Each installment of this series is presented as a snapshot of a specific recollection involving the Cleveland Indians, along with thoughts on what (s)he was driving and the music (s)he was listening to.
Today, our lightly edited discussion is with Dan.
GREG: Dan, you’re one of the biggest Cleveland Indians fans I know. Which is remarkable, since you’re extremely knowledgeable with the other Cleveland sports, not to mention an expert on Buckeye football.
DAN: I guess baseball is my favorite sport for a few reasons…
First, because it’s the game I was introduced to earliest in my childhood. I think every Indians fan has a memory of the first time they walked up the ramp from the outer concourse at Cleveland Stadium, and saw that vast expanse of lush green grass in the outfield. It’s also the game… and the activity of going to games… that I most identify with my father, and our relationship. It’s the game he introduced me to, and taught me in the back yard. And that became the game that my five siblings and I then played for hours and days and summers on end, wearing dirt base paths into the grass of that yard. So baseball has a wide lead over any other sport in terms of nostalgia, and fond memories of youth and family and fun.
And we went to a few games a year. The Plain Dealer had their “Grandstand Managers” surveys several times a year, and if you clipped it out of the paper, filled one out and mailed it in, you got a free general admission ticket. So my dad would fill them out in bunches until he got enough tickets to take his family of eight to a game or two. Then there was the Cleveland Press “Straight A’s” ticket program. I never achieved at that level in school, but I had some brainy sisters who would routinely win several sets of tickets each. I rode along to Tribe games on their smarts for years.
GREG: Cleveland’s three pro teams really have separate vibes, don’t you think? I wonder if you think it’s a recent development. My impression is one’s favorite team is related in some way to its vibe.
For example: One thing that really struck me the night the Cavaliers won the championship was the lack of unruliness. I live in Cincinnati, and my boss was asking me about vandalism, etc. I was so impressed at how it was just all about joy. I expected some problems- I had joked with my wife that I could take a couple old couches up there and sell them for burning, if she wanted (I’ll save those for the next Buckeye title).
It seemed even the cops were expecting more problems that night, based on some of the radio communication I heard.
I think a Tribe championship would be very similar. Do you agree? Also, your point about the Indians being a shared, cross-generational thing is well taken. The roots are deeper (I shake my head at how close they were to moving in the 50s, 60s, and 80s). I think a lot of folks migrate to the Indians over time.
The Browns? I’d love a Super Bowl win, and I enjoy some adult beverages when I attend an NFL game. But NFL crowds are just so thoroughly drunk. A Super Bowl would be a mess. I envision looting, the whole thing.
DAN: Definitely different “vibes” for the different Cleveland teams, as you suggest…The Browns crowds of today are way different than the ones of yesteryear… younger, more female, probably more affluent by necessity with the price of tickets. I even noticed a big change between the crowds that left Muny in 1995, and the crowds that showed up at CBS in 1999… I’m sure PSL’s had something to do with it… but it also seemed similar to the mid-90s crowds at the Jake, with more people being there because it was “the place to be,” and not because they were big baseball fans. Every team in every sport needs the casual fans to show up, to pump up the attendance numbers, but we old men reserve the right to bitch about it.
I’m sure there are lots of “crossover” fans like me… we’ve been at every home Browns game for 30 years now, with only a handful of exceptions, but in August and September when the Indians are playing at the same time, I have my radio in my ear following the Tribe, and announcing scoring changes to anyone who will listen. But I don’t feel like I have a lot of company doing that. The fan bases are definitely different sets of people for the most part.
It’s hard to speak in general terms about any teams’ “fans” though. I always tend to judge them by who shows up for games, and I know that’s only a fraction of the “fans”, especially as it gets easier and easier to elect to stay home and watch games on beautiful flat screens and not fight crowds… pay for parking… walk two miles… and potentially get wet or freeze your butt off. (We’re giving the Browns another season or two to get decent or we will decide to stay home on Sundays… ‘cause we’re not getting any younger… and the atrocious football gets really tiresome.)
The Browns are still so far from a Super Bowl win that I won’t allow myself to even dream about it anymore. I do feel like the franchise is finally being run by adults now, though, and I remain a glass half-full kind of guy, even in their case.
GREG: How did you get to the stadium when you were a kid?
DAN: When my oldest sister got into her teens, my parents allowed her to supervise an occasional trip from the Heights to the Stadium on our own for weekend games. A short walk to the bus stop at Cedar Rd… a bus to the University Circle Rapid Transit… a train to the Terminal Tower… and a walk to the ballpark. Bleacher seats were 75 cents, and we were watching our hometown heroes battle the stars of the American League… Mantle and Maris… Harmon Killebrew… the Robinsons from Baltimore…Tony Oliva… Al Kaline… sometimes twice on a Sunday!
GREG: I was a suburban kid from Mentor. Never rode the RTA that I recall. Recently, a bunch of us went to an Indians-Tigers game- We stayed at a hotel at Cleveland Clinic and took the BRT bus- That was pretty easy, and fun. Took Uber on the way back. Drove through Cleveland Heights on the way to brunch on Sunday. When I think of the Heights, I think about Rocky Horror Picture Show. That’s where we watched it in its heyday.
So walk me through your RTA trip to the stadium a little more. Was the route along Euclid Avenue, where the BRT is today? Or along Chester Ave?
DAN: The trip downtown for us went like this… we lived on Coleridge, which ran between Lee and Coventry in Cleveland Heights. A 10-15 minute walk to the bus stop at Cedar and Cottage Grove (between Lee and Coventry) and then we took the bus to the Cedar Rapid station right at CWRU campus at the Circle. And by the “train” I meant the Rapid Transit to the Terminal Tower. I’m assuming that the route was approximately what the BRT route is now… along Euclid… but I have no memory of that to go on.
(We still take the Rapid downtown on days when we know parking will be at a premium, like when the Browns and Indians are both in town, competing with a big concert or something, but we’re coming in from the southwest these days… from the W. 150th station. I don’t recommend doing it on Opening Day, when a zillion other people have the same idea, and the trains are packed to the doors.)
The last thing I’ll say about why baseball is Number One with me… People ask me if I could have just ONE championship for the Browns, Indians or Cavs… which I would choose. I have always had to answer Indians… and it’s not that close. That tells me what my favorite sport is. Now that the Cleveland monkey is off our back after last year (with the Cavaliers), my answer doesn’t change. (In fact, the Cavs barely count for me. I was a high school graduate when they were created. No childhood connection at all there.)
As an aside…. I don’t share the local reverence for the movie “Major League.” Some guys I know can recite every line. A half a century of wandering in the baseball wilderness permits me no appetite for fake Indians glory. I still thirst for the real item.
GREG: I’ve seen “Major League,” and I enjoyed it, but I don’t own it. I never liked Randy Newman, and call me a thin skinned NEO guy, but I dislike that song at the beginning of the film.
DAN: I didn’t even remember that the Randy Newman song was in Major League. That’s another reason to reject it as legitimate Cleveland sports culture.
GREG: What movies CAN you recite the lines to?
DAN: Certainly Animal House, but also Blues Brothers… Stripes… The Jerk (see the pattern?). Also, Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, one of my favorites, when I’m in one of my “kids these days”/”get off my lawn” moods… I quote the line from the Maitre D’ at the fancy restaurant, when Ferris and his girlfriend rush past him into the dining room…”I weep for the future”.
Not a movie, but I can watch Seinfeld re-runs and recite line after line before they are spoken onscreen… which makes my wife crazy.
GREG: If you were asked for one particular memory involving the Cleveland Indians, what would come to mind?
DAN: I am occasionally asked what my favorite…or most memorable Cleveland sports moment has been, so I have had to give it some thought.
It was a strange day… October 3rd, 1995. The day the Indians were to play the Red Sox in their first playoff game in 40 years, just also happened to be the day the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial was set to bring in their verdict. The court proceeding was set for 1:00 p.m., and the little pub-restaurant where I routinely took lunch started to fill up as the noon hour ticked away. The place was packed when the word came down, and the near universal distress at the outcome served as an excuse for many of us to… well… extend lunch.
Let’s just say I might have spent the entire afternoon there, and I might have been more than a little inebriated when my buddy came to pick me up at 5:30 for the trip up I-77 for the game. The festivities were to continue once we got to our normal seats… first row behind the railing just behind the lower level walkway, halfway between home and third. And with the beery mood set, the game did not disappoint.
The Tribe trailed 2-0 after 5 innings, but rallied for 3 runs in the 6th behind a 2-run double by Albert Belle, who then scored on a single by Eddie Murray. Luis Alicea tied it for Boston with a home run in the 8th, and the game, which had begun after a one hour rain delay, went into extra innings well after midnight.
Everyone remembers the now iconic picture of Tony Pena, with both arms upraised as he rounded first base after ending the marathon in the 13th inning. Less well-remembered was that it took an 11th inning home run by Belle to match Tim Naehring’s blast for Boston in the top of the inning, to keep the good guys’ hopes alive. I recall looking at the clock after Pena launched that 3-0 pitch from Zane Smith into the left field bleachers, and as I vaulted over the railing to join the revelry. It was 2:08 a.m. Last call had been called hours before, and by this time I was coming to understand what the guy meant who first coined the term “splitting headache”. Undeterred, we went about hugging strangers, and literally dancing in the aisles.
That was the first of many playoff wins in that great run in the 90s, but for me, probably the sweetest. So far.
GREG: Hugging strangers. Maybe there is more overlap between the Tribe and the Browns than I realize.
When you vaulted the railing in that first 95 playoff win, did you get on the field? Or to another section of stands?
DAN: For the first 22 years at Jacobs Field, the seats my group had were in those small mini-sections just behind the main pedestrian walkway in the lower bowl. They went from well outside third base all the way around to the first base side where the club seat mezzanine level started… just about six rows deep… tucked up under the overhang of the upper deck. We were in the first row of that section… 259, which put us halfway between home and third… looking straight out at the mound. The best part… not including the leg room of being in the first row, and being able to put our feet up on the railing… was that they were under cover and out of the rain. Also out of the sun, of course (great in August; not so great in April). So when I vaulted the railing, it was onto that walkway, just 2-3 feet down from where we were standing, but also the area into which fans from all directions were spilling to celebrate.
All those seats were torn out between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, in favor of new restaurants and other food options… and a more “open” look back into the concourse area. We are now farther down in the lower bowl, and a little bit farther out down the third base line, just outside the Tribe dugout. Still very nice seats… and still a steal at $31 per, for season ticket buyers. (The same seat would cost you close to $80 if you bought it as a single-game seat… more for “premium” opponents like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc.)
GREG: What were you driving in 1995?
DAN: Oh, I was driving some forgettable Japanese-made sedan, and probably listening to some old Grateful Dead stuff… still grieving the passing of Jerry Garcia two months prior.
GREG: Didn’t you see the Grateful Dead several times? I seem to recall.
DAN: Yes… big Dead fans… both my wife and me. Too many favorite songs to list, but I was introduced to the band with the one double live album (there are several fitting that description) with Bertha, Mama Tried, Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down The Road Feelin Bad, Johnny B Goode, Wharf Rat, etc… and it remains a favorite.
Black Peter, from Workingman’s, is a favorite of mine and my sons’ (we took both kids to a Dead concert at Blossom when they were about 11 and 8) because I so agree with the sentiment it expresses… When I’m dying I don’t want all my friends coming around to see me… “Take a look at poor Peter… he’s lying in pain… now… let’s go run and see.” It’s a downer, but I love it.
I love all of Europe ’72… I think the best, cleanest live recording of theirs… so much of their live work- bootleg and otherwise- is so bad as to be unlistenable. Especially in later years, when their voices were pretty much shot.
We saw them at least a half dozen times… but we tend to romanticize the memory into more than that… Buckeye Lake, Cleveland Public Hall, Blossom more than once… but never “followed” them, like Dead Heads. I once claimed to a friend to be a Dead Head, and he responded “No you’re not. You have a job.” True enough.
We played some Dead in a band I sang lead in, just out of college.
GREG: Well, tell me about it!
DAN: It was through much of the 70s, until 1978 when our son was born. We played out at clubs around Alliance, Canton, Kent, Warren… It was country-rock type stuff… lots of CS&N, Eagles, Steely Dan, Poco, everything Neil Young ever did… Dave Mason, Marshall Tucker… some old Beatles, Byrds, Kinks, etc, but mostly 70’s rock of the time.
Our band opened for Brian Auger and the Oblivion Express at Mount Union…the peak of our meager career.
GREG: That’s a fun thing to have done. It reminds me of a guy at my work. He was once in a band that opened for an over-the-hill Iron Butterfly. Someone told him that since the not-yet-huge Led Zeppelin opened for Iron Butterfly in the 1960s, his band equalled Led Zeppelin. Haha.