Baseball fans are currently stuck in the middle of football season. If you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you probably already know that former Secretary of State Condoleeze Rice is a die-hard Browns fan. But I’ve been thinking about notable Cleveland Indians fans. Small market or not, the Cleveland Indians have a fans in high (and odd) places. If you’re from here or if you’ve ever lived here, there is something about the persistent fall-down-seven-times-get-up-eight nature of the city and the team that sticks with people. Maybe it’s because we’re generally the underdog, but once you’re a Tribe fan, you’re one for life. Some notable Tribe fans:
Tom Hanks might be the biggest name Indians fan. His first paid acting gig was as an intern with the Great Lakes Theater Festival (now just called Great Lakes Theater). He was here for three years and has been a Tribe fan ever since. Hanks has done three different benefits for Great Lakes Theater over the years. I saw the first one he did, more than 20 years ago. One of the bits in his performance took place at the Municipal Stadium, complete with the Rocco Scotti national anthem. (I feel compelled to add that I was working for the theater then and met him a couple of times and can report that Hanks is an exceptionally nice human being.) Perhaps we can get him to buy a share of the team.
Carter Bays is the co-creator, writer, and producer of the show How I Met Your Mother. He’s from Shaker Heights, and occasionally throws in references to the Cleveland (and the Indians) via his alter-ego, Ted. He hasn’t forgotten his hometown either, as he was part of a benefit for Dobama Theatre last summer.
Drew Carey Yeah, he’s been relegated to The Price Is Right purgatory, but Drew is still a Cleveland boy at heart. And he’s apparently still a fan.
You may know Scott Raab as the author of The Whore of Akron. But he’s also a Tribe fan. He’s been a writer-at-large for Esquire since 1997 and had this great essay in Esquire a few years back about his Chief Wahoo tattoo. I don’t know Raab, but on a lark, I emailed him about his Indians fandom. I was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me back within a few hours, writing: “The Tribe has been a part of my life longer than I can actually remember; I literally can not recall a time when the team was not part of my world. I grew up in the mid-1950s, when Sunday double-headers against the Yankees at Municipal Stadium sometimes drew more than 80,000 fans. My dad took me to see them play once in a while, but no particular game or moment stands out. It’s the kind of fanhood that feels genetic, not acquired. In short, I don’t know if I ‘became’ an Indians fan. Feels like I was born that way.”
Novelist Mary Doria Russell has lived in Cleveland for about 30 years and became an Indians fan (and a baseball fan) in the mid-1990s. I asked her about how and when she became a fan and her wonderful reply is below:
“To understand how and why I fell in love with the Indians, you have to start with the Jake. Remember the years it took to cobble together the real estate the new ballpark would sit on? Remember the dark, self-loathing jokes? (“So, is it going to be underground? Because that’s where the Indians play – in the basement.”) Now remember what it was like to walk up to the stadium in the spring of 1994…
My son Dan was finishing second grade, and his elementary school got a block of discounted tickets. We are not a sports-oriented family, but we decided it might be fun to go see Jacobs Field after all the publicity. Must have been a 4 PM game because it was still daylight when we drove to the city. Found a free parking spot on Carnegie. Bought peanuts cheap on the corner of East 9th. Gave a buck to the panhandler because it might be good karma. All of those things would become our personal baseball traditions – which is to say the superstitions we observe, to this day.
All around us: smiling families converging on the stadium. Laughing, quiet, purposeful. For some reason, it struck me that this was the modern equivalent of medieval peasants headed for market day at a cathedral, and then we turned down Larry Doby Way and entered that graceful, lacy, white and green structure and my jaw actually did drop. It was, unexpectedly, a place of great beauty. The seats themselves were way the hell up in section 511, but that was good, too. Sit in those seats at sunset, and you’ll see the sky above the home run porch turn gold and pink and lavender and amethyst, embraced and framed by the ballpark itself.
By the second inning, we were learning baseball terms of art from the parents of other second-graders. (“Watch – he’s going to pitch around Thome.”) The early innings were disappointing, but the 1994 team would become famous for its come-from-behind theatrics. We were down by 6 and won by 2, and it was glorious.
My husband enjoyed the game, but Danny and I were hooked and the Indians reeled us in with years of exciting play and two trips to the Series. By the time Dan turned 15 and I turned 45, we could recognize each player from his stance at the plate. There aren’t a lot of enthusiasms that a teenage boy and middle-aged woman can share on a completely equal basis, but that’s what baseball was for us. We had opinions about bench players and guys in AAA. We discussed trades and mourned injuries. Night after night, we sat and watched the games on TV.
A few years later, Dan’s first date with the woman who’d become his wife was a baseball game, and Jessie was hooked, too. They even thought about having their wedding reception at the Terrace Club. On our own 30th anniversary, I asked my husband what surprised him most about our marriage so far. He said, “You read the sports pages. I never saw that coming.” But even Don likes to go to a few games a year, and we even bought season tickets with a bunch of people from his office a couple of times.
The Indians honeymoon has ended. Like lifelong Clevelanders, we know the taste of ashes. We don’t ask for much. If they play .500 ball, I’m not thrilled but it’s worth taking a chance on tickets.
The past few years, the Indians have had such wonderful starts that visions of October dance in our heads. Then they fall apart after the All Star break. I was pretty sure that last season’s miserable collapse was the last straw. “That’s it!” I declared. “I’m giving up on these guys! I’m never going to let them break my heart again.”
But every spring… I can’t help myself.
With other teams, it’s “Wait’ll next year.” With the Indians, it’s “Maybe this time…” And we’ve got Terry Francona now, with Sandy as the bench coach… They could turn it around. This might be a good year.”
You know, in addition to their love of the Cleveland Indians, what all these people have in common is that they’re really nice people. Indians fans are good eggs. I suppose we could all try acting like jerks and see if that changes the team’s fortunes. Hey, it seems to work for the Yankees and the Red Sox.