August 28, 2007

Wake Up and Walk Up

I'm wondering when the city of Cleveland is going to realize that there just might be something special going on down at Jacobs Field this summer. The Indians have been in first place more often than not this season, but the Tribe's attendance has been near the bottom of the AL statistics all year. And it hasn't even snowed since, what.....May?

The team deserves better than this from its city and its fans, but at this point I'm not sure what it would take to fill the ballpark for the stretch run. Monday the Tribe came home after a 6-3 road trip during which they won all three series, and had a 2.5 game lead in the Central Division. They were matched up against a tough division rival in the Twins, a team with a five game winning streak, playing with their post-season aspirations on the line.

There was something of an excuse for the small gathering (23,178) on Monday, since the game had been rescheduled from its original place on the schedule, but then an embarrassingly thin crowd of 24,784 showed up on a perfect evening for Tuesday's win over the sinking Twins. There's no excuse for that. What exactly does it take to get this town jazzed up?

I realize I have been on this same soapbox regularly in the past, (except when I'm criticizing the people who do show up for being insufficiently enthusiastic...or something. Tonight, for example, they clapped and made noise every time the scoreboard told them to. Sigh.) But I need to understand the apathy toward a first place baseball team in Cleveland, so I'm taking a crack at it here. I think I can identify at least a couple of factors in the attendance problem:

First, people remember 2005, (not to mention 1997 and 1995) when the Indians collapsed in the last 10 days of the season, and blew the playoff spot that was nearly locked up. Lots of Cleveland people share a weird sports mentality, and I am acquainted with several of this type. They are dyed-in-the-wool pessimists, conditioned to be so by decades of bad baseball, or more recently, by near-misses when the Indians do contend in the playoff chase. They learn to insulate themselves from disappointment by habitually expecting their teams to lose, (or at least saying they do) and forecasting gloom and doom if asked for an opinion.

I do not count myself among their number, by the way, the previous post notwithstanding. That's no way to live...and besides, these are often some genuinely unhappy people in other areas of their lives as well. So the last thing these people are likely to do is to buy a ticket to an Indians game on a whim...especially if the team is in first place around Labor Day. Hell, they might end up witnessing the game in which the Indians careen off the cliff onto the rocks below. And it'll probably rain too.

Another factor is the culture of Jacobs Field, right from its origins. The park's opening in 1994 coincided perfectly with the coming together of an exciting playoff team that went to the World Series a year later. The Indians had a run of over four full seasons worth of sellout crowds, a major league record that still stands. The point is that for years there was no such thing as walk-up ticket sales. Every single game was sold out.

If you worked downtown, deciding at 4 o'clock to go to the ballgame instead of getting on the freeway home was simply not an option. And there are not enough of us left who remember the 60's and 70's, when not only could you get a box seat five minutes before game time, you could probably have your own personal hot dog vendor too. Since the team's rebuilding process began after 2001, there hasn't really been a pairing of a playoff caliber team with the regular availability of good seats at The Jake. Now we have it, and both the Indians front office and the city leadership have done a poor job of putting butts in the chairs.

For the city that continues to flatter itself by claiming that its sports fans are among the very best in the land, it's time to put up.

UPDATE 8 29: Sweep!

Posted by dan at August 28, 2007 10:41 PM