In the next segment Bourn was ranked as the game's eighth-best centerfielder. "You dropped a few spots after the other night," Raburn said to Bourn. Two days earlier Bourn had misplayed a Miguel Cabrera fly ball, batting it over the fence with his glove for a home run. Bourn had taken it hard, at first. Now, he cackled.
Only a confident, self-possessed club can have this sort of interaction. "In the past we were trying to make things happen, but there was never much hope for success," says Masterson. "Now we're here to win."
It's going to be interesting," an employee of the Boston Sheraton said last Thursday as she looked at the collection of guests lined up waiting to check in. They were dressed in capes and robes, wearing helmets, crowns and samurai masks. They carried all manner of faux weapons: swords and staffs and battle-axes. They were in town for Animé Boston, an annual celebration of the fantastical genre of Japanese entertainment. "Weird?" shouted one of the attendees, joyously. "We are in a congregation of weird."
The Indians usually stay at the 1,220-room Sheraton, which is less than a mile from Fenway, but the convention forced them elsewhere. That was a shame, because in many ways they would have fit in well, in that individually each of them has his quirks, but when they come together they thrive. A congregation of weird.
To reach the playoffs, finish with a winning record for the first time since 2007 and convince Cleveland to truly buy in, the Indians will have to contend with forces that are far closer to conventionally perfect than they are. First are the Tigers, their AL Central rivals who are led by the game's best hitter, Cabrera, and star pitcher Justin Verlander.
Then there is the constant reminder of LeBron James, the most flawless athlete Cleveland has ever produced. During a rain delay in Detroit on May 22, the Indians watched as James hit the winning layup in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, after having won an NBA championship the year before—not for the Cavaliers, for whom he played seven title-free seasons, but for the Miami Heat.
They will also have to contend with their home city's memory of past Indians teams that have started well but faltered—the club hasn't won a World Series since 1948—and then, even worse, had stars such as CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez traded away. "You're making some very tough trades in order to keep infusing young players," says Shapiro. "That does have impact on your fan base, maybe a bigger one than we ever realized."
All of this, combined with continuing declines in both population and prosperity, has made Clevelanders wary of the Indians. Despite the club's start, it ranks last in home attendance, drawing a '70s-era figure of slightly more than 16,000 per game. The team hopes to win back its fans in a way that both reflects and appeals to its hometown—with a collection of men who are happy to be there, and who, encouraged by the right manager, might add up to something greater than their flawed selves.