Yesterday on Les Levine’s show, Mark Shapiro started a mini firestorm yesterday when he essentially told fans to stay away if ticket buyers are intending to see a consistent winner. Only come for the “experience” of being at the ballpark.
On one hand, the position is understandable. He’s much more involved in the big-picture developments that come with the overall handling of a major league franchise than he was previously, and his main goal is to make money for the Indians as an organization over just the team. His ultimate goal now is tickets sold and by any way possible.
It’s on the other hand where the disconnect between Shapiro’s view of the romanticism and innocence of baseball in its purest form and the ultimate reality of a fan’s expectations start to splinter off. The good is that he is admitting that the Indians are more than likely not a good team right now. We haven’t heard that kind of forthrightness for a while, and it does the team no good to try to sell to Indians fans that everything is peaches and cream. Because unless we hit a mother lode or two with the presumed upcoming trades, we are a year or two away from contending. At least we know our collective intelligence isn’t being insulted.
Here’s where I find the problem with Shapiro’s line-drawing: To the casual fan, it’s probably not much fun going to a virtually empty ballpark, just as players have said that it’s not much fun playing in an empty park. I, personally, enjoy going to any ballpark, but it isn’t something that I’m gung-ho about anymore if I’m able to catch a game at the Jake (sod off, “Progressive Field”). The “experience” isn’t what it was; it won’t be back until the Indians prove to the world that they can win consistently. It’s just the simple reality.
It is no secret that the Indians (as verbalized not-so-eloquently by Chris Perez in one of his summer tirades, by the way) have had a long-standing organizational jealousy with how the Browns can be so mostly awful and, yet, still sell out every home game and remain both the heart, soul and identity of the city. It would not be a shock to find that if you were to inject Shapiro with truth serum, he would admit that the Indians’ front office secretly would love it if new owner Jimmy Haslam (and the Lerners before him) would transform into Art Modell reincarnated so the Browns could be moved far, far away again. Greenland, please.
As it is, the Indians are the the third wheel in an already depressed sports town, and it seems like the frustration is building for a guy who used to give the impression of being the ultimate cool hand. He knows he’s under the gun to make the Indians appealing when there is nothing extraordinary about them at the moment. There’s no real drawing card outside of Terry Francona’s two World Series rings and the hope that he’s a miracle worker. No apparent possibility of a realistic quick fix.
But Mark Shapiro wants you to come hang out anyway. The stadium mustard, Snow Days, and hot dog races are more than worth the price of admission, to say nothing about the real reason as to why you should be there.