Fans Flock to Tribe Fest
By Bob Toth
The Kansas City Royals were hitless through eight innings. Francisco Lindor had given Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians a 4-0 lead after sending a pair of triples into the right field corner. In control, Lindor eyed the competition, cracked a smile, and said, “bring back the kid, you can’t hit me.”
Three pitches later, a seeing-eye single just under the glove of Indians’ second baseman Jason Kipnis ended Lindor’s no hitter. A brief sigh of disappointment escaped his lungs as he let go of the controller and took a temporary step away from the Playstation 3 “MLB 12 The Show™” display at Day One of Tribe Fest, having just fallen short of virtual immortality. Lindor’s five or so young challengers, who combined to control the Royals for nine innings, were only able to muster that one lone hit.
Lindor was just one of more than a dozen attractions at Progressive Field on Saturday afternoon as the Indians played host to thousands of their fans for the first-ever Tribe Fest.
While many have been fighting off the flu recently, the infectious Indians fever spread like wild fire through the underbelly of the stadium in downtown Cleveland.
Fans came out in scores, much to the surprise of many in attendance. The shortest lines may have been for the restrooms, as Cleveland aficionados lined up for everything from autographs to pictures to food to giveaways.
There was a noticeable level of excitement amongst those enjoying the day’s events, especially for a mid-January event about baseball. With a productive and positive offseason though, starting with the hiring of Terry Francona as manager, there was an undeniable energy coming from those present.
Fueling that energy was the presence of a dozen Tribesmen. Familiar Indians faces at the major league level, including Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Vinnie Pestano, and Lonnie Chisenhall, drew plenty of attention from the loyal. Lesser experienced guys on the scene, including Lindor, Cody Allen, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, and Nick Hagadone, also took part in the activities. New guys on the block, including Francona, Mike Aviles, and Drew Stubbs, were exposed to their largest gathering of Clevelanders as current members of the ballclub. Two additional former Indians alumni, Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Tito Francona, took the stage and were later present for the signing of autographs.
Several other notable personalities were on hand and readily available to those present. Team president Mark Shapiro mingled and chatted with the fans, signing autographs for several in attendance prior to taking the stage with “the voice of the Tribe”, Tom Hamilton. General manager Chris Antonetti engaged fans in a question and answer session led by Hamilton as well before interacting directly with the fans as part of an ‘Honorary Contracts’ signing event in the press interview room.
In addition to Hamilton, his broadcast partner Jim Rosenhaus was on hand, as was STO field reporter Katie Witham; the Cleveland Blues; and bleacher resident John Adams, complete with his trademark drum. The occasional pounding of his drum could be heard throughout the afternoon from children taking their turns to interact with the Indians drummer.
Stations were set up throughout the ballpark, accessible via the service corridors underground.
The main stage area was the heart of the festivities. From there, the ‘Broadcasters’ Welcome’ officially opened the event. Four other question and answer style gatherings were also held there, including an ‘Alumni Look Back’ with Grant and Tito Francona; ‘2013 Outlook’ with Terry Francona and Antonetti; ‘Around the Horn’ with Kipnis, McAllister, and Stubbs; and ‘State of the Game’ with Hamilton and Shapiro.
Many of the questions from fans for Francona, Antonetti, and Shapiro revolved around the unknown decisions in the back end of the rotation and the designated hitter position. In regards to the rotation, it was noted that Carrasco appears as healthy as any player on the team at this moment and that McAllister’s playing time last season may give him a leg up over other players vying for a rotation spot. The DH role may, in fact, come down to a position-by-committee approach, giving the team the luxury to rest players from the workload of playing in the field while still maintaining their offensive production in the lineup. Fans consistently inquired about options like Jim Thome and Travis Hafner.
Ballpark fare and Tribe merchandise, including $50 game-used jerseys, were located in the same room. Booths were available for the MLB Fan Cave, WTAM 1100, WMMS 100.7 FM, season tickets, spring training tickets, and premium seating. Autograph tables were set up opposite the main stage to meet with three available players at a time. A giveaway area allowed fans one spin to win a prize out of a collection of player jerseys and bobbleheads from recent stadium giveaways. Other players rotated through the player photo area and Hagadone, Pestano, and Lindor manned the PS3 arcade in three shifts.
Outside of the main area, the batting cages were home to baseball clinics for children 12 and under. The pitching and hitting clinics were conducted by the Indians players in shifts of three.
Tours of the Indians and visitors clubhouses were available, as were haircuts in the in-house barbershop. Caricature artists were located nearby. Representatives and mascots from the Akron Aeros and Lake County Captains were also on hand with tables set up in the main service corridor.
The press interview room was host to a display of baseball-themed Lego™ artwork, including images of several former Indians and the “Indians” script logo. The room also doubled as the locale for the Honorary Contract event, hosted by Antonetti.
The second and final day of Tribe Fest is scheduled for Sunday, January 20th from noon until 6 PM. If you plan on attending Sunday and have access to a printer, it will save you some time to complete the participant release waiver from the Indians website in advance.
The schedule of events is similar to that of Day One, with players in different areas throughout the day. All players are scheduled for autograph sessions and participation in the baseball clinics and most appear on the schedule for photos. All persons who attended the first day are scheduled to be in attendance once again, although that and the schedule of events are subject to change.
Tito Francona and Grant will again be first on the stage. They will then sign autographs, followed by attending a fan meet and greet.
Terry Francona will meet and greet fans prior to taking the stage for the ‘2013 Outlook’ question and answer session. He will follow that with an appearance with Shapiro at the Tribe Fest Social event. After the social media event, Shapiro will attend the Honorary Contract signing event in the press interview room.
Chisenhall, Stubbs, and Kluber are scheduled to engage fans in the video gaming arcade throughout the day. Aviles, Pestano, and Carrasco will take the stage midway through the day as part of the ‘Up the Middle’ event.
In case you missed it, there is also an interactive Tribe Fest Twitter Scavenger Hunt going on. Successful completion of the rules, in full detail on the Indians website, will give participants entry to a drawing for access to a suite at Progressive Field for 12 people.
There are five categories to complete for those wishing to enter.
The scavenger hunt’s first item is the Tribe Fest welcome sign. To prevent invalid entries, the following images have been edited from their original format.
From the people category, three different sets of pictures must be acquired out of the five options. You can picture and tag only one of the following four Indians on Twitter at the event – Kipnis, Pestano, Aviles, and McAllister. Additional options in the category include Terry Francona, Witham, Adams, and the Cleveland Blues.
Within the mascots pictures, entrants must post (and tag, if necessary) a picture from the event of either Slider, Ketchup, Mustard, Onion, or Key Tunes. They frequently traveled from location to location.
In the places category, one of the following places must be pictured – the MLB Fan Cave booth, the inside of the batting cage or clubhouse, or the barber shop.
In the final category, one thing must be pictured – either a ballpark food item or a piece of Indians gear.
Tribe Fest has plenty going on to entertain the baseball fan in all of us, regardless of age. If you have somehow failed to catch the Indians fever this offseason, being around hundreds of other fans decked out in their Cleveland attire, in January, hoping for a chance to meet their favorite Tribe player, is a great way to get prepared for the 2013 season.
Now is as good of a time as any – spring training will be upon us in no time!
Photos: Bob Toth