With Browns Camp Opening, Tribe Still Giving Reasons To Watch
By Craig Gifford
Struggling out of the All-Star break and falling four games and multiple teams behind in both the wild card and divisional races is not a good way for the Cleveland Indians to boost a lagging attendance at Progressive Field.
The Indians, with the worst average attendance in Major League Baseball, get another challenge to the hearts and minds of Clevelanders, tomorrow. That is the first day of Cleveland Browns training camp to be open to the public. It is the first day of full-squad training camp for the city’s favorite team. The Indians are loved but the Browns are loved multiple times over in the city on the shores of Lake Erie.
It will really be tough for the Tribe to keep the attention of its fans now, barring a run of wins that gets the team into prime playoff position. If the Indians do not get hot soon, Cleveland’s attention is going to turn toward the Browns. Granted, that’s with good reason. The Browns have a bright outlook for the first time since their 1999 rebirth. Still, whether the Indians make a postseason run or not, this is no time to completely turn away from the baseball team and the two months it has left.
For a number of reasons the Indians should remain on the minds of Cleveland sports fans.
Even if the Indians are unable to get hot and do fall out of contention some time in August, as preseason football is getting underway, reasons to watch still abound.
There are a good number of young players worth watching on the club. Should rumors of Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez being sold off next week if the Tribe continues to fall be true, there will be even more young players to watch. Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Vinnie Pestano and Justin Masterson represent an exciting nucleus of players in their mid-20s. They are the Indians’ version of the Browns Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Joe Haden and Joe Thomas. The Indians, much like the Browns, are building something.
Unlike the Browns of past years, the Indians seem to know what they are doing when they rebuild. There have not been too many putrid seasons since 2002, unlike the Browns who have had but three seasons of mediocrity or better since they returned to the NFL. Since stripping the team before the 2002 season, the Indians have shown signs of life in all but 2002, 2003, 2009 and 2010. Granted, seasons like 2004 and 2011 saw Cleveland hover around .500 at season’s end, but Browns followers would take 8-8 or 7-9 in a heartbeat over the four and five-win campaigns they have seen of late. There is reason to think the Indians are going to have things figured out sooner than later.
For those who do not care about the future and would rather see good baseball now, August is a good time. Supposing the Indians do fall too far off the pace to catch up, there are still numerous quality teams visiting Cleveland in August that should make fans take notice of baseball going on at home. The Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics and Rangers are among the postseason hopefuls who will be dropping by Progressive Field in August.
Those teams bring a multitude of exciting story lines to watch, even if they are not Cleveland’s stories. Can the Yankees and Rangers remain dominant? Can Oakland continue to surprise the entire sporting world? Can Bobby Valentine get the Red Sox ship righted? These are all good reason to visit the ballpark.
Of course, the biggest reason to not let the return of football steal the minds completely away from the baseball diamond is the Indians are still very much in it. Even if Cleveland were to slip to six games out in the AL Central Division, it is not necessarily over. Teams have been left for dead in worse shape than that and charged back to reach the postseason. Granted those instances are rare, but it is still a little too early to start counting a team out of the AL playoff push, unless that team resides in Seattle or Minnesota. With such parity, good teams are coming back down to Earth quicker than normal this year. The Tigers and White Sox could easily hit another lull before the season is out.
The Indians see a healthy dose of those Tigers and White Sox in September. They play their division most of the season’s final month. That’s big because if the Indians can remain near the spot they are now, they really control their own destiny. They personally could help Chicago and Detroit hit those aforementioned lulls. The schedule is set up in baseball so that if you are close at the end, you play those teams you need to beat. The Indians still have some fun and hope ahead.
Yes, it is exciting that the Browns and football are back. However, forgetting about a team that still has a shot and a fun schedule in front of it would be a mistake. There can always be room for two teams in the thoughts and minds of Clevelanders.
Photo: AP Photo/Gail Burton