By March of almost every winter, the Cleveland weather starts to wear on me. When March 1, 2011 rolled around, I could not remember the last time I saw the sun or the grass in my yard. Despite the blinding sea of white that surrounded my home since approximately Thanksgiving, I was about to earn a well deserved break – it was time for my annual trip to Spring Training.
On March 8, my flight touched down in Phoenix at 11 a.m. local time. With excitement, I realized that the Indians were playing a 1:05 game against the Diamondbacks at their spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona. In my mind, locating my suitcase and securing a rental car would take about 15 minutes – then it was on to Goodyear. In reality, it was more like 90 minutes. Didn’t these people know I had a ballgame to get to? Didn’t they know that the last live ballgame I saw was at the end of September? Didn’t they know I wanted to see Fausto Carmona pitch before he maxed out his allotted pitch count for the day? I honestly questioned at one point whether or not it was ethical to push people down in order to get to the front of the rental car line.
With grudging politeness and restraint (no innocent people were pushed or otherwise assaulted), I was finally on my way to Goodyear. Nearly 45 minutes after the game started, I finally found the stadium, parked, and literally sprinted across the parking lot to buy a ticket. Excited by the possibilities of a new baseball season, I raced into the stadium only to find that the Indians were already down 6-0. It got worse from that point – the Diamondbacks proceeded to pound out 16 runs on 22 hits against Indians pitching. I saw three other Indians games in Arizona; none of them resulted in victories. In three of the four, it almost appeared that the Indians were pitching batting practice to their Cactus League opponents.
I returned to Cleveland a week later, my hopes for the 2011 season dashed. Yes, it was only spring training, however – there were so many things to cause concern. Specifically, shaky pitching and an offense that lacked pop made me fear for opening day on April 1. My fears appeared to be realized, as I watched the White Sox jump to a 14-0 lead on the way to a 15-10 victory from my seat in the mezzanine at Progressive Field. This was the Carmona that pitched on March 8; a Carmona I hoped would have the kinks worked out by opening day. My defeatist attitude was amplified after I attended the 8-3 loss to the White Sox on April 2. Then, something miraculous happened. Something that seemed to not only change the fortunes of the Indians, but my perceptions of them as well – the triple play started by Carlos Santana on April 3. His diving catch of Alexei Ramirez’s bunt, and the subsequent doubling-off first and second of A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Quentin, appeared to shift the momentum in the Indians’ favor.
Since the triple play, the Indians have gone 13-4, including sweeps of the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, and the Baltimore Orioles. While obviously a bit hasty, there’s already whispered talk around Cleveland of contention, and possibly the playoffs. While I’m not exactly ready to purchase playoff tickets in April, I love the amount of optimism and enjoyment that this team has already provided. As of April 22, the Indians lead the American League in runs scored (99), are tied for first in the American League with Kansas City in batting average (.269) and are second in RBI (94) behind Kansas City. When it comes to pitching, the Indians are third in the American League in ERA (3.35), and they’re holding opponents to a .222 batting average, a mark that ranks them second in the American League behind the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Regardless of their position in the standings, I love the exciting play this team has already shown in the first few weeks of the season. It’s amazing how much one play can completely change a team’s direction, as well as a fan’s perception.