By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports
April 10, 2007
MILWAUKEE – He doesn't wear glasses. He never played in the California Penal League. His fastball comes nowhere close to 102 mph. And still, when Joe Borowski exited the bullpen at Miller Park on Tuesday for the ninth inning of the weirdest home game he and any of his Cleveland Indians teammates will ever play – one that took place on the road – the music that greeted him sounded oddly familiar.
"I was like, 'Wild Thing?' " Borowski said. "And then I remembered, 'Oh, yeah. Cleveland!' "
If any city was going to embrace the expatriate Indians, forced from Jacobs Field by 15 inches of snow, it would be Milwaukee, where "Major League" was filmed. With the Wild Thing himself nowhere to be found – Cleveland had to cancel Rick Vaughn Glasses Night, which, coincidence of coincidences, was scheduled for Tuesday – the Indians made due with Borowski, beat the Los Angeles Angels 7-6 and won over an incredible crowd of 19,031 that paid $10 a ticket and packed the stadium's first two decks.
"We were amazed, looking at the crowd out there," said Borowski, who was just as surprised with the public-address system blaring The Troggs upon his entrance. "It actually felt like a home game. It was definitely fortunate for us. We were all taking bets on how many people might come out. There was 500, 1,000, 1,500.
"I said 500. Because it was such a last-second thing. You're not thinking anybody's going to do it. It's going to be like an American Legion game. Definitely far from it."
No, this felt like a home game in almost every way, down to the bang-bang-bang emanating from the outfield.
In the second inning, John Adams, his wife, Kathleen, and his enormous bass drum were the only three occupants of the right-field bleachers. Since he took his drum to a game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on Aug. 24, 1973, and thumped when runners got into scoring position, he has been a fixture at Indians games, whether rain (plenty of times), sleet (a few) or snow (the last four days, wiping out Cleveland's entire series against Seattle and forcing the move of this three-game set to Milwaukee).
Well, this being a home game and all, the Indians figured it just wouldn't be right without Adams. So a team official called Adams on Monday and asked if he and Kathleen would like to come to Milwaukee, all expenses paid.
"Who would pass up going to another ballpark where we're the home team?" Adams said. "Here we are in a town that isn't Cleveland, and we're wearing whites."
Oh, that wasn't the only touch. The Indians e-mailed the video graphics to Milwaukee's scoreboard operator to upload them onto Miller Park's Jumbotron. Technology's beauty also has its limits: The Indians' theme song – "Are you ready to rock? Are you ready to scream? It's Tribe time!" – is an aural attack to which no one should be subjected.
The crowd, too, did its part, answering between-innings Indians trivia questions and, in another ode to "Major League," using the text-message-the-scoreboard feature to offer the following plea:
PUT DORN IN TO PINCH HIT
And to think, the game almost ended up in Houston.
Around 7 a.m. Monday, Indians general manager Mark Shapiro called Mike Seghi, the team's director of travel. After the snow-outs – which included umpire Rick Reed calling Friday's home opener one strike shy of official-game status, upon the complaints of Seattle manager Mike Hargrove, whose team trailed 4-0 – Cleveland couldn't afford to lose any more games. Baseball officials had conferred with the Indians, who agreed to move the games to a neutral site, lest more weather delays wreck their schedule.
"Get ready to go to four cities," Shapiro told Seghi.
Houston, Milwaukee, St. Petersburg and Orlando were the candidates. First, Seghi called Continental and said: "I think I'm going to need a plane sometime today to go somewhere." The airline dispatched one from Newark.
Next came the hotels. St. Petersburg was booked. Houston and Milwaukee – the preferred locations because they have major-league stadiums – were free, and with Milwaukee closer to Cleveland and the Angels' next destination, Boston, it was settled.
At 11 a.m., the news filtered down to Tony Amato, the Indians' equipment manager. Their road bags were already packed – with road jerseys, pants and everything else. He had six hours to re-pack what normally takes a day, and to remind C.C. Sabathia to take his belt, because he always forgets it, and to pack Paul Byrd's bags himself, because, as Amato so eloquently describes his flightiness, "he's a lefty in a right-hander's body."
Everything arrived. Because the office of Brewers manager Ned Yost and the video room in the home clubhouse were locked, the Indians opted for the road locker room. Seghi, his BlackBerry's battery and anytime minutes drained, said it was as challenging as anything he had done in his 34 years on the job.
An MLB authenticator arrived, wondering if there were any items on which he could put his stamp.
"I wonder if the Hall of Fame will want anything," Amato said.
Perhaps a tape of the game would do, because no single memento could capture the atmosphere.
From the time the P.A. announcer introduced the Indians at 6:05 p.m. local time, they were the decided favorites. Angels leadoff hitter Gary Matthews Jr., showered with boos, swung through a 95-mph Sabathia fastball to huzzahs. Slider, the Indians mascot who made the trip, rode Bernie Brewer's slide in left field after home runs from Kelly Shoppach and Casey Blake.
Fans even unveiled the patented slow-motion wave seen almost exclusively at University of Wisconsin football games.
"I did a triple take," Borowski said. "I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me."
From the number of tubed pork products sold (bratwurst, Polish sausage, Italian sausage and hot dog to Jacobs Field's hot dog) to their puppet doppelgangers (the famous Sausage Race, won by chorizo), Milwaukee asserted itself as a perfectly acceptable replacement for Cleveland, which, by the way, was near freezing again Tuesday night and has a 90 percent chance of rain Wednesday.
Even the game ended with a bang, Shoppach's laser throw catching Erick Aybar trying to steal second base with Howie Kendrick, already 4 for 4, left at the plate. Unlike the Mariners, who got blasted 14-3 at Boston – karma lives, Mr. Hargrove – the Indians had won their comeback, and at 3-1, they are in first place in the American League Central.
"We need to play more games in Milwaukee," Indians reliever Roberto Hernandez said.
They've got two more against the Angels, and then it's back to Cleveland, to the city where temperatures hit 80 degrees and a week later unleashed a blizzard.
Back to … normal?
"This wasn't that weird," Sabathia said. "It was just playing a home game somewhere else."
Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 2:51 am, EDT
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