It was a feeling unlike any I had ever had before.
On Oct. 2 — just six short months ago — I stood amidst 44,000 people waving towels, adrenaline coursing through my veins.
A lifelong Cleveland sports fan, I’d never been afforded the opportunity to attend a playoff game in Cleveland for quite a few reasons — the first and foremost being that Cleveland doesn’t afford many playoff opportunities to its long suffering fans.
Last year, however, the Cleveland Indians gave the city a glimmer of hope.
Ending the 2013 regular season on an 10-game winning streak, the Indians secured home field advantage for the American League Wild Card Game against the Tampa Bay Rays and brought some of the magic of the mid-1990s back to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
I’d only seen the aforementioned magic on TV, as I lived more than a thousand miles away from all of the action — I am from Florida — but knew how special Progressive Field was during the multiple World Series runs and finally, I got to experience it firsthand.
It was a night I’ll never forget.
As the Indians made their way out onto the field, the stadium roared unlike anything I’d ever heard. With each pitch, excitement intensified and the crowd grew more and more tense until, just like that, it was over.
Despite multiple opportunities to bring in enough runs to secure the one-game, win-or-go-home victory, the Indians fell to the Rays 4-0, adding another sporting heartbreak to the litany of missed opportunities in “Believeland.”
Thousands of fans left Progressive Field, but it just didn’t seem as if it — the season, the magic, the run — could truly be over. Heads were held as high as their hopes. The many fans knew, just as I and everyone in the clubhouse knew, the Indians could be on the brink of something special.
This special something began last season, as the Indians brought in legendary manager Terry Francona to take over the club, signed former Ohio State Buckeye Nick Swisher to the largest free-agent contract in team history and had outfielder Michael Bourn slip into their hands.
Fans knew for the first time since the ‘90s, the Indians were committed to winning, and after a painfully cold six months of offseason, the Indians’ path toward a World Series continues this season.
A slightly bland offseason in terms of transactions brought the Tribe a new right fielder in David Murphy and a position change for Carlos Santana, who will now play third base on a regular basis, but also cost them two veteran starting pitchers — Ubaldo Jimenez to the Baltimore Orioles and Scott Kazmir to the Oakland Athletics — who were each an instrumental part of last season’s playoff run.
In terms of change, however, that’s about it.
A majority of the team we saw last season will suit up again in 2014, looking to pick up exactly where they left off.
The outfield should mirror last season’s production, but Bourn’s legs still seem to be giving him trouble, as he is currently on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. The infield should be retooled as well, with Santana bringing his big bat to the hot corner. As for the pitcher-catcher battery, that’s where most of the questions lie.
How will Yan Gomes handle a full season behind the plate? Can Danny Salazar prove to be the same pitcher we saw at the end of last season? Will Justin Masterson become an elite-caliber ace? Will the bullpen — with the newly acquired John Axford and recently refurbished Vinnie Pestano — be sturdy enough to handle the eighth and ninth innings?
While no one knows what will happen, “Tribe Town” will be along for the ride throughout the summer, finding the answers to these questions on a game-by-game basis.
As the Indians reconvened for spring training in Goodyear, Ariz., in February, Swisher handed out red T-shirts to each player on the team.
Custom T-shirts have been Swisher’s thing since he’s arrived back home in Ohio. He’s often been seen wearing his creations with phrases such as “Awesome Amazingness” and the cult-classic “Brohio” proudly displayed across his chest.
This shirt, however, was different.
Upon this red shirt read a simple, two-word mantra that will define the city of Cleveland and its beloved baseball team throughout this summer.
For the 2014 Cleveland Indians, this season is completing “Unfinished Business.”
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