Fans Need to Expand Support Beyond Opening Day

It’s Cleveland, it’s April, it’s finally baseball season. And while Indians’ fans everywhere are excited that the magic is back at Progressive Field, the traditional bit of fan negativity that surrounds the Indians every year seems to be back, as well.

“This guy is our ace?” fans said of Justin Masterson during his last outing against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. “Hey Vinnie, this is the weather in Columbus right now,” were the snarky comments of others written after Vinnie Pestano recently struggled on the mound. The wishes that Josh Tomlin had been the fifth starter instead of Carlos Carrasco were seen as well, along with the criticisms of David Murphy’s and Nyjer Morgan’s early performances.

It seems to be only a matter of time before fans are lamenting, “There’s always next year.”

The instant negativity seen by Cleveland fans toward the Indians is always overwhelming. With the season being underway by just over a week, it seems as though fans are already ready to internalize the unofficial motto of Cleveland sports: “There’s always next year.”

Next year is this year. Next year has just gotten underway. It’s not yet time to give up! Would you quit your job after a week and a half if you had difficulty adjusting? You would (hopefully) give it more time. Time for adjustment, for learning the ins and outs of a new system, and for developing an understanding of the demands, pressures, and expectations of the new position. You should cut the Indians that same break.

The optimism that fans have on Opening Day and at the Home Opener is amazing. The sheer amount of people filling the streets of downtown Cleveland on a cold and rainy Friday afternoon should give fans a moment of pause. People were missing work, taking their children out of school, and simply dropping any other plan to attend last Friday’s game, bringing with them a sense of hopefulness and positivity otherwise not found in the Cleveland sports community.

However, that enthusiasm seemed to dwindle the moment the first raindrops fell and Chris Colabello hit his first inning homerun.

Fans got down on Salazar. They cited a new malady, Home Opener Pressure, as the reason for his shaky first inning. The excitement of simply watching live baseball again was gone, and instead the focus was on the mistake made and the seemingly undeniable fact that the Indians were going to pick up where they left off last year – losing.

The Tribe rallied toward the end of Friday’s game, though, and came back to win by a score of 7-2. Fans were once again excited – the team snapped a six-year home opener losing streak, winning for the first time since 2008, and did so in a way that seemed to establish them as once again the hope of Cleveland sports.

The excitement did not last. The Indians returned to the field on Saturday and provided fans with the home loss they were expecting. Again, the attitudes sank and fans seemed ready to admit that the Tribe was, truly, no different than they had been the year before when they lost the Wild Card game.

What’s the point in dwelling in the negativity? Why focus on what the team is doing wrong? Even self-described fans have been known to look at the team for what they aren’t – they are not a team with a high payroll, a team compiled of nothing but All-Stars, the reigning World Series champs – instead of what they are – they are a team with two 2013 All-Stars, a team of youngsters on the brink of breakout seasons, a team that just secured a handful of their best players for years to come.

Even when things such as promising contracts happen, fans seem to focus on the downside. Yes, Jason Kipnis was just signed to a six-year, $52.5M contract, but where’s Masterson’s extension? Why are fans always focused on what’s missing?

Throughout the offseason, fans were lamenting the one thing they missed more than anything else – baseball. Now that it’s back, it seems that they can’t wait for it to disappear again. While Opening Day and the Home Opener are those two days where everyone believes that their team has a chance, it seems foolish to immediately lose that hope just because a few pitchers pitched poorly and a few players had bad at-bats. Baseball is a long season, and no team is going to win every single game.

That Opening Day optimism needs to find a way to translate into future weeks, future games, future months of the season. Yes, it’s Cleveland and it’s cold in April and it gets dark around 8 p.m. right now, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t be tuned in from their homes or their cars or a local sports bar. A losing game is better than no game at all, right? It’s what fans were looking for all season – the return of baseball – and now that it’s back, it seems that they can’t wait to see it disappear.

Ball players do not enjoy playing poorly, either. Fans are not alone in wishing that this team could win every game right from the start. But that’s what makes the season exciting – knowing that every day is a new game, a new opportunity to add another win to the record. Every day should be treated like Opening Day; every day is a chance to begin again. I’m not saying that fans should turn a blind eye when things don’t go as planned, or when players look like they are struggling in their roles. However, fans should quit focusing on what’s looking wrong, and try to look more positively on what’s going right.

Yes, Pestano looks like he needs to spend a little more time in Triple-A this season. But, Murphy is proving himself to be an invaluable addition to the lineup. Yes, some of the starting pitching hasn’t been as lights-out as it was last season. But, Lonnie Chisenhall is working hard to show that he has a place on this team, regardless of who is playing third base.

This team is striving to make up for what it lacks. It’s never easy to jump right into something with no blips or errors. But when fans give up on the team instantaneously, it seems to show that nothing is worth it and that trying is fruitless. What does the team have to work for if no one is there to support them, physically or otherwise, beyond Opening Day?

Photo: Katie Cole/CBS Radio

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