Around mid-August, when the Tribe had just beaten Detroit for the 20th consecutive game, I wanted to go see them play. I didn’t care that the only fans currently allowed at games are made of cardboard, or in the case of the Oakland A’s, giant teddy bear fans. I mentioned my plan to my husband. He was not in favor.
Thirty-six years ago (when Brent and I first met), he taught me all about baseball, and the Indians in particular. He is a native Clevelander, but I am not. Because of him, I am a huge baseball fan today. In the 1980s and 1990s when we lived in Virginia, we read Indians Ink, a newspaper for out-of-state Tribe fans. We regularly tuned in to Tribe games via a dial-up connection on our 486 computer that offered only a black screen with bare-bones stats in a simple yellow font that ran across the page with a maddening delay.
We still lived out of state while Jacobs Field was under construction. Whenever we came to Cleveland to visit family and friends, we drove out of our way to glimpse the progress on the stadium construction. We genuflected in a reverent bow toward the site, while seat-belted in our car. When we moved back to Cleveland in 1999 (yes, the same year the Browns returned), we were thrilled to be able to attend Tribe games and even more thrilled to be able to share the experience with our kids (who were toddlers at that time). More recently, I made regular appearances on the Jumbotron at the many games where I waved my Lonnie Chisenhall Fan Club banner. I know Lonnie is neither a superstar nor a member of the Indians anymore but that’s another story. You get the idea. We love the Indians.
So, when Brent responded with indifference to my suggestion to see the Tribe play this summer, I didn’t let it go. Pandemic or not, I wanted to see the Indians in person. Finally, Brent agreed there was no reason not to at least try.
As we drove, Hammy and Rosey painted an ugly picture on the radio, of how the game was progressing. The Tribe was up 5-0 but Adam Plutko had just given up a grand slam as we looked for parking. After that seven-run inning, we trailed 7-5.
Downtown was quite deserted. For $6, we parked in a nearly empty lot very close to the stadium and then we just started walking toward the lights. At the entrance with statues of Bob Feller and Jim Thome, we walked right up to the gate. About a dozen other fans were scattered around the fence near us (but still socially distanced). Some wore masks. Some, like me, wore Tribe gear.
It was beautiful and yet dystopian. All the fans there that night were so desperate for live baseball that we stood gripping a fence with our faces pressed between bars, leaning in, to see something, hear something, feel something that had been missing for too long.
We could see the green grass, a player or two and the pitch count and score. We convinced ourselves that the cardboard fans were not mocking us. We could hear voices of the players, coaches and officials and we could hear the ball hit the catcher’s mitt or fly off the bat. We could hear the fan noise that we previously suspected might only be piped in for TV audiences but there it was “live” in the stadium. Perhaps it contained some of the voices of those of us actually standing there, having been recorded at a game in a world where real fans filled the seats. We heard those fans – who might have been us – singing “Jose Jose.” We heard John Adams banging his drum even though John Adams was not in the stadium that night.
We watched for a few innings as the Tribe’s win streak against Detroit came to an end. But something else also came to an end that night: the empty spot in my heart that was missing baseball. Total expenditure: $6. The experience: Priceless.