Three hours before the start of the franchise's biggest series in 35 years, the Cleveland Indians already were deep into their preparation for the New York Yankees amid the spacious splendor of their new clubhouse. That meant that outfielder Wayne Kirby was wearing a white doctor's smock over his uniform and checking teammates' heartbeats with a stethoscope. Outfielder Albert Belle was passing around a cardboard box containing numbered slips of paper for the blind draw in his clubhouse Ping-Pong tournament. Trailed by a camera crew as he taped a humorous segment for a local sports show, outfielder Kenny Lofton was quizzing pitcher Dennis Martinez about his shaggy hairstyle as depicted on one of the 39-year-old Martinez's old baseball cards. All of this commotion last Friday evening was accompanied by the wall-rattling sound of salsa cranked out by the CD player of second baseman Carlos Baerga, who was dancing in front of his locker.
In short, the Indians were making themselves right at home again at swank Jacobs Field, where, in the first three months of the park's operation, Cleveland had the fourth-longest home winning streak in baseball history, and where it seemed that everyone—except, to Lofton's great regret, Janet Jackson—was gobbling up tickets.
Last Saturday comedian Jerry Seinfeld dented the plush cushions of one of the swivel chairs in a luxury box behind home plate. Seinfeld donned a Cleveland cap to watch the Indians try to extend their club-record streak of 18 straight wins at home. (Talk about masters of your domain.) Alas, Cleveland lost 11-6 in the completion of a game that had been suspended because of a 1 a.m. curfew the previous rainy night. Then the game scheduled for Saturday was rained out.
And what would all this home cooking be without some comfort food? Sure enough. Meat Loaf was in the house the following afternoon to sing the national anthem. That game, too, ended in defeat for the Tribe, though not without a comeback nearly as large as the Loaf himself. Trailing by eight runs with five outs left, the Indians scored seven times in the eighth inning and put the tying run on base in the ninth before falling 12-11.
Jacobs Field has become such a happening place that the Indians already have sold more tickets—nearly 2.7 million—than in any other season in their history. As the Cleveland players exhibited before taking on the Yankees, it's a fun place to be. At week's end the Indians held a two-game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central, marking the first time Cleveland has been in first place this late in a season since 1974.
Says Bob DiBiasio, Cleveland's vice president of public relations, "This is the perfect case study of an environment improving employee production."
The park, the team and the city have created a synergistic explosion of goodwill. The ground-floor windows of the Blue Cross Blue Shield building downtown are festooned with three-foot-high letters that spell GO INDIANS. Ever mindful of the fact that the Tribe hasn't won a pennant since 1954, the Cleveland Plain Dealer advanced the Yankee series with a Page One story in which, under the head-line INDIANS FEVER, the players were overzealously referred to as "our conquering heroes." After pitcher Matt Clark ran his record to 8-1 with a 7-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on June 13, three Cleveland-area dealerships offered him complimentary use of one of their cars for the season. One chap even said he could keep the Bonneville—as long as he threw a no-hitter in his next start.
A local television affiliate, recognizing the great public appetite for a series long since sold out, added the Friday and Sunday games to its broadcast schedule. That came after the Tuesday-night telecast of an Indian-Tiger game from Detroit drew an impressive 31 share in the Cleveland area—nearly a third of the TV sets in use that night were tuned to the Tribe. The big audience watched the Indians' bullpen turn a 5-1 ninth-inning lead into a 7-5 defeat.
Amazingly, Cleveland came within one reliable relief pitcher of a 25-game winning streak. That's because, in the 20-5 run that ended on June 22, the Indians suffered all five defeats in the opponents' last at bat.
However, the Indians usually bounce back from such disasters with a good laugh and another victory. The morning after that late-night loss to Detroit, they were back in their clubhouse having a grand time. Kirby stuck a towel under his shirt and strutted around the room with the unmistakable swagger of beefy teammate Candy Maldonado. When pitcher Jack Morris made a crack about Kirby's prominent lips, Kirby laughed and shot back, "I'd hate to have been your mirror the past 38 years."