‘Magic in the air.’ More than 3,100 fans show up for the return of the Lexington Legends.

The Lexington Legends made their return on a beautiful Thursday evening, leading to dense traffic on North Broadway on the northeast side of town for the team’s season opener at Legends Field.

A crowd of 3,137 was on hand for a Legends comeback attempt that fell short, 7-6, in 10 innings against the High Point Rockers on what Mayor Linda Gorton declared Lexington Legends Day.

A representative from the Legends said Thursday’s attendance was larger than any single-game crowd the team drew last season during the team’s short-lived rebrand as the Lexington Counter Clocks.

“The Lexington Legends are the community’s team,” Legends general manager Justin Ferrarella, now in his second year with the organization, said during the team’s broadcast, “and you can’t say much more than that. We’re just here to serve you. Have a good time, turn the world off for a little bit and enjoy yourself … this ballpark is magical, and today I think you can feel that magic in the air.”

The Legends’ opening day loss will result in another revived tradition — founder and senior advisor Alan Stein, who returns to the Legends for the first time since his retirement as president and chief executive officer in 2011, guaranteed at Tuesday’s media day that he would have to “pay some consequences” in the event that the team dropped its first game of the season. In the past, Stein has gone so far as to eat cat food.

“On the off chance that we don’t win,” Stein said, “I will be dyeing my hair for the rest of the home stand in blue and green. And if we don’t win, I’m gonna be so devastated that I might even dye my beard and my mustache that I’ve had since 1968.”

The Rockers got off to a strong start Thursday, scoring a run in the top of the second inning on what proved to be a tough day for Lexington starting right-hander Dustin Beggs, who played for the Kentucky Wildcats from 2015-16. First baseman Brady Whalen, drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, brought the crowd to its feet for the first time in the night with a crafty double play with the bases loaded to prevent more damage.

The Legends were held without a hit for more than three innings while the Rockers added to their lead in the fourth with a two-run homer courtesy of former UK standout Ben Aklinski. It was the first home run of the season for High Point, and it wasn’t the last, with former Lexington Counter Clocks player Connor Owings following Aklinski’s home run with a solo shot to give High Point a 4-0 lead.

Outfielder Kingston Liniak delivered the Legends’s first hit, a double, in the bottom of the fourth but was stranded on base.

Legends manager Gregg Zaun opted for a new pitcher at the top of the fifth with veteran righty Jeff Johnson, who returns to Lexington this season after stints with the organization in 2021 and 2022. The Rockers quickly loaded the bases and scored another pair of runs for a 6-0 lead.

Former Kentucky star Tristan Pompey, who played for the Wildcats from 2016-18, got the Legends on the board in the bottom of the fifth. Lexington added five more runs in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by a game-tying, 348-foot home run by Jesus Tavarez, the only returning player from last season’s roster.

But in the 10th, the Legends gave up a run on a pitch that eeked past the catcher and couldn’t muster another rally.

Following this weekend’s home stand and series at Southern Maryland, Lancaster and Charleston, the Legends will return to Lexington May 10 for a three-game series against Charleston.

The Rockers’ D.J. Burt, right, gets back up after nearly being hit by a hit during the Legends’ season opener Thursday.
The Rockers’ D.J. Burt, right, gets back up after nearly being hit by a hit during the Legends’ season opener Thursday.

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