Last night I went to my second Indians game of the year, the last home game of the season for the Tribe. Indians games are always a good idea, but ever since moving to South Carolina I try to get to a game every time I’m in town. I planned this visit home about a month and a half ago, but as the weeks passed and the trip got closer, the American League Wild Card race got closer and more interesting, and it became more and more evident that it’d be important to be at Progressive Field sometime this week. I decided it was important enough to leave a day early to give myself time to get to the stadium before the Tribe wrapped their home schedule.
I should mention that the night before last, the Indians led for most of the game before giving up a one-run lead in the top of the ninth on two White Sox solo home runs. But then in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and a runner on second, Jason Giambi, who is 42 and earlier this season slid head first into first base to stretch out at infield single, hammered a 1-1 pitch into the lower deck to give the Indians a 5-4 win. (Reason #1,425,241 why I love baseball: plays like this. Did I mention the score was 14-2 at the time?) It was the Indians’ 11th walk-off, which means that for any given home game this season, you had almost a 15% chance to see a walk-off win (want to see them all?). But it was last night that seemed to say, hey, you know what? We might actually pull this off. And it was for that reason that the Final Day crowd numbered 30,942, not a sellout, but a pretty good night all the same.
I’ve been to over fifty games at Progressive Field. Three of those were Opening Days, two more were playoff games; another was a division clincher and every game I attended before 2002 was a sellout. But last night was unique. I learned that the people at a last home game of the season are a vastly different crowd than Opening Day or even the playoffs. Opening Day, in a lot of ways, is a national holiday. After all the preceding pageantry and ceremony, the game seems almost secondary. People are there because it seems like a place to be that day (and if you can use it as an excuse to get out of a half day of work, why not)? Playoff games are also different: playoff fans are intense, but not necessarily knowledgable; excited, but not necessarily invested. If the Indians were to make the playoffs, the stadium would sell out for each home game. But the odds would be that a good portion of those fans hadn’t been to a game in 2013, maybe longer. Many of them only tune in once things get really interesting (sort of like me and the NBA).
But the last game of the season crowd was really interesting. These were knowledgable fans, who knew when to cheer (I give them credit for the standing ovation for Giambi, but I give them even more credit for the standing ovation for Masterson). When the scores of the Rays’ and Rangers’ games were announced, and both were winning, the crowd knew to boo, because those are both teams that would help the Indians out a ton by losing. There were big roars of approval for strikeouts in big moments. I didn’t ask around, but I bet most people weren’t at Progressive Field last night for the first time in 2013. The difference between the Opening Day crowd and the Final Day crowd can be summed up with the following statement: the Opening Day crowd is glad to have baseball back, but doesn’t really notice it’s gone; the Final Day crowd is dreading the offseason, dreading the long, baseball-free winter.
Last night felt like a final number for the Indians, a band on stage playing their final song of the set. But the way we were roaring, the electricity in the building and the intensity of what wasn’t a particularly close game, it felt like the crowd was demanding an encore. The Indians won last night, extending their winning streak to six overall, fourteen against the White Sox (which is ridiculous), and running their home record to 51-30. It was a typical Indians win: not entirely clean, not entirely efficient, but effective, and it got contributions from everyone.
I remembered last night that the Indians are more than a team who plays in Cleveland. Back when I was a kid I liked all the Indians, but to me they were always part of a whole and if they weren’t on the Indians I didn’t necessarily root for them. I remember assuming that as the fan, I cared the most, that if they lost it wouldn’t bother them much and they’d just try again the next season. But as the 90s and the yearly playoff visits faded into memory, I came to realize that careers are finite, and chances like this don’t come around all the time. Which is why I want this not just for the organization, the fans and the city of Cleveland, but for the guys on the team. For Nick Swisher, who turned down money from big market teams to play the hometown hero. For Brantley, Bourn, Chisenhall, Kipnis and Santana, who have yet to play in the postseason despite being super talented. For Jason Giambi, who could have retired a long time ago but loves the game so much and just wants another shot. For Terry Francona, who passed up more talented and more wealthy organizations to manage the Indians.
For now, the job at home is done and done. The Indians took care of business on their final six-game homestand, annihilating two teams that they should have annihilated. Their hard work has paid off: the Indians control their destiny. It’s up to them to keep that control.
Four games left. Roll Tribe.
A trip to Turner Field
Going into last night’s game against the Miami Marlins, the Atlanta Braves’ chances of winning were pretty good. First, they had won 13 games in a row, the last six on the road. Second, they were playing the Miami Marlins, a team that has played better of late but is still tied with the White Sox for the second-worst record in baseball. And finally, I would be in attendance. In my previous visits to opposing stadiums, the home team’s record is 8-5, which includes the 2011 Indians’ sweep of the Twins at Target Field. And in the last two games I saw (Detroit and Toronto), the home team’s starting pitchers threw complete game shutouts.
With Turner Field being so close to Columbia I’ve wanted to visit for a while, and after a few years of putting it off and a failed attempt earlier this year, a few friends from work and I finally managed to get out to Atlanta to see a Braves game. Read on for my review.
A preview of the 2013 Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians, to say the least, had an atypical offseason. During most offseasons, Indians fans gaze wistfully and briefly through the toy store windows at high priced free agents who are being wooed by richer teams, before coming back to reality and settling for secondhand free agents who are longshots at best. To the credit of the Indians scouting department, some of those longshots actually do pay off (Derek Lowe in 2011 springs to mind), but many of them don’t (Grady Sizemore, Mark DeRosa, David Dellucci. I had abusive nicknames in mind for Dellucci, but in light of the coming baseball season, I’ll hold back). But this offseason was different. Not only did the Indians land Nick Swisher after a somewhat-touching, somewhat-pathetic courting process, but they also landed Michael Bourn (how long until the Indians PR team makes their first Bourne Identity joke?), Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, and a plethora of other players on minor league contracts like Daisuke Matsusaka, Scott Kazmir and Jason Giambi.
It was really nice to see how Indians fans reacted to the Indians investment in their future. But will it be enough? Is this team good enough to contend? I’ll preview the 2013 Major League Baseball season, with particular emphasis on the Indians, after the break.
How the front office can fix the Indians this offseason
The Major League Baseball playoffs started over the weekend, which means that despite the fact that the Indians season has been officially over for a little less than a week, you could say that the Indians have been in offseason mode for months now. So rather than review this season, I’ll just jump straight into what the Indians should do in the offseason, after the break.
Day 3 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.
Despite winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays are a bit of a cursed franchise. They have three big issues, two of which are that they’re in Canada, and that they’re in the American League East. Canada’s national pasttime isn’t baseball; it’s hockey. Any baseball team in Canada has to be at least as good as the worst hockey franchise in the area, or there’s not much interest. The Montreal Expos, for example, had too many losing seasons and were forced to move. The Blue Jays have been playing well for the last few years and have won two more World Series than the Expos did, not to mention a few pennants and division titles, so they’ve been able to stave off attrition. But their task seemingly gets continually harder, as they’re in the same division as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and recently, the Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles. There’s not a weak team in the division, but someone has to lose, and the Jays, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, have just as much a shot to win the hotly-contested division as to lose it.
The Blue Jays’ third problem is their stadium. The SkyDome was completed in 1989, and despite being only twenty-three years old, is the seventh-oldest active stadium in baseball. Of the stadiums that are older: Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are classics; Anaheim Stadium and Kauffman Stadium have aged well; the Athletics have been trying to relocate from Oakland Coliseum for years. The SkyDome (now called the Rogers Centre) is in that unlucky middle area between outdated and in need of replacement. As a twenty-three year old stadium, the Rogers Centre will probably not be replaced for many years, but because it was completed just before Camden Yards started the ballpark renaissance, the stadium looks and feels dated.
Day 2 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1.
“Oh, Justin Verlander is pitching.”
I had been looking up the starting pitchers for the evening’s game, remembering that I hadn’t seen a Justin Verlander highlight on SportsCenter in a few days, and was pleasantly surprised to see that we’d get to see him.
“Who’s that?” my sister asked. Here’s how I described him:
He’s a really good starting pitcher for the Tigers. He throws 100 MPH all game long, so you’ll either see him pitch amazingly tonight or this will be the night his arm finally falls off.
One of those two things happened, and since Verlander is pitching against the Indians tomorrow (the 24th), you can assume it’s not the latter. And besides that, I got to see another really cool baseball stadium. My review of Comerica Park, after the break.
Day 1 of the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey
This past weekend, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There’s a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I’m making this a series of posts called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey.
Last Thursday afternoon, I went to my first Indians game at Progressive Field in more than a year and a half. I had vowed that 2003 would be the last time I missed a game. But as they often do, things happened, and last year, I never got to see the Indians at Progressive Field last year (although I did see them in Minneapolis). So I was happy to see the Indians at home, and I was even happier that they managed to come back from a 4-0 deficit and walk off with a win.
But last Thursday was also the start of a controversy. Chris Perez, the Indians closer, entered the game in the top of the 10th with one out and immediately allowed a single and a walk. The fans that remained of the 12,894 tickets sold booed him, before Perez found the strike zone and got the last two outs of the inning. On Saturday, after a much less eventful appearance which resulted in a save, Perez ripped the fans that booed him, saying:
I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a base runner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It p****s me off.
And you know what? I agree with him.
Last night, Jim Thome clubbed his 600th career home run into the bullpen at Comerica Park. As he rounded first base, the man who has almost 100 more home runs with the Indians than any other Indian, the man who is tied for the all-time lead in walk off home runs, the owner of the 17th- and 34th-best career OPS and OBP, respectively, and the man with the eighth most home runs in baseball history, Jim Thome simply pumped his fist in the air and ran around the bases. As he got to home plate, it was tough to tell who was happier: his teammates or his family. Thome smiled too, but it was one of his trademark, humble smiles that really embodied his chase towards 600 home runs: just a great guy who happened to be a great hitter that stuck around for a while.
What do you do when a team you didn’t care about 5 months ago is playing for a national championship? You write a running diary of course! Read on, after the break.
As I write this post from a beautiful 90 degree day in Columbia, it’s only been three years since this:
My, how times change.
In any case, I’m excited for Opening Day. Heck, who am I kidding? I was excited for Opening Day back in February, which explains why I wrote my 2010 season preview back on February 18. Much has happened in those six weeks since spring training has ramped up, progressed, and is now winding down to a close, so here are a few things I’m excited about as the season begins.
- Baseball season means summer. Except in South Carolina, apparently, where summer went ahead and started without waiting for baseball season. This is heresy. I mean seriously, what’s opening day without snow, freezing rain, slushy streets and players who want to be there less than the fans?
- The Indians won’t be that bad. (I hope.) Overall, I’m pretty encouraged by what I saw in spring training from the Indians. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner look good, and while I’m not convinced Jake Westbrook will look good against the other aces in the league, I think he’ll do okay in most of his starts. Fausto Carmona has looked solid too, and if he can keep up this form in the regular season the Indians will be in much better shape (and much better shape than I was hoping for).
- Manny Acta wasn’t my first choice, but he’s growing on me. He’s already shown he’s not afraid to try some new things (batting Cabrera leadoff, starting Michael Brantley instead of a veteran left fielder) and he seems to relate to the players well (particularly the Hispanic players).
- The season gets underway with a Sunday night game between the Red Sox and Yankees. Look, I bleed scarlet and grey, but the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is without question the best in sports. It’s great theater every time these two storied teams get together and this year, with the Yankees defending their 27th World Series title, it should be even better.
- Jim Thome is no longer on the White Sox. Or the Dodgers. Or any other team that I hate. He’s on the Twins, who are my favorite team in the AL Central besides the Indians, and it’ll make it easier to root for one of the classiest guys in baseball this year. If it’s not the Indians this year, I hope the Twins win the World Series. (Unfortunately, since the Twins lost Joe Nathan for the season, this will probably be quite difficult.)
- Ozzie Guillen has a Twitter account. I may not like the White Sox (I blame A.J. Pierzynski), but I do like Ozzie Guillen both for his management style and his Michael-Richards-but-with-less-racism “what will he say next” attitude. Joe Maddon (Rays manager) is also on Twitter, but his tweets are all about “preparation” and “getting in the right place mentally”. I have a feeling Ozzie’s will be less politically correct (and therefore more hilarious).
- Bobby Cox is managing his last season. The all-time ejections leader is hanging it up after this season and I hope he goes out with a bang. He’s definitely a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of baseball’s best managers (even if his choice in teams is abysmal).
- I will finally see PNC Park. PNC Park is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and is widely regarded as one of the prettiest parks in baseball. I’m personally ashamed I haven’t been there yet, having lived a mere three hours from the city for most of my life. This year, on Memorial Day weekend, no less, that will be corrected.
And frankly, one of the things I love about Opening Day is that for one day, everyone’s equal. There is no head start, there is no entitlement, everyone starts at 0-0. Optimism springs eternal. So while the rest of the season I’m happy with around .500 for this team, on Opening Day, we’re allowed to dream.
Will the Indians win the World Series? Probably not. But maybe. Because on Opening Day, everyone starts fresh. So maybe.