball hitting going and homered in the double-digit victory, hitting his third home run this season in seven games. 

The Hoosiers’ four home runs were entertaining, but to Vrough, they were just a bonus. The primary reason he attended was because of freshman right-handed starting pitcher Luke Hayden. The Bloomington native made his first career start on Tuesday and tossed two scoreless innings in his first collegiate win. 

"He lives two houses (away) from me," Vrough said. "I've known him since he was born. I've kept close to him. That's why I had to come today — to see him pitch his first game." 

It was a special experience for Hayden, the hometown pitcher to start in front of the largest-ever home-opening crowd at Kaufman Field. 

"Getting my first start here in Bloomington was awesome," Hayden said. "There's so many fans, family and friends. No one's been to a game in two years, (so) getting all these fans out was awesome." 

Fans who attended on Tuesday likely exited the stadium sharing the same sentiment with Hayden after a near two-year wait. Especially Vrough, who was potentially one of the many the freshman pitcher thought of when he spoke about friends. 

“I was a little bit surprised (with the attendance numbers) with it being a 4 p.m. start, but you never know (about the kind of) weather this time of the year,” head coach Jeff Mercer said. “It’s a terrific fanbase. It’s something that we’ve talked about a lot with the players — understanding how much people care about baseball here.”

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