Tribe's long-suffering fans never surrender allegiance

October 09, 1997|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN COLUMNIST

Just before last night's game, some guy with a "Get Nasty/Clobber Cleveland" placard got in-your-face with longtime, long-suffering Indians fan John Majewski, red-eyed from the 10-hour bus trip to Baltimore. "Oh, nice," Majewski hollered. "Real nice. We come all the way down here to boost your failing economy and that's what we get? What's up with that, man?"

But that's as far as the confrontation went. It never got nasty. The guy with the placard scooted. Majewski, even with big arms from heavy lifting at Universal Metal Products in Wickliffe, Ohio, knew not to push his luck, anyway.

There might have been a fair number of Indians fans concentrated in the upper deck of Camden Yards last night -- Sections 384 and 385, in particular -- but they were heavily outnumbered by men and women in black and orange, some of them completely outfitted in Orioles give-aways. In fact, there were few costumed Tribe fans in the crowd. At least Majewski wore a red-and-blue cap and a sleeveless Indians T-shirt.

"Listen, man," he says. "My grandmother, my great-grandmother, my mother, me and my brothers. We all worked the concessions stands at the old stadium in Cleveland. I was 13 years old and tapping and lifting kegs. Nickel-beer night was hell. So my family goes way back with this."

And "this," of course, is the long, grim wait for a world championship. After decades of mediocrity, the Indians came close in 1995, losing to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. The Orioles popped them out of the playoffs last season. They're back again this year.

"Let me give you an idea how awful it was when I was a kid, what I grew up with," says Pat Carome, who grew up in the "near-in" Cleveland suburb of Fairfax Heights. "In old Cleveland Municipal Stadium -- you know, the one they tore down and pushed into the lake -- there were seats for 85,000 people. I remember being there when there were under 1,000. I remember a game with 750 in attendance. I can barely remember who played for those teams -- Sam McDowell, Rocky Colavito, Luis Tiant, Buddy Bell It was awful."

But Carome never surrendered his allegiance to the Tribe. Even after moving to Boston, where the Red Sox play. Even after moving to Washington, D.C., in 1984. He has somehow resisted the D.C. yuppie urge to go with the Birds. Carome suffered as a boy, he will suffer as a man! Only in very recent years has he experienced the Indians as serious contenders.

Baltimore sports fans should appreciate this. Only 14 years have passed since the Orioles' last World Series, and there were several trips into postseason before that.

That goes for the old Colts, too.

"Look now," says Kurt Johnson, a 32-year-old native of Cleveland. "Since I've been alive, no Cleveland team has won a world championship in anything. I was born in '65. The Browns won [a football championship] in '64. I hear about it. My dad told me about it. But I didn't see it. It didn't happen while I was alive."

Johnson has lived in several cities over the last two decades. But, like Carome, he's carried his allegiance to teams Cleveland with him. "When I lived in Texas. I was with the Browns Backers of Texas. I moved to Phoenix. I was with the Browns Backers of Phoenix. Now I'm in Indianapolis, I live five hours from Cleveland and I've already bought season tickets for the next NFL team Cleveland gets."

Johnson is in medical software sales. He came to last night's game with two business associates from Portland, Ore., -- one a San Francisco Giants fan, the other a Seattle Mariners fan. While in Washington for a business convention, they paid a broker $250 each for $50 tickets behind first base.

"We had to see Camden Yards," says Johnson. "It's a lot like the Jake in Cleveland. The only thing that threw me off was Boog's Barbecue. We didn't know it was a stand. We thought it was a restaurant. We tried to phone ahead for reservations."

John Majewski came the hard way -- on the long bus trip set up by a sports travel agent back in Cleveland. "There were two bus loads," Majewski says. "The drivers didn't know where to park. They circled [Camden Yards] about 10 times."

That gave everyone a chance to see the new football stadium under construction south of Oriole Park -- the one that will be home to the Baltimore Ravens, once upon a time the Cleveland Browns.

"We don't hold that against Baltimore," Majewski says. "Our problem is with [Ravens owner Art] Modell. Believe me, this city did us a favor taking him and the team. I give you guys five years of having high hopes and gettin' 'em shot down and you'll see what we went through up there for years. Yeah, Modell. We call him High Pockets. That's somebody, when you go to a bar with them and it's their turn to pay, they reach for their money in their high pockets and they reach way up high to get in their pockets, but someone else puts their money out first. Yeah, you'll see."

Business sense

Vince D'Angelo, one of the street vendors, came across a good thing last week -- orange felt cowboy hats with the black letters "O S" on the front. He picked them up cheap from a wholesaler in East Baltimore; they were overstocks from who-knows-where, maybe customized for a college band somewhere. D'Angelo drew an apostrophe between the two letters and sold a bunch of them outside Camden Yards. Got $10 each for them. Sold out.

He went back to his supplier, looking for more. All the guy had were red felt cowboy hats with the royal-blue letter "K" in front. What did D'Angelo do? He took a Magic Marker and wrote "Kill the Indians" out of the "K." Sales were very light last night.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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