With the most important series of the season starting today at home against the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians face an off-the-field dilemma: where are out fans? Why isn't Progressive Field sold out? Why is this pennant race being ignored by so many people? Why can't Cleveland get behind the Tribe? To answer this, I have to go back a bit in time. And share a bit of my personal history with you so you understand where my opinion comes from.
As a woman who likes sports, nothing makes me madder than when my opinion is discounted because of my gender. I know more about sports than most of the guys I come into contact with on a daily basis, and I have no problem sharing my thoughts and opinions with them. I laugh when the "new guy" at work looks at me strangely when I say something about sports and the other guys are all like "dude, she knows what she's saying. Don't roll your eyes." Which is why I am deeply ashamed of the way I treated my mother.
We moved from California to Ohio right before my 9th birthday in 1975. My parents are both from Pittsburgh, so it made sense that dad would be a Steelers fan. Mom liked them too, but she also like the Miami Dolphins since her cousin Doug Crusan played for them at the time. I, naturally, loved the Browns. Sure, part of it was rebellion against dad, but the other part was that Browns information was the vast majority of what I could find. This was the 1970's people. If you wanted sports information, you got about 8 minutes on the evening news or else you had to read a newspaper. And almost all of the information was about local teams.
I would read the paper on Monday to see how the Browns had done then dad and I would talk about it, argue about it, share it, while mom looked on. We never included her in those conversations. Dad wasn't much into any other sports so it was all about football. As I grew older, I learned baseball and basketball, but I did that on my own. After my mom died of cancer in 2007, I was helping dad go through some boxes in the basement and I came across a box full of baseball memorabilia. Apparently, mom loved baseball. Who knew? When I asked dad about this he said "oh, yeah, she and her sister use to go to games in Pittsburgh all the time back in the 40's and 50's." She had old baseball cards and newspaper clippings with box scores circled or simply cut out and clipped together highlighting her favorite players.
So now I am ashamed and saddened that I never talked with mom about sports. I can't be sure about why she never brought up the subject with me, but as a mom of four daughters I can guess the reason. When my girls find something to talk about with their dad, to connect with him, I try to stay out of it and let them have their time together. Maybe mom figured that sports was something for me and dad to connect with but I really wish she had told me about baseball. I'm sure she had some great stories and I missed out on that.
Which brings us back to today and the Cleveland Indians. As I said, dad wasn't into baseball so we didn't go to games. But I remember my friends going to games, taking their gloves in case of a foul ball no matter where there seats were, buying pennants to hang up in their rooms. There were baseball fields (sandlots) all over and kids would gather after school or on Saturday's and play. Most of us who are 40 or over share these memories. But that has changed for the next generation.
My kids were not raised on baseball because we were a "Football Family." They didn't play with friends in the neighborhood or go to Jacob's field to watch the Tribe. I was a stay-home mom but most other kids were at a babysitters or in day care. There were no other kids in the neighborhood anymore. On Saturday, the baseball fields were being used by organized leagues so if you weren't "organized" you couldn't play. And Jacob's Field never felt to me like a classic baseball field.
From 1995-1999 we had no football so I gave baseball a chance. I went to quite a few games at Jacob's Field and took my daughters. Frankly, it didn't feel the way I thought baseball would feel. It wasn't like the movies. It was corporate guys in pink polo shirts eating sushi and talking on their cell phones. It wasn't dads & kids with gloves and beers watching the action on the field. It just felt wrong. So I watch at home or listen to the radio. And I guess my "lack of attendance" is being interpreted as "not being behind the Tribe."
I think that plays into what the Cleveland Indians are seeing now. A generation of people who were raised on a different kind of baseball and who are not comfortable at Jacob's Field/Progressive Field. Football came back, the Indians record got worse, and people stopped going to the games. It's easy to say this is just a football town, or that after everything that Cleveland sports fans have been through we are afraid to "Hope" again.
But I think it goes back to the atmosphere at the ballpark and how our kids were raised. Baseball is a "slow" game. It isn't action packed like football or basketball. It isn't like a video game where you have something to watch every second. It's poetic and paced and relaxing. Kids today can't handle that. They can't appreciate the beauty of the game. They weren't raised on it like our parents were. So they don't want to go to the ballpark. They think watching baseball is boring.
I don't know how other ballparks are doing with regards to attendance. I don't know if this is a national issue or a Cleveland one. But I don't think it's fair to say we are not "behind the Tribe" because we are not going to games. There have to be other ways to measure fan appreciation for a team and the Indians need to find those ways. I may not be going to games, but I am watching. I am looking for score updates on the other teams in our division. I am blogging and tweeting about the Tribe. Many of us are. And Tribe Fans find it insulting when our dedication is questioned.