My Tribe: A Cleveland Baseball Story

This is the latest story from the blog,
“Wrong Turns Write Life”

When I was seven, Dad took Grandpa and me to a ballgame. It was my first.

Grandpa told me how he fell in love with the sport when he was around my age, several years after emigrating from Sicily. Dad went to get some foot longs, and I sat beside my grandpa, holding onto my little league glove. I heard the crack of the bat and saw the ball coming closer – Closer – CLOSER. We were in the upper deck down the third baseline. When that ball whizzed in slow motion directly over my head, it looked as big as a basketball. I yanked back my outstretched glove because I wanted no part of it.

I shook Grandpa afterward and screamed, “Did you see that!”

He grunted while he looked through his binoculars at home plate, “See what, see what?”

He had no clue what just happened. Little did he know that was the moment I became a fan of the game and his team, the Cleveland Indians, just like my father before me. 

It’s funny, but I don’t remember my childhood friends or classmates being Cleveland Indians baseball fans in the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe it was too painful to admit openly.

When I was in high school, the manager was probably best remembered for charging the mound at an opposing pitcher, pathetically failing to land a karate kick. To add insult to injury, the pitcher dropped our manager with one punch. But this was my team, my lovable losers. I played in a world of possibility, whereas nearly everyone else I knew played in a world of probability. Life is safer their way. But perhaps it’s with my mindset that I entered an essay contest by a Cleveland newspaper – “Why Do You Like The Indians?” Now a teenager, I read the newspaper’s sports section daily, so I wrote and sent in my essay.

I won!

Thinking back, I wonder if I was the only one who bothered with the contest.

Nonetheless, the prize was “dinner” with the Indians and a free ballgame. Dinner with the Indians meant I got to invite a friend to accompany me to the old Municipal Stadium for a luncheon that launched the team’s winter press tour. Only the manager and a couple of players showed up to talk to the room full of reporters, and afterward, I got to wait in line to shake the hand of a forgettable rookie infielder.

When Mom dropped me and my friend Scott at the stadium, we immediately seized a plush booth. It was long – very long – and center stage. It was in the back of the room next to huge windows high above the ground outside. It had our names all over it, so to speak. It was ours! Until some lackey in a suit scrambled across the room to us as some old guy, and his entourage entered.

“Hey kids, you can’t sit there!” he said alarmingly.

“Sure we can,” I said.

“We are,” said Scott, shooting a smile my way, knowing he had just slipped a cocky remark under the radar.

The man demanded we move.

“But I won the contest,” I said, as a matter of fact.

He looked dumbfounded. Then, he saw the entourage nearing and looked back at us in desperation.

“You gotta go now,” he pleaded, reaching for my arm.

I pulled away and scooted farther into the long and deep wrap-around booth out of reach.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the old man arriving next to the table. His entourage fanned out around it.

The scared-looking man (lackey) sounded like he had diarrhea of the mouth, so I explained.

Laughing, the old man said, “You boys have a good time,” and left us to the enormous booth.

Then, he and his entourage pulled tables and chairs together in the center of the room, displacing some adults.

As they crowded around a hastily made large table by clustering together smaller tables right in front of us, we sat back and ordered meals fit for kings. I sat at one end of the long booth, and Scott sat on the far end. You could have sat half a dozen adults on one side between us.

This was our day, and nobody was going to take it away.

Later, the old man was introduced as the general manager of the Cleveland Indians. My instinct was to boo, but I bit my tongue. We all knew how the Indians were mishandled, but I couldn’t help but appreciate his kindness toward us.

On the way out, Scott and I shared an elevator with a rising star named Pat Tabler. He had a giggling girl under each arm, making him a bigger hero than just a moment earlier, even though he didn’t notice us in the tight space we shared going down. 

Many years later, it was time to pass down the family tradition.

My daughter, Cara, was only four years old, and we were going to move from Cleveland to Cincinnati because of a job offer. Before we left, I wanted to take my little girl to experience the magic of Jacob’s Field.

We got on what Cara called “the train ride,” or the Rapid Transit, and settled into a seat facing backward. She liked that. I didn’t.

The man sitting in front of us had really big hair.

“Dad – look, that man has a comb stuck in his head.”

I saw the big hair shift, but it did not make a complete turn.

After that, we arrived, stood at the end of the line, and walked into the ballpark.

I didn’t give my kids a lot by modern standards, but I flat-out spoiled my daughter on that day. Program – yes. Hot dog – yes. Peanuts – yes. Cracker Jack – yes. After all this and three innings, Cara saw a man with a big tray of clouds on sticks, colors dancing in the light one section over. She followed him with her eyes. Finally, she asked about this strange sight. Now, her only mission in life was to try this thing called cotton candy.

Half an inning later, she was twisted backward, thumping my shoulder without looking, as she panted, “He’s coming, Dad. Dad, here he comes.”

I decided to make her earn this treat and said that she had to get his attention to come down to us, or she would be out of luck.

She asked how to do it, so I told her to yell, “Cotton Candy here!”

So she did! LOUDLY and REPEATEDLY.

Seeing how she handled the entire transaction herself, many in our section gave her a standing ovation.

Her head swelled.

I had to tilt my head back to contain the pooling water building up in my eyes.

When the game was over, we soaked in the experience for a while longer until we were among the last people in the stands.

“Dad, I love our team. Did they win?”

“I’ll always remember this day too, honey.”

And whether their name is Indians or Guardians, Cleveland will always be my tribe. 

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

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