My father stands, and my daughter, too. People around us rise to applaud. Nine Cleveland Indians in a row have reached base during the seventh inning, and eight have scored. More fans at Municipal Stadium rise, clap and whistle. I try to detect sarcasm, the kind that would congratulate Julio Franco for making an assist after two errors or Jamie Easterly for throwing a strike after 13 balls. But there is none.
It is July 7, 1985, and this is the last of a four-game series with the Chicago White Sox. The Indians have lost the first three. Every year Cleveland finishes near the bottom of its division. This year, though, it has been especially difficult to find Indian scraps in the sports pages, and I have been to only two games, both of them dismal losses. This is the season in which the Indians will lose 112 games. The Plain Dealer frequently runs a box called "Adding up the Losses" that compares the Indians with such past greats as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, an illustrious team that lost 134 games out of 154.
My father was the one who wanted to come to this game. Whenever his work as a claims attorney brings him to town he visits us. Today, about an hour and a half before game time, he had asked, "Can we see your Indians? They at home?" We had run out of ways to entertain him, and he likes to avoid blank intervals.
"Remember when we used to go to Sunday afternoon ball games?" he said on the way to the car.
I didn't remember a thing about Sunday ball games. He did take me to plenty of Pirate games in the early 1960s when we lived in Pittsburgh, but as I recall they were night games. I especially remember seeing Roberto Clemente being scraped off the wall and carried away on a stretcher, still—at least in my memory—holding the ball that Willie Mays had hit into the smoky air of Forbes Field. The Pirates won the game 1-0, and Clemente was well enough to return to the lineup a week or so later.
My father and I went to a lot of games that year, 1960. For years the Pirates had remained near the bottom of their division, but in '58 they had risen suddenly into second place, and then in '60 they were on top. Dad took me to all the games I wanted that summer. Some of them must have been on Sundays.
Sports were never a big part of his life, but he has always been subject to enthusiasms. He never played much baseball as a kid. The game seems to skip generations in our family. My grandfather had been a semipro pitcher, and he used to take my dad to see the old Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team. Dad always looked forward to that because of the hot dogs and soda his dad would buy him. My dad and his nine brothers and sisters grew up during the Depression; he is still the first one to finish any meal at our house.
My daughter Brett, 8, wanted to go to the Indians game, too, and she was invited on the strength of her recent interest. She and I, and sometimes my younger daughter, Elizabeth, 4, have taken to playing baseball in our front yard, using empty record jackets for bases, the hedge for a backstop, and a plastic bat the size of Chris Bando's thigh. Brett won the last two games 19-1 and 26-7. If I try to move the bases closer when she's not scoring runs, she protests. She wants to win fair.
Brett brought one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books to the game in case her attention wandered. It wasn't hard to keep her on track in the first inning because she and the Indians' centerfielder, Brett Butler, share the same first name. "I like it when I hear people say my name," she said. The similarity was also helpful to my father, who wanted to call Brett Rhett Butler. I said that was O.K. with me, since the Indians had gotten him from Atlanta. In the third inning Butler tripled to right center and scored on Franco's groundout. In the fifth Butler drove the ball past the Chicago first baseman, who had been holding a runner on. My daughter watched all of this with hot-fudge-sundae delight.
Lefthander Ramon Romero, who was sporting a blue glove, had started for the Indians. I like to watch lefthanders. Nature did not, I feel, design man to throw missiles with any velocity from that side of the body, and whenever I see it done, I regard it as something of a miracle. Romero, on bamboo-thin legs, throws remarkably hard. Wild, too, and not by inches. He works quickly and doesn't groan or slow down when he misses. He just rears and pops the next one. A couple of times manager Pat Corrales or pitching coach Don McMahon had to come out to the mound to slow him down.