Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez was in a chatty mood over the weekend. He first made headlines on Saturday by ripping the Tribe fans who booed him earlier in the week and by saying no free agents want to come and play in front of an empty ballpark.
Then, lest any of his pointed comments get lost in the weekend media cycle, Perez came right back on Sunday by putting on another rant for any media member who might not have been around for the first one. In five passion-filled minutes that reminded me a little of Lee Elia in its spirit (minus the intensity and profanity), the 26-year-old stood by his initial comments.
For one, Perez finds it "embarrassing" that the first-place Indians rank dead last in attendance (with an average of 15,872 fans per game, they're nowhere close to 29th-place Oakland, which averages 19,573 per game).
For another, he can't understand why the prevailing mood in Cleveland isn't one of hope or at least enjoyment considering the Indians hold a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Chicago. (Perez isn't the only one in town who feels this way as Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe just wrote a great post about fellow fans who are only focusing on the time when the other shoe will drop.)
Here are some of the comments that Perez made on Sunday. As you can tell, he held absolutely nothing back (and remember that this is just a sampling of what he said):
• "I expected the (backlash from Saturday's comments), but I really don't care any more. I'm here to do my job and play for this team. If the fans come, they'll come. If they don't, it'll be just like it was in April. So who cares?"
• "It's not a good atmosphere (at Progressive Field). It's not fun to be here ... Baseball's still supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, this is a game. It's a child's game, I understand that. But if you have a choice to go to some place like Philadelphia, where every day it's fun just to go there. That helps you get through some seasons some times."
• "I was in Florida in '97 when (Cleveland) lost the World Series to the Marlins. I saw the atmosphere here. It's great. It's a good baseball town. I don't know how to get back to that. Everyone says, 'winning, winning.' Well, we were in first place for three months last year. We come out strong this year, so obviously it's not a fluke ... This year is a different year. If, at the end, you don't want to get your heart broken, then we don't want you."
• "I'm not stupid, I understand the economy's bad around here. I understand that people can't afford to come to the game. But there doesn't need to be the negativity. I don't understand the negativity, why? Like, enjoy what we have. You have a first place team. How many third-place towns in the country would want that right now?"
• "We could be in last place. We could be the Royals, we could be the Pirates. Haven't won anything in 20 years. We're not. Enjoy it. I don't understand the negativity."
• "(My teammates) feel the same way. They just won't say it."
• "It's just a slap in the face when you're last in attendance. Last. It's not like we're 25th or 26th. We're last. Oakland's outdrawing us. That's embarrassing."
As someone who watched last Thursday's extra-innings win over the Seattle Mariners and wondered where all the fans were, I'm glad that Perez is speaking up so passionately about this subject. It really has to galvanize the loyal Indians fans who are showing up to Progressive Field and remain hopeful the team can win its first division title since 2007. As any fan knows, it's nice to see that a player cares as much as you do. And who knows? Maybe estranged fans will see that Perez cares so much and will be willing to come out to the park now.
Perez is also right in another regard: What has he got to lose? Either the Indians are a young team playing exciting baseball in front of a full house or they're a young team playing exciting baseball in front of an empty one. If Cleveland fans can't get over past disappointments or the fact that the Dolans own the team, it's going to be their own loss — not a defeat for Perez or his teammates.
Finally, here's the best part: As Perez noted on Twitter, he's putting his money where his mouth is and will give away three sets of tickets to each remaining home game to make sure he's doing his part. With a guy like that on the roster and the team in first place, how could Cleveland fans not want to give the team a little longer leash than usual?
Here's the press conference in its entirety (starting around the 1:30 mark):