Indians

Thank You, Jose and Frankie

In the afterglow of the Indians’ 22nd straight victory, a thrilling 3-2 comeback job capped off by Jay Bruce’s 10th-inning single, I feel compelled to say thank you to two Indians in particular. Thank you, Jose Ramírez and Francisco Lindor. Thank you for—well, what is it that I’m thanking you for, exactly? Let me try to explain.

I used to love baseball, though I never actually played it growing up. I played softball because, I don’t know, that’s what I got signed up for when I was six, and I didn’t have an appreciable amount of personal agency until long after that. But even though I never played proper baseball, I still loved it.

How couldn’t I? I was a Cleveland kid in the ‘90s, man. I’m sure everyone romanticizes the time of their youth, but being in elementary school circa 1995 truly was the best. The internet existed but hadn’t yet conquered. Nintendo 64 was about to come out. There was this one snowstorm where the snow drifts were as tall as trees and we got four days of a single week off of school. And the Indians made literally every game feel winnable.

If you’re reading this, you know how that last bit went. Those Indians teams taught me what a juggernaut was supposed to look like. They made me understand the idea of possibility, of potential. They proved to me that going to a game and cheering was a worthy venture, because when they scored, you felt like you were part of it.

And you were part of it. You were there. Some of my happiest earliest memories were of the Indians, and of being at the Jake. I remember being there, sitting way up in the upper deck, when Albert Belle hit a walk-off dinger against the Baltimore Orioles. I don’t remember the score, the date, not even the year. But I remember being there. And I knew Albert Belle was going to win the game. I knew it, and you knew it, and every kid watching knew it. Even though we knew it, it was still organic when he did it. It felt like a predetermined surprise, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, as people do if they’re lucky, I got older. As baseball teams do if they’re unlucky, the Indians got worse. They didn’t get worse right away, and rarely were they flat-out bad, but they got worse. And as I aged further into cynicism, having been born with a silver playoff berth in my mouth, one can understand how I might have drifted away from the Tribe, and from baseball in general. And so I did.

I mostly stayed away for a good long while. I would keep an eye on the standings and try to keep up with who was who, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch, say, a Tuesday night game against Oakland in July. Even during the runs in 2007 and 2013, I was never quite all the way back in. I was there, but I felt more like a tourist than a diehard; my cap may as well have had the price tag on.

But last year, and this year, and this team, feel different. And when I say they feel different, I mean they feel familiar. They feel like those teams I remember. Many of my actual memories have long since faded and been replaced by watercolor replicas, but this baseball team reminds me of the teams I grew up on—the very teams that first embodied what a baseball team even was.

And it’s not just because they’re winning. It’s not just because of The Streak. It’s absolutely because they’re winning, and because of The Streak, but the victories serve more as medium than message. It’s how they’re winning that has won me, and judging by the attendance, quite a few others, back over.

You can’t watch guys like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and repeat the refrain that baseball is boring. I mean, you can, but you’d be being obtuse and/or a dick. Jose and Frankie bring a sort of backyard joy to the game that has infected the locker room and, it seems, the city. They play like you would at recess, when every second was precious and each moment with the ball an opportunity. They play with an absence of fear and a surplus of courage, and that’s what I admire most about them.

Consider the late stages of Win No. 22. Lindor came up with two down in the bottom of the ninth, and he was soon down to his last strike against All-Star reliever Kelvin Herrera. Whether you were in the building or watching at home or listening on the radio: How did you feel? Were you nervous? Were you forlorn? My guess is you weren’t, and I say that because I wasn’t. I didn’t necessarily expect a hit, but with Frankie at the dish, I was as confident as could be. He has this coolness about him, this grace to his motion that puts me at ease. Lindor on the diamond is as free and natural as an eagle in the sky. If he can’t come through, I figured, then hell, it just wasn’t meant to be. Twenty-one is still pretty good.

To hell with pretty good. Frankie chased down a 96-mph fastball above the belt and banged it over Alex Gordon’s head in left field. It caromed off the 19-foot wall and back toward the infield, giving Erik Gonzalez, who had pinch-hit for Francisco Mejia—how about Tito using that 40-man roster, eh?—ample time to score from first. Tie game.

Smash cut to the bottom of the tenth. Jose Ramirez comes to the plate with two singles, a double and a walk already to his name. He stands all of 5-foot-9, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t the toughest son of a bitch in the league when he’s in the batter’s box. You never feel cheated when you watch Jose, or this team at large. They go balls through the wall. Such a style doesn’t come without risk—get well and be careful, Bradley Zimmer—but who goes to their grave wishing they hadn’t gone for it?

To that end: Jose sends a 1-1 pitch into right center for a solid base hit. A pretty good way to start the inning, especially with Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce due up. But like Frankie before him, Jose said “to hell with pretty good.” He pulled the sort of move only the fastest and/or biggest-balled kid in Little League even thinks about, taking second base on a would-be single to the center fielder. You don’t just see that kind of play, because players don’t just make that kind of play. Most players, anyway.

I could go on, but you get the point. It’s cliché, but Jose and Frankie and the rest of this team play the right way. They play the way you like to think you might have if you ever made it to the show. They play the way you’d want your kids to play. They play hard but unburdened, with nary a hint of hesitation. They play like their careers have an expiration date, which they of course do.

But we have expiration dates too, you and I. For now, I’m lucky enough to be able to write this and you’re lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on how charitable your view is) to be able to read it. We only get so much time on this rock, and we have chosen to spend some of that time watching baseball. To spend it watching Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor is to spend that time in the best way possible.

So thank you, Jose and Frankie. Thank you for making the most of our baseball time. Thank you for your perspiration and for your inspiration. Thank you for reminding me how wonderful a sport baseball can be. Thank you for showing me anew the beauty that is excellence coupled with exuberance. Thank you for creating memories and stimulating conversations. Thank you for thrilling my friends and my family and my countrymen. Thank you for being you. May we all strive to live the way you play.

  • mgbode

    You can’t watch guys like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and repeat the refrain that baseball is boring.

    THIS!

  • formerbrownsfan

    Beautifully written. Following this team is everything I want as a sports fan. A team easy to like and root for. History being made. Everyone happy and having fun. Watching them has become such a joy. I love the Cavs, however this team may have a better chance at the next championship and they don’t have the drama and ego’s that perpetually follow the Cavs. Also here’s this, https://mobile.twitter.com/AllaireMatt/status/908523416168337409

  • Allen P

    Welcome back, Will – and beautifully written. That single-turned-double absolutely summarizes JRam’s impact on this team.

  • TimCleveland

    Fantastic read, and great sentiments about those 90s Indians and what it meant to be watching/rooting for the Tribe then and now. The picture of Omar and Robbie Alomar working some magic in the infield was an inspired add that really created that right amount of nostalgia to hammer home the early paragraphs.

  • jpftribe

    94 was my last baseball season in Cleveland, until last year. And I was in my late 20’s then. Really enjoy reading takes from different generations, and this was a great one. Thanks.

  • JM85

    Jose Jose Jose Jose!

  • Harv

    Lindor is, quite justifiably, the Golden Child. But man, is Jose ever gobbling up fan hearts at an accelerating rate. The league has seen this type – Len Dykstra, Dustin Pedroia – smallish guys with perpetually dirty unis who punch way above their weight, dudes who can strut while standing still and embrace the proving grounds of big moments.

    The development of Ramirez, his willingness to give up some FA years and his reacting to his first money with more on-field intensity and confidence is the same type of luck the ’90s teams used to dominate for a little while. Ramirez, Lucroy vetoing that trade … luck is a good thing.

  • Harv

    I’m starting to embrace the exuberance and showmanship on the rise. Last year I found Lindor’s self-conscious adorability borderline grating (in a Swisher sort of way) but if his teammates love it – and they obviously to – it must just be who he is. When he stops to smile at his dugout because of the Almonte bat thing, when Manny Machado nods and smiles at the pitcher who whiffs him, or Miggy laughs throughout every game, it’s fun, the type players should have been demonstrating for years without fear being beaned because of a protocol violation.

  • pnikhilrao

    “…giving Erik Gonzalez, who had pinch-hit for Francisco Mejia…”
    Actually, I think Gonzalez pinch-ran for Mejia. I told my buddy at the time that this was another subtle, yet genius move by Tito – scoring from first on the double off the wall is much easier when you’ve got a sprinter on the base paths.
    I any event, thanks Will – I enjoyed reading this almost as much as I enjoyed watching last night’s game.

  • humboldt

    This is just a perfect essay – captures my exact thoughts and feelings last night.

    The win evoked something of those teams of the ’90s (also my childhood), and the images of a packed stadium collectively celebrating brought back memories of how the town rallied around those Indians teams in ways that transcended baseball. For a split second, I had the image of them winning the World Series at home. Coincidentally, my contacts started bothering my eyes right about that time…

  • Eric G

    Well written. I agree on most, especially the feeling when Lindor was up – if it was meant to be, then he’s the guy, if not 21 is pretty damn good. Where I disagree is that 2007 team. I was so deep into that team from the get-go, partly because of my living situation and partly because of the availability to pause live TV to sync up the radio.

    They had great players around whom the city was rallying too, good-Pronk, Sizemore, CC, Lee (intercostal strain left him out of the playoffs, sadly – we would have won with him healthy, I’m sure), young VMart, Casey Clutch, and the revised corpse of Kenny Lofton. They were a lot of fun. Maybe not as much fun as this team, though.

  • tsm

    Most exciting regular season game that i have ever attended and that includes many decades. No one left even after the game ended, everyone just stood and cheered and sang – Cleveland Rocks. Our young kids are leading the way, as we seem to have the correct blend of youth and experience. This is the best Indians team of my lifetime, and exceeds the sluggers of the 90’s because our pitching is so much better and the guys are in their primes.

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  • jamierules

    I accidentally just played that video over the sound system at work…with like 50 customers here…in Kansas City… No regerts.

  • Janet Aldrich

    I’ve been watching baseball longer than you — I loved it even in the 70s and 80s when the Indians were pretty bad. But like you, after about the ’99 season, something about it ran out of gas for me. The rest of your essay I could have written. Frankie Lindor motivated me to start watching again. That kind of joy is contagious — in the clubhouse, in the stands and at home in front of the radio. I’d like to see him and JRam spend a long time as Indians.