As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. Our “Best of 2016” makes a stop at the biggest party of the summer.
Most people couldn’t take a Sharpie and some poster board and turn it into $200,000, but most people aren’t Nate Crowe.
When the Cleveland Indians fan made a somewhat silly sign on a whim last April, he had no idea he’d be creating a movement—and a six-figure donation for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
But that’s exactly what he—and Party at Napoli’s—did.
Crowe will be the first to tell you: Party at Napoli’s started in the most unlikely of places… a group text.
“Nothing good ever comes from a group text,” Crowe told WFNY. “We’ve all been there. Some poor soul starts up a discussion and the next thing you know, your phone is dead because your neighbor’s cousin’s roommate is sending out brownie recipes to 15 people.”
This time, however, something was different. As Crowe and company were making plans to attend the Friday, April 20 home game against the Seattle Mariners, they began discussing ways they could “add some fun” to the early-season, overcast game.
“I came up with the idea of making an oversized sign that the players could read from the dugout,” Crowe said, reflecting back. “We discussed which players and media personalities would get the biggest kick out of it.”
First basemen Mike Napoli seemed like an obvious choice for Crowe, as did the idea of hosting an after-game victory party at Napoli’s home. A giant sign bearing “Party at Napoli’s” in bold, capital letters was quickly concocted and that night, armed with free tickets obtained through the Indians’ #TribeLive promotion, Crowe settled into Progressive Field’s Right Field District.
“One of the hidden, unknown, and under-utilized treasures about #TribeLive is the unlimited possibilities its location provides,” Crowe said of the spot he secured that night. “The location is visible from all around the ballpark, and from most angles on TV.”
That high visibility proved instantly successful. At the start of the game, Crowe held up the sign and got the attention of those sitting around him. Soon after, tweets and pictures from several sections around the ballpark tagged with #TribeLive and #PartyAtNapolis began popping up on Twitter. Before long, fans started to make their way over to Crowe, asking to take pictures with the sign. Known as @HipsterTito on Twitter, Crowe’s popularity—and knowledge of the sign’s presence at the ballpark—spread quickly.
“One of the more memorable moments of that night was at last call,” Crowe said. “I followed a beer vendor around shouting ‘LAST CALL NOW, NAPOLI’S LATER!’”
A few days later, as the phrase continued to gain popularity on social media, Indians broadcaster Jensen Lewis weaved “Party at Napoli’s” into a post-game recap that featured a three-run blast from the first baseman. In-game announcer Andre Knott used it as well, and Crowe knew it was time to take Party at Napoli’s to the next level. Using iron-on lettering and an $8 T-shirt from Target, he created a custom-designed tee for Napoli himself. Crowe passed it to the team in hopes that they’d get the shirt into Napoli’s hands.
Sure enough, they did. After hitting a game-winning, walk-off sacrifice fly against Kansas City on June 2, Napoli was interviewed by Knott for the team’s post-game show. During the interview, the camera panned wide, revealing that he was wearing Crowe’s custom shirt. At the conclusion of the interview, Knott inquired about it. Napoli’s on-air response was simple and perfect. “Party at Napoli’s, baby!” That well-timed appearance resulted in a huge response on Twitter—and in the Tribe clubhouse. Shirts weren’t just wanted by fans and players alike, they were needed immediately.
“Napoli loved the idea to make the shirt available to everyone,” Crowe told WFNY, “but made his approval contingent on portions of the proceeds going to charity.”
After consulting with a few local vendors, the team reached out to Crowe about working with an MLBPA-approved manufacturer, 108 Stitches, to mass-produce a Party at Napoli’s shirt. Crowe worked closely with the team and the designers from 108 Stitches on the shirt’s look, making sure to match the original theme and lighthearted nature of the phrase.
Matching Napoli’s generosity, Crowe, the father of three small children, insisted his portion of the proceeds also be donated to Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. As shirts were created, shipped and flying out of the Indians Team Shop faster than they could be stocked, Crowe didn’t make a dime.
“My oldest son was born two-and-a-half months premature. I remember him being three pounds and holding him in the palms of my hands. I also remember the two months of hospital bills and $2,000 per shot of steroids for him to grow and develop,” Crowe said. “Adding to Napoli’s choice of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital was such a natural choice for me. We live in such a cool world where having a good time can help somebody else join that fun. That’s enough of a royalty for me.”
Four short months and 9,000 sales later, Party at Napoli’s had raised more than $120,000 for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. Shirts were selling out in less than a day. Fans from around the world were reaching out to @HipsterTito. Indians players—and opponents—had embraced the movement and were wearing the shirt with pride. Party at Napoli’s was everywhere, and Crowe found himself in a perpetual “pinch me” moment.
“It really wasn’t ‘supposed’ to happen that way, but wow did it ever,” Crowe told WFNY. “It was unbelievably special to hear it mentioned on TV, to see the shirts around town or meet absolute strangers from all over who just wanted to join in on the fun. Getting to meet Mike and introduce him to my immediate family was an incredible experience.”
After spending all season talking about a Party at Napoli’s, the only logical thing for Crowe and the Indians to do was to throw one. On Sunday, September 4, following their game against the Miami Marlins, the team hosted an exclusive event at the ballpark’s Corner Bar. For $75 a ticket, fans were given the opportunity to interact with Tribe players, enjoy light refreshments and a cash bar, and receive a limited-edition red Party at Napoli’s shirt. All proceeds benefited Cleveland Clinic Children’s, VeloSano, and Cleveland Indians Charities.
Napoli and several teammates took turns tending bar, including rookie Tyler Naquin, eventual Gold-Glove winner Francisco Lindor, utility man Carlos Santana, and veteran Coco Crisp. The Indians hosted a raffle to further expand the evening’s charitable donations, and one fan paid $200 as a bar tip to Napoli if he’d call the fan’s wife and introduce himself—which he gladly did.
Crowe described the scene as “jovial,” with the team riding high following a game-winning single by Lonnie Chisenhall earlier in the evening. That wave of positivity carried the team through the rest of the season and into the playoffs , when a special-edition Post Party at Napoli’s shirt was released.
The Indians’ season didn’t end on the note fans were hoping for, and T-shirt sales have gradually slowed since that chilly first week in November. While a check has yet to be cut for Cleveland Clinic Children’s, the final tally for donations raised by Party at Napoli’s is closing in on $200,000. For Crowe, countless thanks, thoughtful tokens, and an invitation to speak at the year-end review for the hospital’s Philanthropy Institute have made the journey even more worthwhile.”The folks at Children’s said it was the largest charitable donation tied to a product they’ve ever received,” Crowe said. “It’s mind-blowing when you put that into perspective.”
With Mike Napoli’s future in Cleveland still very much up in the air, Indians fans can’t necessarily count on seeing his well-known beard and heavily tattooed forearms guarding first base next season.
What we can count on, however, is the memory of a movement that no one in Cleveland is soon to forget. Party at Napoli’s is proof that a well-connected fan base—and a team that takes notice—can take something small and build something incredibly big and meaningful. One by one and shirt by shirt, we fans raised nearly $200,000 to benefit children in need—and that’s a party worth celebrating.
Party at Napoli’s shirts are still available here.