Before receiving a rousing ovation during introductions, Hafner, 35, said that he expected a positive reception from the Indians' fan base when stepping to the plate against his former team, but he acknowledged that his new employer might make it difficult for Clevelanders to send cheers his way for very long.
"I think it'll be good," Hafner said. "The fans have always treated me great. At the same time, I play for the Yankees now, so we'll see. I'm looking forward to it. It'll be good to be back here playing."
It didn't take Hafner long to draw some boos from the Progressive Field crowd, slugging a three-run homer in the top of the first inning off Ubaldo Jimenez to break a scoreless tie.
Hafner signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Yankees in January and said that his transition to New York has been an easy one. The Indians expressed some late interest in bringing Hafner back, but the slugger said he had already made up his mind about heading to the Yankees.
"I'd never gone through [free agency] before," Hafner said. "You really go into it not knowing what to expect. I didn't really hear much until January, and then it started to pick up a little bit. Once I found out that the Yankees had interest, it was a really good fit for me. It worked out well."
Even though he no longer plays for the Indians, Hafner said that he is pleased to see many fans in Cleveland excited about the team.
"They obviously had a great offseason, a lot of roster turnover," Hafner said. "They've been playing well. I think there's a buzz in town about the team. It's good to see them back doing well."
Hafner hit 200 home runs over 10 seasons with the Indians, setting club records with 187 homers and 650 RBIs as a designated hitter. He said his fondest memories are from Cleveland's playoff run in 2007, when the club defeated the Yankees in the American League Division Series before falling to the Red Sox in a seven-game AL Championship Series.
"I think being in the playoffs was obviously the big one that stands out," Hafner said. "The second half of that 2007 season -- going down the stretch, winning the division, playing in front of sellouts -- the fans were into it. Being in the playoffs, that was just a great experience."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.