Two Clevelands, One Team
Steelworkers and yuppies rally around baseball's Indians
CLEVELAND — TWO Clevelands nestle on the Lake Erie shore: There's the Cleveland of the rust belt, with its crumbling steel factories billowing smoke over blue-collar neighborhoods. Then there's the shiny new Cleveland, with fancy downtown shopping malls, pricey restaurants, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The two Clevelands meet regularly at a little ballpark on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario streets. They meet to adore the Cleveland Indians.
And the Indians respond in kind. Forty-one years after their last postseason appearance, the Indians of 1995 won 100 games in a strike-shortened season and clinched their division title almost a month before the playoffs. Tonight the team is in Boston, needing just one more victory over the Red Sox to win the best-of-five first-round playoff series.
With a new stadium and a new attitude toward baseball from the front office, Indians fans - those wearing wing tips and sport coats as well as those wearing high tops and sweatshirts - have come out in record numbers. Enthusiasm and attendance reached a new peak Wednesday when the Indians played the Red Sox in Game 2 of the division series. More than 44,000 watched Cleveland defeat Boston 4-0 less than 24 hours after the Indians took Game 1 by a score of 5-4 in a 13-inning seesaw battle.
Fans have come from record distances to root for the Tribe. Matthew Tontrup, a college student at the University of Dayton, skipped a day of classes to watch pitcher Orel Hershiser face Boston's Eric Hanson in Game 2.
''It's beautiful,'' he said of his first trip to Jacobs Field, which opened with the 1994 season. ''It's outrageous. When I get back, about 4 o'clock this morning, I have to write a paper and study for a midterm I have tomorrow.
Tontrup, watching the game from the standing-room-only ''home-run porch'' in left field, also scalped himself for the Indians. His shaved head sported a rendition of a grinning Chief Wahoo, the team's mascot.
Fans travel from afar with good reason. Twenty-seven times in the regular season, Cleveland has won a game in its last at-bat. The team was 13-0 in extra-inning games, and nine times at Jacobs Field the Indians won a game with a home run.
All those statistics came into play Tuesday night in Game 1.
Cleveland starter Dennis Martinez, who won nine games before his first loss this season, left the game after the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead and hoping for his first win against the Red Sox this season. But reliever Julian Tavarez gave up a home run to the Red Sox's Luis Alicea that tied the game in the eighth inning. The usual ninth-inning fireworks were quieted by two strikeouts and a ground out, and the game went into extra innings.
Boston's Tim Naehring blasted a home run off Indian reliever Jim Poole in the 11th, but Albert Belle, the Cleveland fans' choice for Most Valuable Player, led off the bottom of the 11th with a solo homer that tied the game.
Two innings later, with two outs and a 3-0 count, Cleveland reserve catcher Tony Pena, who had hit five home runs all season, sent a towering shot into the bleachers in left center. The former Red Sox player had become a Cleveland hero.
'PENA'S my favorite,'' said Barbara Keefe who, like her husband, Tom, has lived in or near Cleveland all her life. She has always been an Indians fan. ''He's even better than [designated hitter] Eddie Murray. Even before last night,'' when Pena hit the game-winning home run.
Keefe's sentiments about Pena and Murray, seasoned veterans who are probably finishing their careers in Cleveland, are typical. The fans have embraced such veterans - the list includes Hershiser, Dave Winfield, and Martinez - as if they had grown up in the Cleveland system. Before the Orioles counted down Cal Ripken's consecutive-games-played streak with numbers on the warehouse, the Indians counted down to Murray's 3,000th hit with a banner above their home-run porch.
Those veterans are an important part of General Manager John Hart's plan to resuscitate the Indians, who in 1991 lost 105 games. Young players who have come up through the farm system or been acquired by trade have been signed to long-term contracts. The veterans have been brought in not only for their talent but also to guide the core of young players to maturity.
The new ballpark has a seating capacity of 44,000, but has brought crowds the team could never have hoped for when it played in the cavernous, 80,000-seat Municipal Stadium.
''I knew someday we'd have a team, and this is like the field of dreams,'' Keefe says. ''We made every game we could this season. We rearrange our life for this team.''
Fans like Keefe pass their love for the Indians down through their families.
''I have a little granddaughter who's not even two,'' Keefe says, ''and she can say 'Carlos Baerga.' '' Baerga is the team's second baseman.