“Gotta keep rolling, gotta keep riding”
Bob Seger was
rocking Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night. (EDIT: This post was up for about three seconds before somebody pointed out that Seger postponed the show due to illness.) I saw him in ’96, back when he was still relevant enough for classic rock nerds like myself to have him on our must-see checklist. Before he really let himself go and began to bear a striking resemblance to my big-bellied, gray-haired Uncle Don (though, thankfully, my Uncle Don doesn’t wear that silly headband that Seger sports).
The night I saw him, Seger set a new indoor record by pumping his fist once every 0.56 seconds. (Go ahead and try to keep up that pace for two-plus hours, the way Seger did. You’ll probably blow out your rotator cuff.) I’m pretty sure he played a guitar on one tune, though I’m not nearly as sure that the guitar was plugged in.
But I respect the heck out of Seger. “Live Bullet” and “Nine Tonight” are the quintessential live discs. Put them on and tell me I’m wrong. I’m not. “Roll Me Away” is an absolute triumph of a tune. Seger had my attention up until the “It’s a Mystery” album. That’s where he lost me. He put out a song a few years back with this exact verse: “Here’s to the little things/The sports section/The Weather Channel/A good battery.” I don’t even know where to begin expressing how brutally bad those lyrics are.
Still, I suppose the world’s a better place with Bob Seger on a stage than off it. And Cleveland’s undoubtedly a better place when relevant baseball is being played.
Lo and behold, that’s what we had here this week. A little Seger, and a little solid ball. (EDIT: Let’s just say Cleveland is now 1-0 in this area, with a Seger to be named later). Let’s make like Seger and celebrate the little things. I’ll also willingly celebrate the value of a good battery, because the ones in my TV remote just died. Maybe Bob was on to something.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…
- I’m trying to think of a more fundamentally sound sequence of events turned in by the Tribe in the last couple seasons than what we witnessed in the eighth and ninth Thursday. Truth is, I can’t, though that might say as much about my memory as it does about the team. Asdrubal Cabrera’s suicide squeeze was not only a brave, surprising and, above all else, correct call by Manny Acta, but it was perfectly executed by Cabrera. And Adam Everett’s heads-up decision to hold onto J.D. Drew’s bouncer and wait to see if pinch-runner Darnell McDonald would overrun the bag at second (which McDonald did, leading to the final out) demonstrated the sort of acumen you expect (but, alas, don’t always get) from a Major League infielder. You love to see a young team do the little things right early on, even if it’s not necessarily the young players doing them, because that sets a proper standard.
- The most encouraging thing the Indians saw all week might have been Fausto Carmona righting himself against the BoSox. It’s fair to give a guy a mulligan for a poor performance on Opening Day. Happens all the time. But red flags are raised if such a performance sets off a downward spiral. Carmona, to his credit, didn’t let that happen.
- The Indians are averaging a respectable 5.3 runs per game. And they’ve done it despite Shin-Soo Choo batting .083 and Grady Sizemore still in the realm of rehab. I think it’s still too early to read too much into what we’ve seen from Travis Hafner, who has looked solid so far, but the bats are off to a strong start with potential upside on the near horizon.
- Choo had some very complimentary things to say about Eric Wedge and Jeff Datz, who are reunited in Seattle, where the Indians open a weekend set Friday. “I’m really happy for them that they got a new job,” Choo said. “I really, really appreciate Wedge. I saw him in Spring Training, and he told me, ‘Choo, I’m happy for you.’ And I said, ‘No, no. You gave me the opportunity.’ And Datzy, he worried about me in the outfield. If I made a mistake, he would tell me right away. I really appreciate every one of those coaches.”
- Wedge didn’t have nearly as much to say about this upcoming reunion. “Who we’re playing is not relevant to me,” he told Seattle reporters. Sounds like Wedge to me.
- While we’re on the subject of Wedge, you should check out his acting debut if you haven’t already…
- This means, well, pretty much nothing, but here it is anyway. Cumulative 2010 record of the Indians’ remaining April opponents: 449-523. A strong start for this Tribe team is imperative, both from an economic standpoint and the confidence-building effect it can have on a team so accustomed to shooting itself in the foot. At first glance, it would appear this schedule cooperates, but who the heck knows?
- I mentioned economics. So, yes, let’s talk attendance, which has beengetting a ton of attention and, therefore, will be the meat of this post. I think Jon Steiner of Waiting for Next Year did a particularly good job presenting the situation for what it is. As Jon notes, the 2007 Indians finished a win shy of the World Series, yet finished 22nd out of 30 in attendance that year, so the “if you build it, they will come” cliché doesn’t really exist here as much as some might claim.
- In truth, though, that 2007 tally was no great shock, given the tame expectations initially surrounding that club and the slow burn that is a town embracing a team. What was more surprising — and more damaging — was what happened the following spring. The 2008 Indians brought just about everybody back (which, if you were in the Indians’ PR department, was the much-heralded retention of a strong core… and if you were in the Internet commenter crowd, was a cheapskate move by a team unwilling or unable to augment its roster). Opening Day sold out, as it has in each of Progressive Field’s 18 years. But attendance on April 2 was 17,645. Attendance on April 3 was 15,785. This was, early on, a relevant team. A team with CC Sabathia still fronting the rotation and with Cliff Lee putting up an astounding April. A team that, after a bit of a slow start, quickly got back into the thick of the race. On May 14, a Wednesday night, Sabathia outdueled Joe Blanton, and the Indians beat the A’s, 2-0, to jump into first place. The attendance that night was announced at 18,188.
- This isn’t a baseball town. Sometimes it pretends to be. But the ‘90s were a mirage, brought on by the perfect storm of a new ballpark, the Browns’ departure, the Cavs’ general awfulness (which extended to their uniforms), a revitalized downtown, a strong economy. To quote Steiner, it was “a red herring that means less than nothing in this discussion.” Or to paraphrase another washed-up rocker, Don Henley, those days are gone forever and we should just let ‘em go.
- The ‘90s were the exception to the rule; 2008 was the reality. That team underperformed and was snake-bitten by injuries, quickly falling back out of contention by mid-June. An effort was made to build up the underperforming areas in a fairly aggressive offseason, but the ’09 team wasn’t any better, and attendance continued to sag. And as I wrote at the time, this led to the fire sale and the initiation of the rebuild.
- I guess the point here is that while some people like to say that what’s happening now is the result of the Indians trading away their stars, the reality is that the seeds of the 2011 payroll were sewn way back when the Indians still had their stars. Low revenues lead to slashed payrolls which lead to attendance declines which lead to more slashed payroll… and ‘round and ‘round we go.
- And now we can throw a ton of other factors into the mix. The economy still stinks. Cleveland population has shrunk to below 400,000. Gas is almost $4 a gallon. Each and every game is beamed into our widescreen TVs in high-definition brilliance on a nightly basis (frankly, I think this is a particularly underrated factor). And, oh yeah, it’s colder than a witch’s patoot. The difficulty of luring folks to the ballpark these days can’t be overstated.
- The Indians’ season-ticket base is around 8,000, I’m told. So the walkup traffic has been light, with an assist from the weather. The Tribe has, in my opinion, done a fine job marketing itself in the right manner — essentially selling the experience of fanship and the memories the game has the ability to create, regardless of the standings. The team itself has some impressive young pieces and a bona fide star talent in Shin-Soo Choo. It’s awful early, but said team is playing entertaining baseball. I’ve written it before, but I really believe there are elements of this club that this city can get behind, especially in light of the Cavs’ season about to come to a close and the NFL possibly in lockout mode for 2011.
- But the fans will only get behind this team if it wins, and, even then, the attendance figures will likely never overwhelm. The Indians seem to understand that. I don’t think they’re trying to overwhelm. I think they’re just trying to rebuild a solid base, bit by bit. And the only way to do that is to have more and more stretches like the one they’ve put together this week.
- In case you missed my feature on Austin Kearns’ family, check it out here.
- And a reminder that my column archive can be found here.
- Next week I’ll have the annual at-bat music post. Early preview: No Springsteen. No Seger. So some of you will love it.