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A view from the grandstand: memories of Cleveland Indians baseball

Memories of Cleveland baseball's upper deck
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Posted at 2:22 PM, Nov 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-05 14:22:30-04

There was a chill in the air as I walked around Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, only a few hours after the Major Leagues baseball season had officially ended with the Indians loss to the Chicago Cubs in the final game of the World Series.

As if on a cue, the leaves of early November which had fallen from the trees surrounding the ballpark had begun to clog some of the drains on the street.  Only a few hours before, there was excitement in the stadium as the Indians and Cubs battled for the championship.  But now, the crowds were gone except for a few fans who walked around the ballpark and peered through the gates.  They watched several stadium workers in the rows of the grandstand who wielded water hoses which washed away the peanut shells and spilled beer from the night before. 

How quickly the season had ended.  The World Series trophy had been awarded and the players who had celebrated their victory with champagne or commiserated their loss with tears were all gone.  Those of us who peered through the bars of the gates thought of how quickly it had all ended. 

I felt alone.  It was mostly because my team had not won the Series.  But I also felt alone because the chill of November had also signaled the end of the baseball season.  The game was called because of time.  It was the same game which I had used to help me set my personal time clock. 

I had gone through last winter, pulling my collar tightly around my neck,  asking it to ward off the bite of the wind which swept through Cleveland's coldest months.  The accompanying snow  was a constant reminder of how much I wanted the warmth of baseball when it is played under what the ballplayers call a high sky -- one with few clouds.

When pitchers and catchers reported to Spring training in Arizona, I began to come alive again, knowing that each day marked off my calendar was a day closer to Opening Day and the thousands who would march into Progressive Field.  Our hometown team would trot on the field and we would all feel better now that baseball had begun in earnest in Cleveland. 

Spring in this part of the country does not follow the calendar's date where the season's change is marked as a specific day.  Even early April can bring snow. A few years ago, the Indians had to move their home opener to another city because there was too much snow to play in Cleveland.  However, most home openers are comfortable enough if you dress well for it and sit in the sunshine.  Others can be downright frosty as marked by the thermometer.  Still, baseball itself brings an inner warmth which lasts with me until the final out of the final game of the year.

An so it was, this season which has just passed.  I am now trying to find my pace again as the long winter of discontent -- the one without baseball -- is approaching as soon as Autumn loses its foothold in this part of the country. 

So I must call upon my memories, of which there are many,  of baseball viewed from the grandstand. Peering through the Progressive Field gate, my mind flashed back through the decades.  As I held the rain-slick bars of the gate through which I could see the diamond and much of the grandstand, I recalled my first Major League game.

I was only 8 or 9 when my dad took his father and me to Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where the Indians used to play.  We were three linked by a bloodline who scurried through the turnstiles and found our seats in the upper deck where we would watch the Indians.  Walking up the ramps until we reached a tunnel which was the route to our seats, I breathed in the smell of hotdogs and popcorn.   Never had I seen so many people pushing themselves through the crowd of others.

Up the short shadowy tunnel, Dad, Granddad and I walked until at its end, the the baseball stadium's infield and outfield unfolded before me.  Never had I see so much grass.  It was a manicured as it could have been.  There were no sight of dandelions or other weeds growing anywhere in the outfield or on the infield diamond.

"Popcorn!  Git yer popcorn right here," barked a young fellow who carried a metal container filled with boxes of the treat.  "We'll get one as soon as we get to our seats," said Dad, pointing to an usher who would point to where we could sit in the grandstand. 

For my granddad and me, it was a first for both of us.  Though separated by decades in age, we were both in our first Major League stadium ready for a ballgame.  Granddad lived in Alabama and had never attended a Major League ballgame.  It was a much a treat for him as it was for me.

Batting practice was still going on.  I heard that distinctive crack of a wooden bat on a leather ball.  In the cavernous Municipal Stadium, the sound echoed against the grandstand and then poured down again from the rafters.  I have heard the sound hundreds of times since and I have never tired of it.

In our seats, Dad pulled money from his pocket and waved to the popcorn vendor who trotted over to us and put a box in my hand.  "Beer.  Cold beer," bellowed another vendor who lugged a container carrying cans of the brew.  His voice was strong and could carry across several sections of the grandstand.  Again, Dad waved his hand and the beer seller lumbered to us.  Granddad was offered, but quietly declined.  The beer man left, looking for his next customer.

We watched the final swings of batting practice an then some fielding practice. The Indians and their opponents eventually were ready for the game.  Someone sang the National Anthem and baseball was underway.

Dad explained to me intricacies of the game as plays were completed.  I was well aware of how to play the game, having done so in the schoolyard across the street from my house.  I listened intently to him because it was obvious Dad wanted me to know he understood the game.  Granddad listened, too, and every once in a while, he would send out a whoop of encouragement to the Indians.

Behind us sat a man who declined the beer every time the seller approached him.  The man had brought his own alcohol.  It was in a flask which he would pull periodically from his back pocket.  After a few innings of exchanging comments with him about how the game was going, the man with the flask, noting Granddad was not drinking beer, offered a drink.

"Hey, buddy, you wanna have a pull on my bourbon?" he asked, sending the open flask over my grandfather's shoulder.  "Go on, take a swig o' dat and it'll make the game mo' interestin'," said the fellow, his words beginning to slur the deeper we went into the game.

"No, thank you," said Granddad, in a courteous voice.  But the next inning, back came the flask over my grandfather's shoulder.  The smell of the bourbon began to waft over our heads as the guy breathed heavily.  Again, Granddad declined.

Finally, three outs later came the bourbon flask again, offered with the same friendly urgings, only peppered  by the smell of liquor on the man's breath.  He did not appear to be drink, but seemed as high as a foul ball lifted just behind the catcher.

"I told you, sir, I don't want no drinks," said Granddad, his voice beginning to rise a bit with frustration.  My grandfather was a man I had seen take a drink or two, but I don't think he wanted to put his lips to a flask a complete stranger had offered him in the ballpark.   That marked the last offer of bourbon to Granddad.

I don't remember how the first Indians game ended.  I don't remember what team Cleveland was playing.  But I do remember it was one of the most exciting days for me that year.  To be with my father and grandfather at my first ballgame was a treat.  I had my fill of popcorn, hotdogs, and soda pop.  The shells from the peanuts we ate crunched beneath our shoes. I could not have had a better day.  

Decades later, it is the morning after the World Series of 2016 ended as I stood peering through the fence at Cleveland's Progressive Field, I thought of that time with my father and grandfather in the old ballpark which has since been torn down.  It is gone, but not my memories.  Every time I attend a baseball game in any Major League park, I replay those moments of my childhood which resound in my memory just as surely as does the sound of a batted ball. 

My grandfather and father are both gone now, but I remember fondly the day the three of us went to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Somehow, that event is etched in my memory banks and I call upon it often.  It is not only a memory of baseball, but also of family and of the family bloodline.  The memories of the three of us seated together in the grandstand warms me.  

I thought of all of that and of many other stories of life and times in the grandstand when I peered through the fence and thought not only of the season that was, but also of the way baseball has woven itself into my life. 

The baseball season has ended, so it will be months before I hear again the crack of the bat.  Soon I will pull my coat collar around my neck to hold off the Cleveland wind brought by Winter. 

Tonight, when I lie down to sleep, I hope I dream of my father and grandfather.  I hope we will be at a baseball game where the Indians are playing.  I hope we will buy beer, eat popcorn, and maybe have swig of bourbon offered from a flaskheld by a fellow with a friendly voice, enjoying life in the grandstand at the baseball game.

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