Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Courtship of Cleveland

Despite the Red Sox breaking the 4-game winning streak on Tuesday night, Indians’ wins have been falling from the sky all year at a rate nearly on par with the rain that has been ubiquitous on the North Coast since seemingly early April. While some remain concerned about what the national media thinks of the Erie Warriors or fear a bottoming out of unprecedented levels over the next few months, perhaps it’s time to remember some words that ran in this space some time.

Nearly two months ago, some hack’s words came popping up on your computer screen, suggesting something that seemed absurd at the time, as it was written after the Indians had just won their 6th straight game on April 9th, running their season record to 6-2. Regardless, here was the “suggestion”:
It’s time to enjoy the ride that a group of young, talented players can take us on…
It’s time to fall for this team, full of potential and promise, small sample size considered…

There is a line in a Mark Twain quote that may be applicable to what Indians’ fans are experiencing, with the memory of past heartbreaks too close to ignore, when he wrote to, “love like you’ve never been hurt.”

Indians’ fans – despite the hurt that you’ve endured, it’s time to fall in love again…

That was the beginning of April and since that time, they’ve gone 24-14 and are 14 ½ games ahead of the Minnesota Twins (the prohibitive preseason favorite that has only 16 wins on the year) in their division. If you’re not “enjoying the ride that a group of young, talented players can take us on” or haven’t fallen “for this team, full of potential and promise”, well…your excuses have run out.

The Indians have swept the Reds and have split the first two games with the Red Sox (against Buchholz and Beckett) and this sense that falling in love is OK once more has become pervasive…and it’s not a feeling that’s limited to those who simply root for the team.

To wit, after Monday night’s improbable win against the Red Sox (and Mother Nature), SportsTime Ohio had Mike Brantley on as their post-game interviewee, on the strength of his game-altering AB to spur the team to victory. Upon the completion of his final answer, Brantley looked up above the cameraman to the obvious crowd that had gathered in his line of sight. With his earphones and microphone still on, but with the interview now complete, Brantley pointed past the camera, began to clap, and yelled, “Thank You Cleveland Fans”, before giving a one-man salute to the assembled crowd, pulling off the headphones and retreating from view.

The moment was so genuine, so unusual in this world of professional sports in which we occupy, and so revealing that it brought something into focus regarding the relationship between this team and this town – as much as Clevelanders are regionally programmed to be bitter and wary of success, this Indians team WANTS the town to love them. After every game in which the stands are filled, the game recaps are flush with quotes from players stating that they need to get the town’s attention and how they need to get people excited about this team.

Thus far, their efforts to entice their as yet unrequited love have been Herculean as the 35K that went to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario a few Fridays ago bore witness to a 9th inning walk-off from Hafner and the full house on Saturday saw Travis Buck play the role of the hero, presumably because it was his turn to wear the cape in that particular game. Following both games, players alluded to the idea that they fed off of the crowd and that they wanted to prove to the city of Cleveland that the team was worth their time, their attention, and perhaps even their affection.

Compare that to other teams in this city that either expect your love or manipulate the psychology of the city to garner goodwill, with a local media all too willing to fall in lock-step with their adulation or in toeing the company line. Conversely, this 2011 Indians’ team entered the season with jokes from the beginning of “Major League” (this guy here is dead…who are these effin’ guys) passing off as “analysis” of the team. Yet, here the Indians sit, with the largest divisional lead and the best record in baseball with a roster full of impossibly likable players just elevating themselves (and their team) into the elite of MLB.

While the likability of a particular group goes only so far (I thought the 1987 Tribe was a likable lot as well), the Indians’ players have the talent that is coming into full view as the season progresses. That talent has been accumulated and cultivated over a painful stretch of years for Indians fans, but if you don’t see Masterson (who has allowed 20 extra base hits in his last 103 IP, going back to last April) as a burgeoning ace or have trouble envisioning Asdrubal Cabrera as the special middle-of-the-diamond player that he is, well…you’re just not looking hard enough.

Perhaps the expectations from many coming into this season has colored the reality of what is happening as most are still fearful of the bottom falling out from the Indians, sure to sink in the Central. But given that they’ve already weathered injuries to three of their top six starters, survived TWO stints on the DL from Sizemore and have the cavalry sitting in Columbus (with the Clippers sitting on a record of 32-14…or a .696 winning percentage), doesn’t this feel like a special year coming together?

Doesn’t this feel like a talented group of youngsters who haven’t been told that they’re not “supposed” to be doing this, knocking off divisional leader and playoff contender one after the next as they cut a swath through MLB?

There is a terrific moment in the “Cleveland Rocks” video that chronicles the 1995 Tribe season in which Indians’ pitcher Orel Hershiser reflects back on the year, full of final at-bat victories and magic from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, as Hershiser tells a story of a conversation between he and another veteran on the team. To hear him tell it, he tells the other veteran that this young group of talented players (the 1995 team) didn’t realize that what they’re doing – winning games against Lee Smith and Eck with game-winning HR – isn’t how this “happens” in MLB and that these young players don’t realize how special the ride that they’re experiencing really has become.

Think of that in the context of this year and watch the reaction of this 2011 incarnation of the Indians, where the players seem to know what they’re doing is special…they just need the city to get on board. The team is like a small child, in need of the validation that what they’re doing is good, looking to the stands and cheering on a small group of fans after a post-game interview, thanking THEM for weathering the storm of not only Monday night but since the dark day in 2008 when the team was blown apart for “another day” and for “the future”.

Well, “another day” has arrived and if this team is having fun relishing in its arrival. One needs only to look at the reactions to these wins from the dugout and on the field to see that the team on the field represents not only a new day for Cleveland sports but, more importantly, that “the future” is now and is on display on a nightly basis.

The Indians are courting the city of Cleveland and the time has arrived for the North Coast to throw caution to the wind, put their collective heart out there, and return the love…


Ed Carroll said...

Amen. Beautifully written, Paul, as I couldn't agree more. While a return to the 90's-era lovefest between the team and the city is naive and most likely impossible, this team is proving that it deserves a little more support. They aren't just getting lucky, they're getting good. And even if this season doesn't end in the mythical championship, or even a playoff berth, the Indians are demanding to no longer be an afterthought.

YoniG said...

Where is this Cleveland Rocks video you are speaking of!? Great article by the way. I agree completely.

Paul Cousineau said...

It was a highlight video of the 1995 season. It looks like it's only available in VHS, but a quick Google search of the title and Indians gets you where you need to go.

Anonymous said...

NO one could write that any better, Paul.

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hou said...

hey aren't just getting lucky, they're getting good. And even if this season doesn't end in the mythical championship

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