Why I’m Here Today
This is more of a personal blog. These won’t happen often, but I’m a baseball guy. I love writing about baseball. This is why I love baseball.
Just a few hours from my first Opening Day with the Dash, this is a great chance to look back at how (and why) I am about to travel to Zebulon, N.C. Many times, your current standing in life stems from your past.
My story begins in 1955, the year after the Cleveland Indians lost in the World Series. You see, 1955 began a streak of 40 straight seasons without playoff baseball in Cleveland. These 40 seasons were rough. The Tribe was the laughingstock of baseball.
Even when things were supposedly turning around, the Indians would crash and burn. Sports Illustrated boldly stated that the Indians were the American League’s best team in 1987. Cleveland won 61 games that season.
Somehow, someway, my Dad, who moved to Cleveland in the 1960s, continued to support Chief Wahoo’s crew. In 1994, the Indians finally showed a great deal of promise with a young core of mashers in their lineup. Fittingly, the 1994 season ended in a strike with Cleveland very much in the playoff hunt for the first time in a while.
I was born in 1989, but my earliest childhood memories come from 1995. Many of those memories involve the Indians. This magical team went 100-44 in a strike-shortened campaign. The Indians were so good that transcendent sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez were in the bottom portion of the lineup.
My summer revolved around the Tribe. I would watch or listen to every game, and I wrote down the score and the relevant stats from each game I attended on a yellow pad of paper I tucked inside my nightstand. At the age of five, baseball was my life.
My Dad fueled my love for the game. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the type of season that must have been unfathomable during the first 30-plus years of his Indians fandom. It was perfect timing, because his dream season collided with my one of impressionable years. He hung with the formerly hapless Indians long enough to partake in one of the greatest seasons in Cleveland sports history, and he did me the ultimate favor.
He made me a baseball fan.
Albert Belle. Eddie Murray. The aforementioned Thome and Ramirez. The 1995 Cleveland Indians were loaded with big boppers. The one offensive starter on the squad who was a little different was Omar Vizquel. The Venezuela native debuted in the big leagues seven months before I was born—April of 1989—and never hit for power. In fact, Vizquel had his “power breakout” in 1995. He hit six long balls after just seven homers in his first six seasons.
Vizquel was a table setter. He tended to be the one coming around to score when Belle, Murray and the gang did the heavy lifting. Plus, Vizquel was a wizard with the glove. While Ozzie Smith seems to have the public’s vote for baseball’s best defensive shortstop, Vizquel was better statistically. Much better. Like, .985-to-.978-fielding-percentage better.
As the years passed and the faces of baseball in the 1990s left Cleveland, many of whom did so in a less-than-favorable way, Vizquel handled things as smoothly as he would a ground ball. He became my favorite link to the contending teams I was blessed to support during my childhood.
Following the 2004 season, the Indians’ front office decided to move on with highly-touted prospect Jhonny Peralta. At the age of 36, Vizquel said goodbye to the Tribe.
Over the last 24 hours, everything from this tale seemed to intersect. Yesterday, at the age of 44, “Little O” suited up for the Toronto Blue Jays in the team’s season opener. This season, the Jays happened to kick off their 162-game journey in Cleveland. Vizquel, who fought in spring training for one of the Blue Jays’ final roster spots, received a standing ovation from a sold out Progressive Field.
One of those Indians fans in attendance yesterday was my Dad. He cheered for Vizquel, just as he used to do in the 1990s when his loyalty to a team was rewarded.
My Dad and I attended many Opening Day games when I lived in Ohio. Indians baseball was our strongest bond, and Opening Day was the strongest reminder.
Sure, Opening Day has a different meaning to me in 2012. Here I am with the Winston-Salem Dash, an affiliate of another American League Central organization. It is fitting, though, that my first Opening Day as a lead voice is in Zebulon, where the Carolina Mudcats debut as an Indians affiliate.
Baseball is a wonderful game, and what an incredible year 2012 could be. Omar Vizquel is still flashing his Gold Glove defense. My Dad is gearing up for another season of Indians baseball.
Here’s hoping I last in this game as long as Omar has while maintaining my Dad’s passion.
Thanks for everything, Dad, Omar and baseball. Thanks for the past, and thanks for the future.