May 2, 2005

Rock Bottom

You know things are going badly for your baseball team when they have a day off and the word that comes to mind is "merciful". The Indians have stumbled out of the gate at 9-15, and every Tribe fan I know joins me in my head-shaking bewilderment and abject disappointment with what we have seen from them so far this year.

Everybody thought the Indians were capable of 85-90 wins this season, so it's not like I was some Pollyanna when I predicted 90 a month ago. And even six games under .500 wouldn't be so bad if the White Sox hadn't started out like a house afire. But they did, so it is. It was so important to get off to a fast start, if only to get the fans and the city into the team early. But we didn't, and they aren't. So it's early, but it's getting late.

Today G.M. Mark Shapiro spoke out to take some of the understandable heat off of Manager Eric Wedge. The question of whether or not we overestimated the talent of our players has been on my mind for a while now, and Shapiro was asked that in so many words the other day. He insists not, that the numbers these guys (presumably Hafner, Martinez, Belliard, Crisp, Westbrook, Broussard, Blake) put up last year would turn out to be pretty close to their seasonal averages for their careers when they quit this game.

The players seem to genuinely like playing for Wedge, and it's time for them to start winning some games for him. They're certainly not being inspired by the "fans". The record at home is a pathetic 3-8, but I've got to say that if I had to play in front of that lifeless collection of ticket-holding stiffs that has been the customer base at Jacobs Field for the last couple of seasons, I think I'd be playing uninspired baseball too.

I haven't gone back to see if I was bitching on this topic in the blog a year ago, but it's not a new development. I am fortunate to be able to attend about one of every five home games, and I am becoming more and more embarrassed by the growing numbers of disinterested, uninformed, uptight, emotionless people that populate the park with me these days. If that makes me a snob, so be it. I'd be happy to hear someone stand up and yell something totally inappropriate and stupid just to hear someone else with a set of lungs. Win or lose, it's like a morgue.

I love observing the copycat behavior that goes on at the ballpark when it comes to yelling encouragement to players or just applauding. I try to yell something positive to most every Tribe hitter, usually just "Let's go, Victor", or "OK, Coco", or whatever, not only because I sit close enough, and the crowd is quiet enough, for the players to actually hear me over the pall, but because I find that by doing so, a few other people summon the nerve to yell something themselves. When the majority of the vocalizing is being done by the beer vendors, it's not hard to notice the cause-effect relationship between my cheering and the immediate, almost reflexive response of some other folks who were apparently just waiting for an ice-breaker. This little game helps pass the time on those 41-degree April nights.

Old-fashioned, traditional applause is rarely practiced at all. When the home team takes the field for the top of the first, tradition dictates applause for the good guys. We've got nothin'. When the home team's hitters are announced by the P.A. guy before their first at bat, we've got nothin'. We've got me and the guy five rows down that I reminded it's OK to clap your hands together. When the opposing team has two men on, two men out and two strikes on the hitter, Yankee Stadium for example, is deafening in its encouragement for the Yankee pitcher to throw strike three. We've got nothin'.

That is, unless the brand new, colorful, all-digital scoreboards ringing the field put up their lame "On Your Feet! Make Some Noise!" message to the majority of dunderheads who otherwise wouldn't know enough to look up from their nachos, and we get some "on-cue" manufactured emotion for a few seconds. It is at this moment that I want to puke.

No, actually that comes later, in the eighth inning of a one-run ballgame, when The Wave starts.

The local conceit that Cleveland has "the greatest fans in the world" is just that. It's nonsense. And it hurts me to say so. Cubs fans, Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, Cardinal fans....it's not even close.

Even though the team got off to a 2-4 start in their season opening road trip, I had expectations that there would be some excitement for that first homestand. Of course the opener sold out, but I showed up for Game Two expecting 25,000 or so. 15,000 showed up, and it's been pretty much downhill from there, as the "greatest fans in the world" have already set the record for smallest crowd in Jacobs Field history twice this year. And the people who do show up are definitely not your father's baseball fans. I've been sitting in the same seat for 12 years now, and I've never seen the place so dead.

Sorry, but that rant has been building up in me for a while, and it had to come out. So, I'm an insufferable baseball snob. I'll live with that.

However, I refuse to join in the "Cleveland is Cursed Club" that is once again so popular around town. This city has long had a major inferiority complex when it comes to professional sports, and with the Browns having bottomed out, and the Cavs having choked, and the Tribe starting badly, it is once again trendy to descend into pessimism and talk "curse". Northern Ohio Live has a story on LeBron this month that speculates on the cover that James will bolt this backwater for the bright lights elsewhere.

I'm not buying into that stuff. It's only been 41 years. The Tribe will turn it around. LeBron is here for at least two more years. The Browns are under new capable management. They have their potential star tight end coming back off last year's season-ending injury.

Check that...

Curses.

Posted by dan at May 2, 2005 11:07 PM