Ready For Some Baseball

The Midwest has been hit with a typical contrarian March cold blast, and the east coast has been hammered by a snowstorm.  Perversely, the crummy, winter-is-still-with-us weather has made me think that the real spring cannot be far away, and that it’s okay to start thinking about something good that will be coming with the warmer spring weather in just a few days:  baseball.

hi-res-f1085a23cef5182ba9e8ebe79f8a2f31_crop_northAlthough they fell just short of that elusive World Series win, last year was a magical one for the Cleveland Indians.  The team overcame injuries to crucial members of the pitching staff and key position players and, with deft manager Terry Francona holding things together with spit, scotch tape, and baling wire, the Tribe improbably made it to the doorstep of a championship.  With the players hopefully healed, and Edwin Encarnacion set to fill a big hole in the middle of the lineup, Tribe fans are dreaming that this might be the year.  Hey, lightning finally struck the long-suffering Chicago Cubs last year — why can’t it strike the Indians this year?

Spring is the time of dreaming for all baseball fans.  Tribe fans aren’t the only ones who are hoping that the team’s off-season moves have put the right pieces in place, that the player who had the unexpected great year last year wasn’t a fluke, and that the minor league phenom will step up and produce in the big leagues.  It’s all part of the time-honored baseball process that has been part of America’s National Pastime for more than 100 years.  The baseball fans who are dreaming and hoping about their teams today are just new links in a very long chain.

Let’s play ball!

 

Only 39 Years To Go

Last night’s World Series finale was an instant classic.  Long after the clocks on the east coast passed midnight, and those of us working stiffs were wondering just how long we would be able to stay up to watch the spectacle, the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in extra innings.

img_3061-1I’m tempted to add “of course” in that last sentence, because beneath my seemingly normal, rationalist exterior lurks a dark baseball fan soul filled with twisted corridors of gloom and doom, jinxes and bad breaks, lowered expectations and grimly anticipated disasters. When you’ve been a fan of a professional sports team for your entire life, and that team has known nothing but ultimate heartbreaks and bitter defeats on the yawning cusp of victory, it’s virtually impossible to think and feel anything else.

But maybe the Cubs’ victory signals that failure is not inevitable, and that fortunes for star-crossed teams like the Indians and their fans can change.  With their gutty victory last night, the Cubs ended their 108-year period of misery.  That leaves Cleveland’s soon to be 69-year run without a World Series championship the longest streak in American professional baseball.  Perhaps the Tribe and their fans have only another 39 years to go before they, too, can know the thrill of hoisting the World Series trophy.

In the meantime, hats off to the Cubs and their loyal cadre of fans, who rooted like crazy and helped to will their team to victory.  And hats off to the Indians, too, for an unforgettable season.  I was proud of the Tribe’s grit, their unwillingness to let a series of crucial injuries thwart their season, and their improbable comeback to tie game 7 in the eighth inning against one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.  A tip of the cap, too, to Terry Francona for being a managerial wizard who pulled every string along the way.

And, hey — this year I got to see my team win the opening game of the World Series with my son and my brother.  That’s something that I’ll always remember with great fondness, even if the Series itself didn’t end up as we all hoped.

Counting On The Klubot

The last two games haven’t worked out very well for the Cleveland Indians.  After surging to a 3-1 lead in the World Series — and being a tantalizing one game away from the World Series title that has eluded the Tribe since 1948 — the Indians lost a close game in Chicago and then had a train wreck last night in Cleveland.

So now the Series is knotted, 3-3, and tonight’s game will determine the champion.  After the last two games, Chicago Cubs players and fans have regained their swagger and are expecting to be the first team in years to win after trailing 3-1.  Tribe fans, on the other hand, are hoping that a team that has been riddled with injuries to key players can somehow win just one, last game.

World Series Cubs Indians BaseballTonight Cleveland will be banking on pitcher Corey Kluber — known to some as “Klubot” because of his unchanging expression and apparently unflappable demeanor.  The hope is that Kluber can hold the Cubs’ powerful lineup in check and the Indians’ struggling hitters can produce enough runs to get a lead, and the bullpen can eke out a win and finally get Cleveland that long-dreamed-of World Series title.

Kluber has pitched brilliantly in the playoffs and in the Series so far, but he’s pitching for the second time in a row on three days’ rest.  That means he won’t be following his normal routine, and it also means that Chicago batters will be facing him for the third time in only a few days.  They’ll be looking to make adjustments in how they approach Kluber in view of those two very recent experiences — and we’ve seen in the Series, and in last night’s game particularly, that the Cubs are perfectly capable of changing their approach to Cleveland pitchers.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on Corey Kluber, with the hopes and fervent aspirations of generations of long-disappointed fans riding on his arm — but we hope that, if anyone can handle that pressure, it is the calm, cool, and collected “Klubot.”  Go Tribe!

Series Shots (II)

There were some protesters on the Ontario Street side of the ballpark, advocating for changing the Tribe’s name and Chief Wahoo.  I agree with them about Chief Wahoo, and I get the point about the name — but it’s hard to imagine a Cleveland baseball team being called anything but the Indians.  And, I think “the Tribe” is a pretty cool and inclusive nickname.

The protesters look like they have an uphill battle, as the photo below suggests.  Chief Wahoo was seen pretty much everywhere.

Series Shots


Russell, UJ, and I had a blast at Game One of the World Series last night.  Downtown Vleveland was packed before the game, and the area between the ballpark and the Cavs’ arena — where the Cavs were to play, and win, their season opener — was especially jammed.  Two big screen TVs were set up to play season highlights and get both the Cavs fans and the Tribe fans fired up.

Clash Of The Lovable Losers

Tonight the Chicago Cubs face the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the 2016 World Series.  For most of recent baseball history — say, for the last 60 years or so — if you’d predicted that even one of those teams would make it to the Series, people would have laughed at your brashness.  Predicting that they both would make it would have been viewed as compelling clinical evidence of insanity.

chicago_cubs5That’s because the Cubs and Indians have an unmatched record of futility in major league baseball.  The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won a Series since 1908.  The Tribe, on the other hand, last won a World Series in 1948.  When you’re looking back to the Truman Administration, or the Roosevelt Administration — as in Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin — for your last Series triumph, that’s pretty frigging sad.  For decades, generations of fans of both teams have experienced unrelieved heartache and losses, have believed in jinxes, and have been convinced that the fates are against them and they and their teams are cursed.

But this year, one of those teams, by definition, is going to win the World Series.  One of those beleaguered fan bases is finally (finally!) going to see their favorite ball club hoist the championship trophy, setting off a celebration that will never be forgotten.  I’m guessing that this year the TV ratings for the Series will be through the roof, not because there are enormous numbers of Chicago and Cleveland fans in America, but because the prospect that one of these lovable losers is going to bring an end to decades of outright failure is just too intriguing to miss.

cz7jxepAnd by the way, it should be a pretty good Series if you’re a baseball fan.  The Cubs are the heavy favorite to win the Series and the overwhelming choice of ESPN’s panel of experts.  That’s not dissing the Indians, but rather recognizing that, this year, the Cubs were easily the best team in baseball, from start to finish.  They won more than 100 games, had a bunch of their players make the All-Star game, have a powerhouse lineup of hitters and pitchers, and have a guy in the bullpen who throws 103 m.p.h.  And, unlike the Tribe, they haven’t seen their roster of starting pitchers decimated by injuries and drone accidents.  If you watched the way the Cubs mauled the Dodgers in the last three games of the National League Championship Series, you’d pick the Cubbies to win, too.

As for the Tribe, they’ve been the scrappy underdogs all year, and the World Series will be no different.  The Indians have made it this far because Terry Francona has managed his tattered pitching staff with historical deftness, and the starters and relievers have performed brilliantly when called upon.  The Indians batters collectively hit just .168 in the American League Championship Series, which is well below the Mendoza line — but the few hits they got were timely hits, knocking in just enough runs to hand the game to the bullpen after the fifth inning.  And, unlike the Dodgers, for example, the Tribe played stellar defense and helped the bullpen make sure that those one- and two-run leads held up.  It was the kind of baseball John McGraw and Tris Speaker would have appreciated.

I’m convinced that tonight’s game is a crucial one for the Tribe.  They’re facing Jon Lester, who was 19-5 in the regular season and has already won three games in the playoffs, and are going with their best remaining pitcher in Corey Kluber.  Given the anemic performance of the Indians’ offense this postseason, the Tribe simply can’t afford to fall behind and count on big innings to catch up late.  Kluber will need to somehow quiet the Cubs’ powerhouse offense, the Indians will need to scratch and claw for a few runs, and the bullpen will have to come through once again.

It should be a great Series.  Go Tribe!