Last night’s Wild Card playoff was a game this city desperately needed. No, one game is most assuredly not “enough.” No, I’m not satisfied that the Indians peed down their leg with runners on base last night.1 All the same, last night was a game that this city needed and it was a game that the team needed. As I said yesterday, this city has been doing a lot of bickering and in-fighting over the years since LeBron James left town and took all of Cleveland’s playoff hopes with him. What was left was a lot of self-loathing, bitterness and negativity.2 It’s been wearing on this city’s fans and filtering to the players too. With those things in mind, I’m elated with the fact that Cleveland got at least one playoff game so the city could explode positively for a night.
It was absolutely electric, except that’s something everyone says. It was more than electric. The pride, excitement, and nearly palpable effort by Clevelanders last night to will their team to victory was everything we all remember as kids growing up with the 90’s Tribe. It was another taste for those of us in this age bracket, but it was even more important for so many people who hadn’t seen it before or were too young to remember. But that’s just the fans. It was also imperative for Cleveland Indians players to see it.
I’m genuinely sorry that Chris Perez got his first taste of the best of Cleveland Indians baseball fans in what will almost assuredly be his last game wearing the uniform. Perez became the whipping boy for Cleveland Indians fans because he called them out. I didn’t necessarily agree with Perez all the time, but I understood where he was coming from in some cases. He followed that up later by calling out the ownership and front office, but by then it was too late in many fans’ minds. If Perez had only known what this fan-base could be like, it might have all gone much differently.
Remember that a 23-year-old Chris Perez showed up in Cleveland in the middle of 2009. That was pretty far removed from the magical 2007 run to the ALCS. Perez was traded to the Tribe on June 27th, 2009. For reference, Victor Martinez was traded at the end of the following month. Even if you consider that a good, smart trade, you have to admit it was probably the team’s rock bottom moment after the playoff run of 2007. I’m being redundant, but it is worth repeating. Chris Perez showed up just in time for the emotional valley of this era of the Cleveland Indians.
Yes, Perez made a lot of his own problems, but when you really think about it, he just had no way of knowing the true nature of this fan-base in his time here. There’s no need to pity a millionaire player, of course, but I wonder what his feelings of Cleveland Indians fans are after seeing how good it can actually be when they aren’t beaten into submission by sub-par seasons and unpopular trades with no pay-offs? I’ll stop there, because I don’t want this post to be negative.
Even though I’m a bit bummed out today, I’m not feeling negative about this team. They did a pretty extraordinary thing in the month of September. They gave themselves a chance to compete in the playoffs. More importantly, they gave us a chance to show ourselves and all the new faces in Cleveland just how good things can be in The Jake, or Progressive Field.
Maybe the next time when the media asks a new guy like Michael Bourn about attendance – despite the fact that through no fault of his own he has no historical perspective on it – there’ll be some player in the locker room who knows better. There’ll be someone who knows if they can make believers out of the fans, just how great the atmosphere will be.
And the reverse is also true. I can’t let the fans off the hook completely. This team showed you something. They showed you that they don’t have to fade down the stretch. They showed you that things might just be as different with Terry Francona manning the team as you might have ever hoped. They just might have shown that it’s safe to invest in those tickets beyond opening day in 2014 now that the front office is taking a different approach.
As always, we’ll have to wait and see. Just know that right now, I’m a bit down about the early playoff exit, but I’m not dejected about the Cleveland Indians and their future. They were bold this off-season and while it didn’t pay off in the ultimate prize, it was far from a failure. That’s wholly different than the way I felt after last year.