Indians Strike Out On Opportunity to Hook Fringe Fans
Bob Toth | On 07, Jul 2013
Monday, July 1st, 2013 – the Cleveland Indians head to Kansas City, Missouri, sitting alone in first place.
Excitement seemed to be building around the club, even though there is a strong contingent of fans who have been unwilling to commit to the team after several midseason collapses in the last several years.
The uncertainty felt by so many fans has been noticed by the unfortunate amount of empty seats around the beautiful ball yard that is Progressive Field, or Jacobs Field for those of you who still refuse to let go of that element of the past.
With the American League Central leading Detroit Tigers coming to Progressive Field for four games, the Indians were hosting quite likely the biggest home series, maybe even the biggest series period, of their first 85 games and 29 series of the 2013 season.
The Indians were returning home after playing eleven games over the course of eleven days while on a road trip through Baltimore, Chicago, and Kansas City. The results for the trip (7-4) were successful overall, despite the team dropping each of the last two games against the Royals to lose their first series in their last seven matchups. The last time they had outright lost a series? During their eight-game losing streak, to the same Tigers coming to town.
Prior to this weekend’s series, the Indians were 24-15 at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, one of the better marks in the AL. They trailed only the respective division leaders in home winning percentage.
Battling their chief rival, with first place potentially at stake, warm July weather, and plenty of enticing giveaways and promotions to pull fans to the park, the time was primed for the Indians to capitalize on the perfect storm of circumstances to capture the interest of so many casual fans who have opted to spend their hard-earned dollars elsewhere.
“You can feel the buzz down here,” Indians president Mark Shapiro teased about the prospects of the night earlier in the afternoon Friday. “Expecting close to a sellout crowd + Masty dealing on the bump. Could be a great night for Tribe baseball.”
With patriotic-themed fireworks looming postgame and the allure of $1 Sugardale hot dogs, 40,167 people attended Friday night’s series opener. A beautiful night, with temperatures in the mid-70s at first pitch and no rain looming, helped to ensure a sellout and the largest single-game crowd in Cleveland since the home opener.
The Indians then laid an egg.
Opportunity was on their side. Hook the fringe fan. Capture those fans, out for a fun start to their Friday night. Begin to build the foundation of the next fan base, one who could see an exciting offense and marketable young players, all of whom should be around with the organization for years. Hopefully, the team could use this series as a jumping off point to rebuild the tarnished image of a team that has several times expelled its best and brightest when the price was getting too high.
Instead, the most noise from the Indians fans in attendance may have been drawn by several successful, but otherwise irritating, laps of the “wave” around the ball park. Several other times over the course of the night, the Detroit loyal in attendance made the park sound like Comerica Park, as the Tigers strung together six runs on seven hits off of the Indians staff ace and first-time All-Star, Justin Masterson. They added one more for unneeded insurance off of reliever Joe Martinez, while the Indians offense was stifled in a six-hit shutout by Rick Porcello and the Tigers bullpen. Mark Reynolds, in a pronounced slump, and Jason Kipnis, who was in a stretch of hitting prowess the complete opposite, both combined to strike out as many times as the entire team got hits.
Friday’s damage notwithstanding, fans still came out Saturday in the seventh-largest home crowd of the year and the second-largest Saturday draw. Another comfortable temperature, with little chance of rain during the game, and a souvenir hat for the first 10,000 to arrive, helped to push 28,054 through the gate. The Tigers launched some early rain makers on back-to-back blasts from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and added another shot from Torii Hunter later in the game. The Indians mustered just two runs over the first six innings, added a pair on a Ryan Raburn homer in garbage time, and forced fans to endure yet another lackluster Carlos Carrasco spot start extravaganza.
Rain drops held off until the final out of the ninth. It was almost as though Mother Nature was crying tears for the Tribe.
How will the Sunday figures look now? With two tough losses to Detroit, four in a row, and no substantial giveaway to bring fans downtown to traverse the orange barrels, is 25,000 too many to expect? 20,000? How about 17,500?
Monday should presumably draw better, with the enticement of an Omar Vizquel bobblehead likely packing the stadium a little bit earlier than normal. But if the efforts on the field Sunday mirror the first two games of the series, the late walk up figures may suffer.
The Indians have failed to capitalize on other big crowds to cross through the turnstiles throughout the season. On the year, they now have a record of 3-5 when drawing 25,000 fans or more in Cleveland. Two of those wins required last at bat heroics. All large crowds came on Friday or Saturday, with dollar dogs, fireworks, or some stadium giveaway to help bring them downtown, with the exception of the season’s largest crowd in the first home game of the year.
It can be easy to see why some people are speculative at best about the Indians.
The offense has been inconsistent. The lack of support from the bats has been glaring, as they have been outscored 32-16 over the last four losses.
The starting rotation is starting to show signs of faltering after being the surprising strength of the team throughout the first half of the season. Several starters are proving incapable of routinely pitching beyond five innings without getting shelled for a half-dozen or more runs.
The bullpen, the perceived strength heading into the season, seems to have had more downs than ups while never really clicking on all cylinders at the same time.
It feels like déjà vu all over again.
Last season, the Indians held first place for nearly the entire month of May. They lost their grip on it at the end of the month after dropping two of three against Kansas City. Three weeks into June, they reclaimed the top spot, only to lose it four games later and never sniff the lead in the Central again.
In 2011, the season was even more disappointing. The team played hot out of the gate and remained in or near first place until late July. After dropping ten of 13 in a two week span, they lost the Central lead and never recovered, coming briefly within a game and a half of the lead before faltering and eventually ending the season a month and a half later in second place, but 15 games out.
To be a Cleveland fan, to deal with the heartaches and pains year in and year out, takes a certain character. That, or Cleveland fans may be the most masochistic batch in America.
The fan of the Tribe lives in the past, relishing the players and the time of yesteryear, because of the tribulations of the present-day product on the field. Fans long for a team that they do not have to doubt, like the mid-1990’s teams that steamrolled through the competition during the regular season. Nowadays, the diehards remain loyal and will attend regardless of the results on the field, but for fans looking for those dominant teams, this Indians bunch has not been that.
Fans of roller coasters and Cedar Point should like this Cleveland ride. It has already had enough impressive climbs and monstrous falls and edge-of-your-seat final at bats to make one’s head spin. And the ride is only halfway over.
With a 1-4 start to the month, did the Indians avoid the June swoon only to fall into a July slide? With 75 games left in the season and with the team only three and a half games in back of the Tigers, the season is not over. The Indians were five and a half games back less than three weeks ago and overcame that obstacle, albeit for a brief period of time.
Unfortunately, for the front office hoping to reclaim parts of the fan base lost over the last half dozen years, this weekend was an ideal opportunity squandered. The fans who came to the stadium saw little offense and even less quality pitching while watching the main obstacle in the way of a division championship pummel the team to the tune of 16 runs, with two games remaining in the series.
The perfect storm may have come and gone this weekend already, like the consistent rain showers plaguing the northeast Ohio landscape through the early parts of summer.
If the Indians are lucky, another storm will blow through soon. For their fans, it will not be soon enough.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images