Last night I went to Progressive Field to see the first Cleveland Indians game I've seen all season. I've not seen any on television this year, either--or listened to any on the radio. This may not seem remarkable to anyone, but for years--decades--I was a fairly obsessive Tribe fan, a passion that began back in 1956 when we moved to Hiram, Ohio, and my father took my brother (Dave) and me, ages 7 and 11, to see our first Major League game. Tribe v. Tigers. We lost.
In those days, I was a Yankee fan. We'd recently moved to Ohio from Oklahoma, and the only televised baseball was the NBC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons--and the Yankees, it seemed, were always on. And always winning. We like winners, we humans. We love them. (In fact, I was noticing at the game last night that every between-the-innings promotion involved a contest of some sort--winners and losers--from my favorite--the racing ketchup-mustard-onion (mustard won--my choice!)--to the bizarre "frozen T-shirt" contest that involved a couple of very young children, girl and boy, in a race to see who could first don a frozen shirt; the little boy lost, in front of 20-some thousand fans; I found the whole thing repellent.)
In Ohio, it took me a while to warm up to the Tribe. Although they'd won the pennant in 1954 and had some pretty decent teams (nearly won in 1959), they began their long decline into mediocrity and incompetence about that time and didn't really emerge until those great teams of the mid-1990s. Once, back in the late 1950s, I was at a Tribe v. Yanks game (I was still in junior high), and a rowdy Cleveland fan behind me (he was beery and belligerent and bulbous) asked me if I was a Yankee fan. "Yes!" I chirped. "I hate your guts," he replied. I returned to my hot dog and silently wished him ill.
|Jimmy Dudley, Tribe radio announcer|
After I got married in 1969, nothing really changed. Still watched all the time. Listened to most games at night. Joyce, who knew little about baseball, gradually became a fan, too, and one of my great memories occurred late one night when the Tribe was out on the West Coast. We'd take a little portable radio to bed with us, and Joyce shook me awake about 1:00 a.m. to tell me the Tribe had just gone ahead.
When more and more games were televised, I used to have them on, all the time, while I was reading or writing or doing work for school. When I traveled, I listened on my laptop--but never paid the extra $$ to get a video stream.
I became a father in July 1972, and son Steve grew up to the sounds and sights of the Tribe (mostly losing: one of his first heroes, just to show you, was journeyman shortstop Tom Veryzer). When he was still a wee one, I took him to his first game at the old Stadium, and the post-game fireworks frightened him so badly he cried for half an hour. There are times that parents feel inadequate. That was one of my times ... why hadn't I prepared him for the loud noise? Oh well. It would not be the last mistake I made as a father.
During Steve's boyhood, we always went to Opening Day, rain or shine or snow (that's right: snow). And in the spring of 1985, I plunked down plastic and took him to a few days of spring training out in Tuscon. We saw Bob Feller (long retired) working on his pick-off move in left field; we saw young Julio Franco and were dazzled; we returned with two of the worst sunburns in family history (another paternal screwup). And at the Tuscon zoo, a tiger tried to spray us with urine--not something I'd expected.
After Steve left home for college and Life (1990), my Tribe mania did not diminish. The Indians were great in the 90s, and we went to many games, often courtesy of friends with season tickets they couldn't use. We saw them eliminate the Mariners in 1997 at Jacobs Field ...
My younger brother has remained a ferocious Tribe fan even though he's lived in the Boston area since college days. He's no longer a Browns fan (the Patriots have won his heart and allegiance), but still steadfastly a Tribesman.
I don't know what's happened. But two years ago I pretty much stopped following them. It's possible I watched part of one game last season--but I'm not sure. And this year I went last night only because Steve gave me a trip to the game for Father's Day. It was odd being there with so many empty seats (all those years of full houses, I remember); it was odder not to know so many of the Cleveland players--and on the Reds, only Brandon Phillips, the wonderful infielder who got away from Cleveland years ago. I was ready to go home about the third inning. I was tired. Ready for a book and bed.
There are, of course, many reasons to dislike professional sports--the vast amounts of money, the corrupting influence they have on the rest of the culture (so many young people pursuing the hopeless dream of becoming a professional athlete), and so on.
But I can't say that my declining interest in the Tribe had any intellectual/rational roots at all. I have no "holier-than-thou" attitude about it. I didn't really think about it at all. It just happened. One day I loved; the next I didn't. And love, you know, remains what it always has been--a most amazing mystery. We can neither summon nor dismiss it. It enters our lives, has its way with us, then stays forever or departs tomorrow, obeying only its own inscrutable imperatives.