Progressive Field stood as one of those
emerald cathedrals where men played a boy's game. The ballpark on Ontario and
Ninth Streets was the holiest of ground, if you called yourself an Indians fan.
Opening in the chilled spring of '94,
the ballpark played host to great ballgames, great ballplayers and great
dramas; it sold out for the better part of its existence, and a bleacher seat
to Opening Day at "The Jake," the ballpark's original nickname, used to be as
difficult to land as a front-row seat at the Oscars.
Within hours of going on sale, tickets
to the home opener were gobbled up like bowl of M&Ms.
Want a ticket?
Go see a scalper.
That had been the way things were here:
season after season. It was that way until now.
With Opening Day less than a month away,
tickets are available, as the gigantic sign on the left-field gate tells people
who walk near the ballpark.
A sell-out for this opener?
Perhaps. But for the first time in the ballpark's history, the Indians have had to go begging fans to buy tickets to the opener April 12, a surefire indicator of how in disfavor the baseball club is.
The pride of sports fans in Northeast Ohio at the turn of this century, the Indians have squandered their allure. In popularity, they have fallen behind the Cavaliers and the Browns, a team with not much to be proud of either.
The Browns, though, might have a built-in excuse. Since their return to town in 1998, they have never been good. They offered a glimpse of success, titillating ticker-buyers with the promise that success was three or four players away.
Success hasn't arrived yet. But this is football country, and the patience is long for a team that has a storied history such as the Browns do.
The Indians have no such history of winning championships. Their run of winning seasons in the 1990s and early 2000s did put fannies in the seats. The team promised so much in those halcyon years - championships and stars. It never delivered the former.
Now, it can't even deliver the latter. What the Indians have become is a team in league with the Pirates, the Royals and the Nationals. The Tribe enters the season with nothing it can offer fans. They can hope the weak division the team competes in might be its savior, but to rely on hope alone, Tribe fans might as well count on finding a winning Lotto ticket on the stoop.
Hope won't cobble together a pitching staff. Hope won't find a catcher, third or first baseman who can provide power. Hope can't guarantee Kerry Wood (he's already on the disabled list) won't break down again or that somebody will settle into the set-up role
Spring Training is long on hope, which might be a good thing. Hope is nothing, however, to bank a 162-game season on. A miracle along the lines of turning wine into water or feeding the East Side of Cleveland with two catfish and five loaves of Brownberry bread.
Do Indians fans believe in miracles? Not these days, so that should explain their disinterest in a team that offers little to cheer. They are showing their displeasure the best way they know now: by withholding their dollars.
To the team's credit, its marketing arm understands this conundrum. It is packaging all sorts of ticket bargains in an effort to pry dollars out of disgruntled fans. They aren't buying, which is why Opening Day isn't sold out.
The game might well end up a sellout, keeping alive a streak that dates to the ballpark's opening. But the bloom of the opener won't last long, for unless general manager Mark Shapiro and his staff can put a competitive and exciting team on the field, 43,515-seat Progressive Field will look about as empty in August as it does less than a month before the season starts.