Don’t call it a comeback

Nobody expected the Cleveland Indians to do much in 2011. Before the beginning of the season, I think most Indians fans were cautiously optimistic about the offense, assuming the offense stayed healthy, Travis Hafner produced more, Grady Sizemore came back at 100% from his microfracture, and a hitting fairy paid a visit to Matt LaPorta (or really, any right-handed batter in the Indians organization). I think Indians fans were cautiously optimistic about the bullpen, assuming everyone stayed healthy, Chris Perez continued his strong showing as Indians closer, and a couple of veterans like Joe Smith were able to guide the young Indians ‘pen. But I think Indians fans were decidedly lukewarm about the Indians starting pitching, even if everyone stayed healthy, Fausto Carmona kept his mind, and Justin Masterson grew some hair.

In short, there were a lot of things that could have gone wrong. As Indians fans, we’re accustomed to everything that can go wrong going wrong, so no one predicted the Indians riding a 9-game winning streak and a 14-game home winning streak to a 30-15 start. No one predicted them hanging on to first place for much of the summer, and then staying competitive until early September. The Indians fell short of the postseason this year, but there’s no doubt there was tremendous improvement. My year-end grades for the Indians, plus playoff predictions, after the break.

Baseball in the Twin Cities

A review of Target Field

Last weekend, I flew up to Minneapolis, Minnesota to meet up with two college roommates and friends and take in some baseball. As it happened, the Indians were in town, so it turned into an opportunity for me to see them in person for the only time this year. As it further happened, when we planned the trip and bought the tickets in July, Jim Thome was playing for the Twins, but by the time we arrived in Minneapolis on September 16, he was a Cleveland Indian again. This was also the first time I’ve visited a stadium that wasn’t Progressive Field more than once, so I was able to get a great look at Target Field, the newest stadium in baseball until next April. My review of Target Field, after the break.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose

Jim Thome

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.

Anyone can understand the way I feel

As I write this post from a beautiful 90 degree day in Columbia, it’s only been three years since this:

April 7, 2007: Blizzard, meet baseball. Baseball, meet blizzard. Everyone else, meet a bunch of guys with leaf blowers to try and clear the snow away.

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.