Series fans have earned right to shiver

October 22, 1997|By George Vecsey | George Vecsey,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CLEVELAND -- The rain came whipping out of the west, very cold and very wet, slashing at a low angle designed to get under ball caps and blow away umbrellas. In other words, it was late October in Cleveland.

A fan was leaning against the iron railing behind left field. She had a terrific view of the tarpaulin billowing in the wind. It was four hours to game time, when the Indians were scheduled to play the Marlins, weather permitting.

"I just want to see Herb Score throw out the ball, and Reba McEntire sing the anthem," said Sally Dash, from Strongsville, Ohio. "Then I'll go someplace warmer and watch it on television."

Herb Score, the talented left-hander who was hit in the eye by a line drive and never fulfilled his promise the symbol of four decades of frustration is retiring after 32 years as a broadcaster. He is hoping to go out a winner. Sally Dash from Strongsville, who grew up listening to Score describe losses, sometimes doubleheader losses, in cavernous Municipal Stadium, did not have a ticket for Tuesday night's game. But she stood by the railing during the freezing cloudburst and held her space for a glimpse of her hero.

"I've been colder," she said. "March 9, 1996. They were selling bleacher tickets for certain games. The wind chill was minus-26."

In March, the baseball players are wisely taking spring training, but late October is still baseball season, by virtue of the triple tier of playoffs. Now and then, some voice is raised from the Sun Belt, claiming that baseball should go the route of the Super Bowl and put its World Series in a prearranged warm-weather or domed stadium every year, to accommodate the television networks and the fat cats with access to corporate tickets.

If anybody had dared make that proposal on the rain-swept promenades outside Jacobs Field on Tuesday night, they would have been garroted, and rightfully so. "Baseball grew up in the north," said Jim Eisenreich, a native of St. Cloud, Minn., who was in the Marlins' lineup as the designated hitter. "New York, Boston. This is the game. In Minnesota, they want an outdoor stadium. This game is beautiful, whether it's 80 degrees or not."

In late October, the fans lined up outside Jacobs Field for a free glimpse of the field, one of the lovely bonuses of the stadium that has revived downtown Cleveland. Stand on Euclid Avenue and close your eyes and you can hear the names Rosen and Minoso and Garcia.

"Cleveland is a sleeping giant," John Hart, the general manager of the Indians, has said. "There's such a passion for their heroes."

The stadium lights blazed into the leaden sky, carrying the torch for baseball. Cleveland is good at keeping vigils. In the upscale arcade at Tower City, a digital calendar announced it was only 669 days till the first home exhibition of the Cleveland Browns. The pariah, Art Modell, took his franchise to Baltimore for 1996, but the Browns shall rise again. It is quite possible that the zeal in Jacobs Field stems from the emotion of a city that has been spurned.

Despite the cloudburst Tuesday, the fans kept arriving, wearing all varieties of red, plus the obscene caricature of a Native American. The home team has not won a World Series since 1948, and the fans are primed.

In the American League Championship Series, Brady Anderson and other Orioles came home and asked Baltimore fans to cheer as hard as Cleveland fans. Baltimore fans are good fans, but they just don't make as much noise as Cleveland fans.

This city is enjoying the baseball renaissance. The weather is irrelevant. There are hideous scenarios involving rainouts, snowouts and a Dolphin football game scheduled in Miami next Monday night, but let's not even think about it.

Weather inconveniences are part of baseball's charm. Paul Knechtges had driven 250 miles from Rochester, N.Y., Tuesday, and his son, John, had flown in from Chicago, just to see the game. The father is a former minor-league pitcher, and the son is an account executive for the Marlins' Class A team in Geneva, Ill. Both had to be back at work today. They glanced at the rainstorm and hoped.

Cleveland fans understand the game. You win the pennant, the World Series comes to your town. In Miami, which has been in the majors for five years, people were leaving when the Marlins fell behind after six innings. They'll get a feeling for the major leagues. It only takes a century. Just stand on the corner of Euclid Avenue and listen to the echoes. Feller and Doby and Score.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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