Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Go Tribe...Then and Now

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, I am a dedicated and loyal fan of all professional sports teams from Cleveland. But my passion when it comes to sports is baseball. That makes me the #1 fan of the Cleveland Indians in the entire state of Pennsylvania. As a kid, growing up an Indians fan was a true test in perseverance. To be as honest as can be, the Tribe just stunk back in those days. It was pretty awful. In fact, it was such a known fact of how bad the Indians were that Hollywood made the Major League movies as a spoof on what would happen if the Tribe ever started to actually win.

I remember as a kid going each year to a twi-night double header at the old Municipal Stadium on the shore of Lake Erie. The stadium seats over 80,000 as that was where the Cleveland Browns played football as well. I can remember times when I was one of only about 500 fans total in this 80,000 seat monstrosity. In fact, the only time they ever sold out a game was the infamous “nickel beer” night which produced such pandemonium that they had to stop such ludicrous special events. Yet, I followed the Tribe religiously all season long. Each season started with an optimistic attitude of “maybe this year” and then consistently ended by watching the Indians finish in the cellar of the old American League East Division year after year after year.

There were a precious few highlights. I remember when Frank Robinson became the first black manger in the Majors and was one of the very few player/managers in the history of the game. In fact, as memory serves, he hit a home run his first time to the plate as the Indians player/manager. I remember watching on TV as Lenny Barker pitched a perfect game. I remember when rookie sensation Super Joe Charbonneau won the American League Rookie of the Year award. And then there was the night that Gaylord Perry got caught throwing the “spit ball.” And frankly, I will never forgive Pete Rose for running over my favorite Indian, catcher Ray Fosse, in the All Star Game ending Ray’s career. I was actually part of Fosse’s fan club until then. After that I became a member of the Oscar Gamble fan club. I also admired players on the team like second baseman Duane Kuiper, center fielder Rick Manning and first baseman, Andre “Thunder” Thornton.

Then there were those special years about a decade ago when the Indians built through their farm team a quality ball club which landed them into the World Series twice. Once they lost to the Atlanta Braves and then they fell in seven games a couple of years later to the Florida Marlins. But those years brought us exciting players like Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Loften and Sandy Alomar, Jr, all led by manager Mike Hargrove.

But this year has been a special treat. After a disappointing finish last season, the Indians were picked to end this year in 4th place behind Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota. But to my delight and everyone’s surprise, the Indians have now clinched the American League Central Division. Unfortunately, to win the Pennant, they have to get by the likes of the Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Can they do it? I’m not sure but I can guarantee you this…nobody in PA will be rooting for them more than I will be.

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