After 40 Seasons, the Beat still Goes On for Adams
Steve Eby | On 24, Aug 2013
For the past 40 seasons of Indians baseball, Tribe home games have had quite the beat.
In 3,212 of the past 3,250 ballgames played in Cleveland, superfan John Adams has been sitting at the top of the bleachers, banging away on his bass drum.
It all started on August 24, 1973 when the Indians routed the Texas Rangers by a score of 11-5. Tom Timmermann pitched the complete game victory for the Tribe and shortstop Frank Duffy homered twice for the victors. A pair of bombs for the not-so-powerful Duffy was a strange enough site, but it was nothing compared to seeing a man bring a 26-inch bass drum out to the Cleveland Stadium bleachers—which was the 21-year old Adams’ seat preference in the ballpark.
“There were no seats to bang in the bleachers,” Adams said. “Everybody in Cleveland was a seatbanger as a kid. I did play the drums so I thought I would bring a drum down to the game and sit out in the bleachers because of the bench seats and be able to cheer the team on. So I bought a drum set for $25 and took the bass drum.”
The seat-banging that Adams speaks of was a tradition of fans at The Stadium. Fans would bang the empty, wooden seat next to them—and they usually were empty—making a loud banging sound that would echo throughout the cavernous, C-shaped ballpark. Despite the peculiar idea, Adams says that none of the 5,736 fans at the game raised an eyebrow at the man carrying a drum.
“Nobody did,” Adams said. The Indians didn’t seem to bat an eye either.
“I called the Indians up and they said, ‘as long as you don’t bother anybody’,” Adams recalled. “I went down there and I set up at the bottom of the bleachers. That first night must have been date night (at The Stadium)—boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl—16 of them marched in at once and they sat down right in front of me.”
It was then that an unknown fan nearly ruined 40 years of tradition without even knowing it.
“A guy turned around and said, ‘you’re not going to hit that, are you?’ I said…nope. I guess I’m not going to even get started.” It wasn’t until a little later that fate intervened and a fan who was just looking for a cold drink got the beat started.
“Later, some guy was making a beer run from the top of the bleachers. He said, ‘are you going to hit that drum or what?’ I said, ‘Well…I’m not supposed to bother anybody.’ And he said, ‘You won’t be bothering anyone up here!’ So I went up there and played and that’s how it got started.”
Adams took his place at the top of the metal bleachers and the rest is history. For two decades on the lakefront, Adams kept the beat for over 1,000 Tribe games and earned the nickname “Big Chief Boom-Boom” from former pitcher and longtime Tribe announcer Herb Score. When the Indians moved to Jacobs Field in 1994, Adams took his seat at the top of the bleachers underneath the giant scoreboard. Adams sits in row Y, seat 29 in the dead center underneath the Budweiser sign. The drum sits in seat 28.
“Down at the old ballpark I had the drum sitting right in front of me and that was nice,” Adams said. “In this one, it sits next to me. That’s the difference. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse.”
For the first several years in the new ballpark’s history, Adams had to buy two tickets—one for himself and one for his drum. Eventually, Adams purchased all four of the seats in his small row between two poles. Over the last couple of seasons, the Indians have comped those tickets.
Despite having a new seat in a new ballpark, the seat next to him remains filled with the same, familiar neighbor.
“It is the same drum,” Adams said. “(I change the heads) probably a couple times a year. I probably go through two heads. This year’s been going real good. I’ve had the same head on for the whole year. I even keep a spare head down at the ballpark and a spare set of mallets too.”
Adams beats his drum when the Indians take the field in the top of the first inning, any time the team gets a runner in scoring position or hits a homerun, when the Indians are behind or tied in the eighth inning or later, and when the Indians lead for the last out in the top of the ninth or extra innings. To respect the players in the game, Adams always stops when the pitcher comes to his “set” position.
Banging a drum at baseball games was something that Adams’ never thought would last as long as it has. It wasn’t planned out to be this way, although it wasn’t due to the Indians lack of trying to lure him back.
“I never planned it,” Adams said. “In fact, (former Indians executive) Jackie York came out early on and said that they really liked what I was doing. She asked if I would come to every game…and I said no.”
Despite his decline, Adams claims that he never changed his mind. “Then I kind of just started coming to every game. It just happened.”
When he’s not drumming at baseball games, Adams has a busy life outside the ballpark. He works as a data systems analyst for AT&T but also teaches a class at Cleveland State University. “I’ve been doing that for 35 years,” Adams said of his teaching career. “I teach people how to teach the disabled. We do motor development and behavior modification stuff. For anyone who is going to be a certified teacher in physical education or special education, it’s mandatory that they go through this class.”
He also is president of the Cleveland Blues Society, is part of the Service and Emergency Response Team in his hometown of Brecksville, is part of the Buckeye Woodworkers and Woodcutters and is a water safety instructor. He belongs to Kiwanis and also used to help out on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “It’s all being able to give back to the community. That’s important.”
Being all over the community probably helps, but it is the drumming that makes Adams such a recognizable face around Northeastern Ohio. “It happens quite often,” Adams said of being recognized in public. “It seems like it happens more and more now than before, but as time goes on more people recognize me. People often stop and say hello. It’s fun.”
Fun is what Adams is all about. The Indians will honor Adams before their game Saturday night against the Minnesota Twins, 40 years after that night in Cleveland Stadium.
“I will be getting the first ‘hit’ of the game,” Adams said. “I’m going to stand at home plate and, I’m not quite sure but I think Carlos Baerga is going to throw the pitch, and I’m going to hit it with the drum.”
In addition to this honor, the Indians also celebrated Adams’ 30th anniversary with the club back in 2003, gave him his own bobblehead day in 2006 and then had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch in a 2007 playoff game against the New York Yankees. Even with all of the perks of being the Indians most recognizable fan, it isn’t the accolades that brings Adams back to the ballpark.
“The best part is meeting all of the people and being at the game,” Adams said. “I love the games. Being there is a lot more fun than listening on the radio or watching it on TV.”
And being at a game with Adams banging away certainly is something that is hard to beat.
Photo: David Ahntholz/The New York Times