When the rain dried up and the Tampa Bay Rays left town, it was the Cleveland Indians front office left holding the bag. Though the Tribe played a pair of bone-dry afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, it is the epic rain delay from Friday night—which carried through early Saturday morning—that would be the narrative of the entire series. Roughly 32,000 fans were fitted to fill up the majority of Progressive Field for nine innings of play and some post-game pyrotechnics. Four hours later, 30,000 of them sauntered back to their various means of transportation with nothing to show for their support aside from wet wardrobes and stomachs full of man-made meat and Bertman’s.
“Never again,” one fan told me in regard to buying tickets in advance of game day. “It should have been a perfect night. Two-hundred-and-forty dollars later, I learned my lesson.”
Scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m., the game was delayed three times before finally resuming at 12:13 a.m.—two hours, 39 minutes after the third and lengthiest delay. The first pitch was not thrown until after 9 p.m. Once the first rain delay quickly morphed into the second rain delay—the umpiring crew signaled for the grounds crew to remove the tarp in the second inning only to have them reapply it to the field 13 minutes later—the Indians front office knew that they were going to have to go into full-on fan-appreciation mode. What were supposed to be one-dollar hot dogs turned into a two-for-one special as a way to say “thank you” on the fly. Little did they know, the fans who left close to midnight only to wake up the next morning to read a box score of a completed game would take to Twitter, Facebook and radio air waves to voice their disdain for what transpired.
The team quickly went into recovery mode. Though there were merely a few hours between the completion of Friday night’s game (2:53 a.m.) and Saturday’s start (1:05 p.m.), both team President Mark Shapiro and Curtis Danburg, the team’s Senior Director of Communications, fired off messages to fans. The team had several reasons for why the game was crow-barred into a rain-soaked evening: the forecast of the impending weekend, the inability to predict the weather of that very evening, and the lack of days available to make up a game in the event it was cancelled.
Weather in Cleveland is impossible to predict as it is. The third reason, however, is the most operative and is 100 percent the fault of Major League Baseball. It was for these similar reasons why the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals played a full nine innings despite being delayed an hour before the first pitch and another 4 hours, 32 minutes by rain before the Royals beat Cardinals 4-2 well after 3 a.m the following day. Sure, there was rain, but the league has used their schedule to handcuff teams while telling them they can only have the keys on a mutual day off. Kansas City and St. Louis are just a few miles away; distance was certainly not the issue. What is, however, is the newly mandated Major League Baseball schedule that requires one half of the teams games (46 percent, but the point remains) be played against AL Central rivals. Once you factor in the newly-forced interleague match-ups throughout the entire season rather than for stretches of play, it becomes increasingly more difficult to make-up games against any team not in the Tribe’s own division. The Yankees were already forced to come into town for a few hours to make up two games which were canceled during the season’s Opening Week. If the Indians and Rays—two teams that are likely looking at a future which includes post-season contention—were to have to make up a contest down the road, that would mean late-season days of rest would be used on the field instead. A lose-lose for all involved, save for Major League Baseball who has to answer to no one.
”We feel terrible about that type of circumstance for our fans,” Shapiro said to the local media before Saturday’s game. ”That’s not what we’re looking to do here. We’re looking to provide the best experience possible for our fans. To have them wait around that long with that much uncertainty is something we want to work to make right.”
Shapiro speaks for a team that is in dire need of a boost to its season-ticket base. Just days earlier, when I bounced the question to Bob DiBiasio, the Indians long-time Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, the discussion surrounding inconsistent and somewhat reactive attendance was in the context of “keeping him up at night.” The team is very aware that there is a lack of trust amongst fans, and that all of the stars have to be aligned—wins, weather, giveaways, cost—for fans to start heading back down to the stadium in droves. When you factor in a Friday night game in late May and couple it with dollar dogs and their existing fan-friendly concession prices and scheduled fireworks display, everything was there for the having…until the skies opened up.
What the Indians will do to “make it right” remains to be seen. Fans are encouraged to hang on to their tickets, so one has to assume that rather than posterity and the nostalgia that comes with being rained on with 30,000 other people is not the impetus. At some point, the team will likely announce discounted tickets, if not free tickets, to a future game. While giving away tickets when a game was indeed played can prove unfortunate and costly, it will be a cost that the team will have to eat if it wants to continue repairing the bridge of trust that has been so badly decimated over the last several years of poor, financially-constrained business decisions and a whole lot of losing. The same fan who spoke to me regarding Friday night was a former season-ticket holder who possessed four seats behind home plate, seats they had the rights to since the opening of Jacobs Field back in 1994, but opted to give them up following a 97-loss season coupled with the shipping off of favorites Victor Martinez and a Cy Young-winning Cliff Lee.
The dollar dogs are great. The fireworks are routinely among the best in the area. The team’s standings among it’s AL Central rivals certainly makes matters better. But the Indians need all of the help they can get. The real unfortunate part is that they’ll have to do so without any assistance from Major League Baseball, whose greed and complete lack of regard for scheduling logistics make them the true culprit in the PR disaster that was a rain-soaked Friday night in Cleveland.
Update: Indians announce plans for a “ticket exchange” that will allow for a dollar dog/firework night. The Indians are adding a post-game fireworks show to July 31st and rescheduling the postponed May 31st fireworks show, presented by Wayside Furniture, to September 6th. Fans holding tickets dated Friday, May 31st, will soon be able to exchange their tickets for one of either July 31st or September 6th, subject to availability. Visit Indians.com/Schedule Changes for exchange details based on ticket purchase method. Tickets must be redeemed by July 1st to receive the exchange to either one of the games.
“We are always striving to provide our fans the best experience possible at Progressive Field and wanted to make it right for the fans who endured the lengthy weather delays and ultimate after midnight re-start,” said Cleveland Indians President Mark Shapiro. “By providing make-up opportunities on either July 31st or September 6th, which will both include Sugardale Dollar Dogs and post-game fireworks, fans will have the opportunity to have a positive and memorable ballpark experience.
“We value each and every one of our fans and want to thank them for staying at some or all of the May 31st game. We appreciate their loyalty, patience and perseverance.”
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)