The questions I get most often about my support for the Cleveland Indians are:
Are you from Cleveland? Are you a fan because of the Major League movies? Have you been to Cleveland? How can you be a Cleveland Indians fan when you live in St Louis and have he Cardinals?
First off I have lived in or near St Louis my entire life and have only visited Cleveland once on a vacation in 2001. The Major League movies (at least the first two) are great and I quote them all the time. The first one came out in 1989 and I saw it in 1993 for the first time. The last portion is a bit tricky. In St Louis, the fan base of baseball fans tend to be fanatical – if not a bit cocky these days about their Cardinals and 11 championships. But rewind to the early 90’s after 3 glorious trips to the series in the 80’s. The Cardinals of the early 90’s were a hot mess to say the least but I still followed them.
Brushing away the New Year’s confetti from 1992 into 1993 and baseball of the spring training variety rolling into my house via the Sporting News. Back in those days before Google or the internet for that matter – you typically only got the latest scoop of information from the radio, TV or news publications. Reading the experts take on each team and their chances for the upcoming season from cover to cover – I loved the Sporting News. Enter baseball tragedy. Reading about the Cleveland Indians. A franchise saddled with a storied history of losing. The butt of many jokes league-wide the Indians were dealt a lethal blow on March 22, 1993.
Three baseball buddies in the throws (pardon the pun) of spring training were ‘gator hunting’ in the evening hours when darkness, alcohol and a boat brought two of those lives to an end. Tim Crews, Steve Olin and Bobby Ojeda – all pitchers in camp for the Cleveland Indians – the first two died that day. Much has been written about that accident and the fallout on the team and their families.
So if you ask how does that translate into me becoming a fan? Well I’ve always been a little morbid and a crusader for the underdog. So I kept tabs on the Indians through my local paper – the St Louis Post Dispatch. Mostly poor results for the Indians that year but they were making moves to add young talent with offensive upside and veteran pitching. The year 1993 ended for the Indians with 76 wins and 86 losses and a 6th place finish in the American League East behind the first place Toronto Blue Jays.
My interest in the Indians plight held over into 1994 when the Indians debuted their new home ballpark – Jacobs Field. The Indians franchise was reborn with an exciting brand of baseball that featured speed and power galore in their young lineup. The city was rejuvenated and the Indians were a catalyst. When the 1994 season was halted 113 games in due to the baseball strike that led to no World Series for the first time in the modern era – the Indians were sitting 1 game behind the Chicago White Sox in the newly formed American League Central Division. If the post season would have been generated based on the standings for those games played – the 1994 Cleveland Indians would have qualified for the newly created Wild Card playoff seeding – 2.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles. But alas the city of Cleveland was robbed of their feel good comeback story and would have to wait another year to taste regular season success, a post season birth, a trip to the World Series and ultimately heartbreak in Atlanta in game six of the World Series. But what a glorious ride.
There was no looking back from that point on. I still followed and to a lesser extend rooted for the hometown Cardinals but the Indians were now my team. Twenty one years later with some ups and downs but I still love my Indians baseball. Go Tribe!