Tribe Fest Delivers For the Fan at Heart

jasonstout
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Pulling Back the Curtain, Even Just a Little Bit

This past weekend, the Cleveland Indians did just that by holding their third annual Tribe Fest in the bowels of Progressive Field. I was lucky enough to procure tickets and attended Saturday morning with my wife. We didn’t feel the need to buy tickets to the autograph sessions and were soon greeted by lines of people who did. Instead, I just wanted to take it all in. I have followed this team for as long as I could remember, and this was just another opportunity to get lost in my fandom.

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After being greeted by the voice of the team, the legendary Tom Hamilton, the fans were treated to a “State of the Team” session with General Manager Chris Antonetti and Manager Terry Francona. The two top men regaled the audience with promises, anecdotes, and watered-down management talk, but that was okay. I wasn’t here to judge the team, their offseason acquisitions, or perceived lack-there-of. On the other hand, a tempting roving microphone attached to a young reporter was making its way around to ask the Tribe skipper and chief move-maker questions that they had promised to answer. The usual fan-driven queries poked gently at Nick Swisher, new addition Brandon Moss, and the inevitable “when will we see Francisco Lindor” question, and all were lobbed up to the podium and deflected away with some good-natured answers.

As I walked around, looking at team history displays, taking in radio and television broadcasts, and just watching kids being kids as they played in giant inflatable and waited in line to get their face painted, I realized just how happy this day was already making me.

Feb 18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti speaks to the media during MLB media day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We made our way to the Indians clubhouse, open for the first time to the public this year (no, I don’t care that it’s only January). Just walking in to the same locker room where some of the Indians greats dressed for a game sent chills up my spine. It’s a quick in and out, sure, but there’s enough time to snap pictures of Francona’s office if you’re so enthused, or of each guys locker, with a jersey hung prominently enough to see.

Making our way out, I didn’t even notice until it was too late that upon my exit, both Francona and Antonetti were making their way past me. I smiled at my wife and said to her, “I don’t think I expected to be that close today.”

We had time, so up to the Club Lounge on the third floor we went, where photo opportunities with Indians players were taking place. Walking in, a nice woman behind a counter informed us that Mike Aviles was currently taking pictures with fans. While I appreciate the utility player and his on-field efforts, we passed on photos and looked out at the construction the team had promised would be done before the home opener. Flitting around a little longer, we waited in line for the elevator to go back down, just in time for Aviles to walk by us and grab the next conveyor down. The girls waiting behind us almost fainted, I kid you not. I asked why one of them didn’t grab him for a hug.

Next came an opportunity to get an honorary lifetime contract. On the way down the hall, we stopped to enter a chance to win a trip out to Spring Training, all expenses paid. Do you know who was working that booth? The mayor of Goodyear, Arizona herself. At some point, I tried to tell her I’m not one of her constituents and to stop selling her town so hard, but she was a genial lady and I didn’t have the heart.

Next, I got to sign my contract, or rather, a nice gentleman who legitimately signs players to their contracts signed his name to a blank one and handed it to me. Still, pretty cool. I found out later that Team President Mark Shapiro himself was working that station at another time and kicked myself for not getting to meet the man himself, but I survived with another nice souvenir instead.

Getting to meet a guy who I grew up watching makes a day like today priceless. (Photo courtesy of Jason Stout)

As we were beat and the day was coming to an end, we walked back down the hall and spotted an empty autograph line. This was for the legends appearing that day and I casually asked the team representative if there were any spots left. I was told to politely form a new line and they’d let me know if there was room for overflow — low and behold, we got in. Walking down the line, meeting guys I watched pitch during the 1995 season almost floored me. El Presidente himself, Dennis Martinez. Not to mention two of the relief aces of that 1995 season, Julian Tavarez and Paul Assenmacher. And my personal favorite, Charles Nagy, who obliged me with a picture as well as an autograph.

We decided to take one last look through the clubhouse and ran into Zach Walters. The baby-faced utility player who was the prize in the trade of Asdrubal Cabrera was gladly signing autographs and taking pictures. I shook the kids hand and wished him luck in the upcoming season. He expressed his desire to get out there and was trying to make up for lost time due to injury. It’s always nice to talk to a player who genuinely wants to be here.

As we headed out of the locker room, I almost ran into a couple of guys coming in. I stared, dumbstruck as I almost had taken out two out of three of our starting outfield, Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn, hurried by staff members to make their next scheduled appearance. Both took time to shake my hand and affably accepted my well-wished on the upcoming season, without suffering any injuries.

There are times when being a fan means forgetting what it’s like to be an adult, and instead, turn to your wife with a look of pure glee. After meeting those two, among the other events of the day, I just had a moment I’d treasure forever.

And for that, and for Tribe Fest, I’d just like to say, “Thank you, Cleveland Indians.”

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