I am a diehard Cleveland Indians baseball junky. I don’t know how it happened but I’d like to blame it on a recessive gene. If my dad and stepdad would have only raised me to be a Yankees fan, I’d have been a lot happier. Except this year.
This year the Indians are in the World Series and, for anyone who has somehow miraculously avoided the topic, are playing the even more pathetic Chicago Cubs. The Cubs haven’t appeared in the World Series since 1945 and haven’t won in 108 years. The Indians have lost three times since 1945 — 1954, 1995 and 1997 — and haven’t won the World Series in 68 years. If you are counting at home, the last Cleveland World Series win came three years BEFORE MY FATHER WAS BORN, which makes my dedication to Indians baseball even more asinine.
I have been to two other World Series games before last week. I went to game 4 in 1995 when the Indians lost to the Atlanta Braves and I went in 2013 when Boston and St. Louis duked it out. Both of those games were courtesy of my endlessly generous uncle and cousin, the latter of whom works for the Red Sox organization.
Monday morning my father called and said if I can get to Cleveland in time for Game 1 Tuesday night, we have tickets for Game 1 and Game 2. (Again, courtesy of my cousin for getting us tickets and my father for paying for them.) I hopped a red eye and found myself amongst the bedlam of downtown Cleveland, Ohio around 3pm.
Bedlam, frankly, is probably an understatement because on this night not only was it game 1 of the World Series, it was also opening night for Cleveland’s Cavaliers, the first team from Cleveland to win a national champion in any major sport since 1964, nine years before I was born. The Cavs got their rings. Progressive Field, where the Indians play, and Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavalier’s home, are across the street from each other. There had to be 100,000 people in a five block radius.
The first thing I noticed was the noise. There was sound coming from everything. There were vendors hawking their wares, cars excitedly honking their horns, music blaring from all corners. This one guy was driving up and down Euclid Avenue screaming out his window and honking his horn, looping around the downtown block to Tower City and back, over and over.
The entire city was in a daze. Nothing for 60 years and then this! The city was electric.
My dad and I went into the stadium early, about 6pm for the 8pm game. We walked around the stadium, the entire time getting colder and colder. The sun went down, the wind whipped up a little. I wasn’t dressed warm enough and was already starting to shiver.
The beer guys were all standing around yelling beer here. In one spot there were five or six of them, all with the same beers, yelling at the fans drifting by in small patches. Most people were still outside.
We stood and spoke with a beer vendor somewhere in deep centerfield bleachers for a while, watching as the stadium filled. We talked to him about the Indians, the Cavs, the Browns, about the business of selling concessions, how he does at it, where the best spots in the stadium are to sell.
We wandered past the team gift shop but noted how long the line was and didn’t go in. We looked at some of the smaller popup shops but didn’t buy anything but a program. We took pictures of ourself overlooking the field, played with the new Portrait mode features of the iPhone 7, and generally wasted time waiting for the national anthem.
Our seats were way up in the upper deck just on the third base side of home plate. They are actually excellent seats as you can see the entire field really well and the steepness of the steps means I could generally see the play even when everyone was standing.
The temperature kept dropping and the wind was whipping and I wished I had worn my heavy winter jacket.
They unfurled the largest American flag I’d ever seen and sang the National Anthem and took part in all the pre-game ceremonies. Then the first pitch and the crowd went insane. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it louder.
It didn’t hurt that the Indians dominated the game and won 6-1, but the fans around us made the whole thing fun. The buddies in front of us, all Catholics I’m assuming from the way they crossed themselves before every tense moment, had to strike a very specific pose otherwise the Indians wouldn’t get out of the jam.
The people four rows down would always stand a little too soon and stay standing a little too long, forcing everyone else to stand behind them. At first it was annoying with lots of calls to sit down but then it became whatever as the game wore on and the party in that upper deck continued.
A guy three rows down, also a stander, was so excited he kept buying beers and nachos for other people if they said or did something he liked.
The two people to our left were family friends of my cousins. The father had been a season ticket holder himself for years and had been at every Indians World Series since 1954. (Not a large selection — that’s four including this year.) I don’t think he was there in 1948, the last time the Indians won the World Series, but my memory could be wrong on that. He was alive as he said he was 11 for the 1954 game.
The two people to our right, a father and son, drove 2.5 hours just to be at the game — without tickets. He was hoping to buy a pair on the street so his 11 year old could see what the father had waited a lifetime for. The father said he had a pocket full of money and that that was what they were going to spend. He then said he had to dip into his other pocket. They were driving the 2.5 hours home after the game.
The people behind us spent the entire game screaming insults at the Cubs and their players. Of course the only ones who could hear them were us and the few rows around us, but that didn’t matter. Her best line, “Chicago: your toll roads sucks.” I think the guy three rows down bought her a beer for that.
It was a thrill going to this game with my dad. Between my dad and my stepdad and my uncle, I went to plenty of games as a kid.
Back then the Indians mostly stunk. They played in this massive stadium with almost 80,000 seats that was shared with the Browns football team. The most fans I ever saw for an Indians game was in the summer of 1986 when the Indians were actually pretty good and we went to a game with 65,000 fans in the stands. I don’t remember who won — the Indians played the White Sox by my memory — but I’d never seen that many people at a baseball game before and was pretty overwhelmed.
It was more likely we were at a game that was so cold and wet that we left in the seventh inning on opening day. The Indians were losing horribly. Or the game against Milwaukee with only 3,000 fans in the stands and you could hear your own voice echo through the stadium. I never saw a first pitch until I was a teenager. Neither my dad nor stepdad were good at getting anywhere on time.
Sometimes we’d sit in the bleachers, especially on those warm Cleveland afternoons in mid-summer. Other times we’d sit in my uncle’s seats. My uncle used to give us tickets a few times a year. Dad and I would stop at Lou & Hi’s deli in Akron, pick up pastrami sandwiches and massive pickles and eat like kings sitting high above home plate.
This game started at 8pm and by 11pm the wind was whipping pretty good and the temperature had dropped to the low 40s. With a wind chill it was probably in the mid- to low-30s up there. It was actually more comfortable to stand then sit as those cold plastic benches were just like sitting in snow. Luckily there was no rain.
Throughout the evening the stands thinned as fans ran for warmer locations around the stadium, and by the time Perez hit the home run in the eighth to seal the game, we had plenty of room around us.
The game was amazing, the scene was a massive party. I’ve never seen Cleveland so optimistic.
My dad and I had tickets to Game 2 also, but Game 1 was the special one, especially since the Indians won. I stayed an extra day and flew home on Friday, landing during the fourth inning and made it home in time to watch the last three.
As I write this the Indians are leading three games to two and the Series heads back to Cleveland. The stress is overwhelming. I am up all night trying to figure out what the Indians will do and or not do in this Series, excited one minute about how far they’ve gotten without three of the best players in baseball, believing this is the year my lifelong love, the Cleveland Indians, finally win the World Series. And then the next minute it is all doom and gloom, worried the the magic has worn off and the Indians will be the first team in over 30 years to lose a Series when up three games to one.
None of it makes sense of course. But here I am, celebrating fandom to its fullest.