“Tonight you’re gonna break on through”
On Twitter: @Castrovince
Albert Belle was back in the news this week, and my mind got to reminiscing…
We scalped tickets to Albert nee “Joey” Belle’s first Major League game. It was a Saturday night — July 15, 1989 — and, for one of the few times in my lifetime of going to games at old Municipal Stadium, a decent crowd was expected to be on-hand.
And so my dad, brother and I couldn’t commence with our usual routine of showing up at the gate, buying a general admission ticket in right field and parking ourselves in the amply available front-row seats behind Cory Snyder.
Besides, in what certainly signaled the beginning of the end of the remarkable Cory Snyder Era, it was Belle getting the starting nod in right field.* And the arrival of this power-hitting prospect, combined with a Nolan Ryan appearance for the visiting Rangers and the fact that the Tribe was actually flirting with .500 after the All-Star break, all added up to an announced crowd of nearly 30,000 in the 74,000-seat stadium — an overwhelming tally at the time.
*When I look at Baseball Reference now, it’s little wonder Snyder wasn’t starting that night. I see that he was 9-for-his-last-49 and batting .233 with a .640 OPS on the season. This can’t possibly be correct, though, because, in my 8-year-old mind, he was on pace for the Triple Crown.
We scalped a trio of tickets in the upper deck, but not without incident. A cop approached as my dad bartered with the broker and threateningly informed them that no scalping on stadium grounds would be tolerated.
“Oh no, officer,” my dad assured him, “we wouldn’t do that. This is my cousin!”
My dad and the complete stranger put their arms around each other and carried on about old times and old acquaintances.
All of which would have been believable, had my father not been a 5-foot-3 Sicilian and the scalper not been a 6-foot-3 African-American.
But hey, it worked. The cop shook his head and walked off.
It was at this moment that my 8-year-old Catholic conscience (long since departed) got the best of me. My hands shaking, my lips quivering as we headed into the ballpark and up toward our seats, my dad asked me what was wrong.
“You lied to that police officer!” I said through tears.
Ah, but the tears would quickly give way to the smiles provided by the beauty of ball. That’s how it is when you’re 8, after all.
The game itself? Well, it was one of those nights that instill and affirm your love of the sport at an early age. Belle got a base knock off Ryan for his first Major League hit, the immortal Joe Carter went 3-for-4 with four RBIs, Ryan got rocked and Greg Swindell went the distance. The Indians won, 7-1.
Truth is, though, I don’t even remember caring too much whether the Indians won or lost back then. Most of the time, we’d end up leaving a couple innings early and listening to Herb Score call the rest of the game (on “3WE… WWWE… Cleveland,” as the in-game station identification would go), and the outcome was, quite typically, defeat.
But something changed that particular night — something that could only be gathered in retrospect. Albert Belle made his debut, and he would prove to be the first piece of the larger puzzle.
In December of that year, the Indians would net Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga in the trade that sent Carter to the Padres, and Alomar would emerge as the Rookie of the Year in 1990 — the same year Charles Nagy first appeared in the bigs.
In ’91, Belle (a year removed from an alcohol treatment program at the Cleveland Clinic and the reclaiming of his birth name, Albert) and Baerga became Major League regulars, and Jim Thome debuted.
In ’92, Kenny Lofton arrived from Houston and Paul Sorrento from Minnesota.
By the time they moved south to Jacobs Field in ’94, with Omar Vizquel acquired from Seattle and hired guns like Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez brought aboard in free agency, the Indians had, at long last, assembled a legit contender in the newly formed American League Central Division.
And in ’95, they were a powerhouse — one of the greatest teams in history to not win a World Series.
It all began on July 15, 1989, when Joey Belle stroked a single off Nolan Ryan to bring home a run.
And I wouldn’t have been there to witness it without the help of my first cousin, once removed.