As Indians close in on title, fans feeling playoff fever
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians, on the verge of clinching the AL Central and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2001, already have their fans looking ahead.
“With their pitching, they can go all the way,” said Eric Chapman, 43, of Kent, taking in the game-day atmosphere outside the West Side Market across the Cuyahoga River from Jacobs Field.
The Indians needed two breaks to clinch Saturday night — a Cleveland win and a Detroit loss. But while Detroit fell to the Royals, 7-4, the Indians got outhit by Oakland and lost 9-3. Cleveland’s last chance to clinch at home comes today against Oakland.
Chapman, wearing an Indians T-shirt he got at a game six years ago, said the Indians thrived this season when their strong pitching was matched by improved performances from the bullpen and hitters.
“They turned it around,” Chapman said.
Bernard Nesby, 46, of Cleveland, who went to his first games at Jacobs Field this year, said the fans are as committed as the Indians championship years of the 1990s but don’t have a dominant hitter to match the Albert Belle years.
Still, “I think they have the potential to go all the way to a championship,” Nesby said.
The stadium had a festive, ready-to-party air, with many fans at the sold-out game wearing red to show their team pride.
Bill Balser of Newark was there to celebrate his 76th birthday with his family, including his grandson, Justin Balser, 17, of High Point, N.C., who had his picture taken in front of the statue of Hall of Famer pitcher Bob Feller.
Grandfather Balser knows something about Feller, having tried out — unsuccessfully — for the Indians at Cleveland’s old League Park in 1948, when Feller went 19-15 and Cleveland won the World Series over the Boston Braves.
"He was blowing them away,” the older Balser recalled. “I lived and died with him.”
Watching the Indians try to clinch also was a birthday celebration for Gabriel Speidel, 9, of suburban Seven Hills. He, his parents and two friends turned out, with the boys holding up a sign, “Pies in the Face Put Us in 1st Place,” a nod to the post-game routine endured by the game hero interviewed on television.
Russell Jones, 46, and his son, Walton, 11, flew 410 miles on frequent-flier tickets from Asheville, N.C., for the three weekend games and the chance to root for Oakland, a family favorite since Russell Jones’ father knew an old Philadelphia Athletics player.
“He taught me to root for the A’s and hate the Yankees,” Russell Jones said as he and his son held up a sign reading “Asheville N.C. Loves the A’s.”
Despite the sign and green Oakland outfits, the Cleveland fans treated them pretty well, Jones said, especially the church choir that sang the Star Spangled Banner before Friday night’s game and sat near Jones and his son.