I went to a symposium a couple weeks ago that was part of the surround activities for Inamori Ethics Prize, which is given by Case Western Reserve University. This year’s prize was given to environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki. (Stay with me, there is a baseball connection.) One of the panelists was Dr. David Orr, who teaches at Oberlin. I knew I liked him when, in his very first comment, he mentioned the Indians. (See, I told you there was a baseball connection.) The question centered on whether the environmental movement should feel optimistic because of the advances in policy and awareness in the 50 years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which more or less marks the birth of the modern environmental movement. He replied, “I’ve been a Cleveland Indians fan since 1954,” so he knows something about optimism and despair. To paraphrase, he said that if you’re wholly optimistic, you aren’t facing reality, but that despair is a sin. Then he offered hope, “a verb with its sleeves rolled up,” as a third option.
Watching the Tribe come back in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Tigers yesterday made me, well, I guess hopeful is the most accurate word for it. Hopeful that perhaps the last few weeks of the season won’t be as mind-numbingly frustrating as the previous six weeks. There have been many times this year when I despaired and felt like throwing in the towel on the season. There were fleeting moments when I even considered renouncing the team point blank and rooting for another team or watching football. Then something small happens, like a panelist in a serious academic symposium mentions the Indians (twice). Or something big happens, like the Tribe makes an exciting come-from-behind rally in the bottom of the 9th, and it makes me remember how much I enjoy the camaraderie of Indians fandom, of being part of a band (okay, tribe) of people who follow the team through thick and thin. Judging from the attendance numbers this year, that band of supporters is shrinking.
This team has been incredibly good and incredibly bad in the space of just a few months, with essentially the same players. It’s almost mind-boggling. They could finish the season on a 15-game winning streak and still finish 10 games below .500, so it doesn’t make sense to be optimistic. Even my Pollyanna-ish attitude can’t look at their record optimistically–they’re can’t buy two wins in a row. But I can’t despair because they spent a month in first place with essentially the same core of players. There is some talent there.
There is talent, and there is also room for something akin to hope. Russ Canzler makes me hopeful. Esmil Rogers makes me hopeful. Cody Allen makes me hopeful. Vinnie Pestano and Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley make me incredibly hopeful that I won’t spend much of next season banging my head on the floor in frustration. And unless the earth completely stops turning on its axis, the top of Mt. Everest melts, and chicken monkeys fly out of my butt, Grady Sizemore’s and Travis Hafner’s contracts won’t be renewed, which will free up slightly over $15 million in payroll ($5 million for Sizemore + $13 million for Hafner – $2.75 million Hafner buyout). I’m hopeful that’s enough to buy some starting pitching. However, any rays of hope always seem to be tempered by the memory of past disappointments. I’m hopeful with an asterisk.
So this is where my Indians fandom is with 15 games left to go in the season–I’m somewhere in the space between hope and Cleveland, Ohio. Where are you?