Recently I was lucky enough to hear acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen give a commencement address at Kenyon College, similar to this. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to hear Franzen open his address highlighting the similarities between cell phones and lovers. While I have a self-diagnosed addiction to my wonderful phone, I would much rather wax poetically on the rekindled flame between me and someone living downtown on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Before I delve into the intricacies of my budding romance with the Cleveland Indians, a short backstory is needed to better understand how our relationship has come to this point.
With few memories of the Tribe prior to the move to Jacobs Field, I grew up with the Indians of the late 1990s. Belle, Baerga, Ramirez, Thome, Alomar, Herscheiser, Mesa, Nagy, Hargrove, and most importantly Vizquel. Everything was going great. Six American League Central Division titles, two American League Championships. Sure, there were rough spots, such as moments like these in the 1997 World Series (skip to 1:50), but overall it was terrific. It was the defining relationship of my childhood, but as the unprecedented success of the 1990s began to slow into the mediocrity of the early 2000s, our relationship struggled.
First, the other girls in town began vying for my attention stronger than ever. The Cleveland Browns were back in town in 1999 with a brand new stadium. Thanks to the bounces of a few ping-pong balls back in 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers became wildly successful, compiling an excellent seven-year run after drafting “He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named.” The Indians, without the ability to outspend other teams for free agents, only notched three winning seasons in the decade, making the playoffs only twice.
The Fall of 2007 was a turning point in our relationship. Having just moved away to college, I was relegated to watching the unexpected playoff run with many new acquaintances who often had a stronger allegiance to the Red Sox or Yankees.
For the next few seasons our relationship only declined.
Being at school, I would miss the beginning of each season, as coming home in early June meant that two months of the season were already gone. These years were filled with lackluster efforts on both sides of the relationship. By the beginning of summer, the Indians were headed for seasons well out of contention for the playoffs, and I was not in a hurry to head through the turnstiles at “The Prog” or flip to whichever channel they were televised on. Even the golden-voiced Tom Hamilton would only blare through my stereo speakers on rare occasions.
This season began on a slightly different note. Perturbed at my waning attention that was devoted to the Indians, I decided before the season to recommit myself by attending more games and flipping the television to STO or WKYC. Coincidentally, the Indians also opened the season on a two-month tear through April and May. We were finding each other once again.
I was more excited than a kid in a candy store. If I couldn’t watch the game, I was impatiently awaiting score updates through my phone. It didn’t matter who the opponent was – although tearing through much of the AL East was especially sweet – I could feel that childish magic drifting back into my consciousness. I had expected myself to outgrow this “immature” fanatic devotion as I was finishing my undergraduate education, instead it returned with fervor.
The past week or two have tested my newfound resolve in the Tribe. Calling the current funk the Indians are in a struggle would put it mildly. They are 4 – 11 in their last 15 games. Were the first two months simply a mirage and are the Indians returning to the reality many experts predicted for them this season? Is this just a short swoon before they return to their winning ways? I won’t risk jinxing the Tribe by offering a prediction, but I do know that I’m thoroughly enjoying my renewed relationship with the Indians.
Watching Chris Perez close out the 1 – 0 win Tuesday night brought a mixture of relief, excitement, and desperation. I was watching the game attempting to will them to victory and, contrary to the past few seasons, I genuinely expected them to follow through. Unfortunately, the roller coaster ride that has been this season saw the Tribe drop another game to the paltry Minnesota Twins in extra innings on Wednesday afternoon. The late-inning magic that brought me back to this relationship has not been as consistent as earlier in the season, but the suspense that I had been missing the past few seasons was refreshingly palpable.
Finally Thursday provided a day off, a chance to catch my breath with the Indians. With an important four-game weekend series against the New York Yankees looming and the Detroit Tigers now breathing down their necks in the American League Central race, the roller coaster ride may well continue, but I am glad that my first hometown sweetheart is back in my life.