The television advertisements and team spokesman/cheerleader Nick Swisher say this is a “Tribe Town.”
But is it really?
The Indians returned to Progressive Field this year to discover that not much had changed from last season, where after the obligatory sellout in the home opener, they drew a little over 10,000 fans per day for the five remaining games of the first homestand of the year.
That’s some welcome home for a team that qualified for the postseason last year for the first time since 2007, representing the American League as the top wild-card entrant.
A real, “Thanks a bunch guys,” for producing a memorable year in marquee manager Terry Francona’s debut season and making Cleveland baseball relevant again on the national scene.
Truth is, Cleveland sports fans haven’t supported the Indians much since the franchise’s then major-league record 455 consecutive sellout streak came to an end in 2001 — at least not at the attendance gates.
Even during their last postseason appearance before 2014 in 2007, the Indians ranked toward the bottom of the majors in attendance — 10th of 14 AL teams.
The excuses from Indians fans are abundant — and some of them with plenty of merit, such as owner Larry Dolan’s reluctance to spend competitively enough to produce a quality product on a consistent basis. Then there’s the fact that the Indians haven’t been very good since their glory days in the mid-to-late 90s.
That’s understandable. If the team isn’t winning, it’s tough to ask fans to spend money to come to the ballpark and cheer on the lovable losers.
But the Indians were good last year, with a high-profile manager and some big-named free-agent acquisitions joining the fold in Swisher and National League star Michael Bourn. They were one of the majors’ biggest stories. That should have enticed true Tribe fans to get to Progressive Field, but they didn’t arrive until the wild-card loss to Tampa Bay, ranking 14th of 15 AL teams in 2013 regular-season attendance.
It looks as though it’s going to be the same story this time around, with the Indians in the No. 14 spot again — six home games into the season.
Cleveland’s sports misery and lack of a major professional championship since 1948 is well-documented. That means there haven’t been a whole lot of chances to root on a winner.
Fans missed a golden opportunity last year, and despite the fact that the Indians are expected to contend again, the city’s sports fans seem more concerned with whom the Browns will be taking in the upcoming NFL Draft after yet another losing year (4-12) from the residents of the “Factory of Sadness.”
The sad and overwhelming truth is that Cleveland is and always will be a “Browns Town.” And there doesn’t seem to be much room for Cleveland’s other two major pro franchises at the fans’ table.
No more proof is required than LeBron James’ days with the Cavaliers. Cleveland had arguably the best player in the NBA and was qualifying for the playoffs on a consistent basis — two NBA Finals appearances — and the Cavs still weren’t “Top Dawg” in this town, where the nod went to the brown and orange and guys such as Joe Thomas, Josh Cribbs and D’Qwell Jackson.
The King was little more than a prince, despite being born and raised in nearby Akron. That’s hard to believe. Pretty sure he’s the most popular player in Miami these days.
Some will point to the Indians’ sellout streak as proof that Cleveland does support its baseball team at the turnstiles. But that string of packed houses was deceiving, coming at a perfect time for the Indians, who were housed in a new stadium, with one of the most talented teams in the big leagues. And it would have never happened had the Browns not moved to Baltimore.
The Indians and Cavaliers will always play second fiddle to the football team, no matter how much success either franchise achieves.
I just hope Cleveland gets to celebrate a Super Bowl win soon, because that’s the only way its sports fans — er, Browns fans — will ever be satisfied.