Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I hate ketchup on hot dogs

So Wednesday night I am at the Indians-Tigers game, we got there an hour before the game and happened upon a table in front of the Batter's Eye Bar that has a great view of the field. They are the best cheap seats in the house.

I like the seats for slightly different reasons than many of the patrons that sit out there. Not only can you see the whole field, you are elevated over the crowd. Other than the front row, it is the only the place in the stadium where your view can't be constantly blocked.

I know I am a dying breed, but when I am at the park I am there to watch the game. The game is the only entertainment I need.

I was enjoying the seats until the fourth or so, when the drunks started to pile in the bar area. I don't pretend to understand those that pay for a ticket to the park and then sit at a bar facing away from the field drinking $8 beers. But even those standing around had no interest in the game. The game itself is background. Fine but then it got real absurd.

Giant hot dogs started roaming the area. I think the Hot Dog Race in Milwaukee is pretty cool. The costumes are first rate and it is a uniquely cool thing to Milwaukee. Cleveland's is a poor copy. First, do we really need to copy Milwaukee? Were there were no original ideas left? Second, the costumes here are horrid, cheap knock-offs that look like maybe the Dolan's mother made them in a basement. Third and in my opinion the worst, everyone knows that in Cleveland mustard is brown. What is this yellow crap all over the dog? When I went to my first game at Tiger Stadium, I was literally confused and perplexed when the mustard was yellow. I had no idea such a thing was a possibilty.

Now I know why the Hot Dog Race is what it is in Cleveland. Someone from the hot dog company that has the stadium contract ponied up a little dough. I wonder what it took for the Indians to sell out tradition, dignity and self respect. Judging by the costumes, it wasn't much.

So it is the top of the fifth and C.C. is starting to make a mess of it. I am ticked. I am worried our window to win a championship was that one day in October. Was game five the last best chance? Boston and New York's payrolls are only going to get bigger and they have figured out not to trade their prospects. The window for the Indians and any small market team is closing forever fast.

So the bases are loaded. My blood pressure is high. I trying to will C.C. into changing the season around. And I get slapped on the back. I turn my head and it is a Giant Hot Dog, Ketchup to be exact.

All my frustrations about that day in October, the start of this season and the madness of what Progressive Field has become came to a head.

"Don't touch me. Get away from me."

And the idiot in the costume put his other hand on me.

"I am not saying it again. Get your hands off me."

Luckily someone grabbed the moron and pointed him in a another direction and I turned my head back to the game just in time to see the ball clear the fence for a grand slam.

I don't know if they gave the dummy in the costume any customer service training. I understand many people at the game are not there for the game. But why would you touch someone from behind who is watching the game? There were plenty of drunks to entertain. What made Ketchup think he was bigger than the game? Why instead of watching my team play was I being accosted by Ketchup?

The answer is rather simple. For the Indians and particularly from the people in charge of Progressive Field, I am at the end of their list who they are catering to.

Tops on their customer service radar is the non-fan, second is the opposing team fan and last at the bottom is the real Indians fan.

It is not unreasonable for them to feel this way. Cleveland has proved over and over that the number of real fans willing to show up for one game ranges between 3,000 and 10,000. Never more than that.

Hence the need to attract the non-fan. In order to fill the park, they need bodies. These people don't need to know who Jamey Carroll is, they just need to buy a ticket. This is why ballparks now need Kids playlands and mascots. It is a family experience. It is about cotton candy, ice cream and Slider and not teaching a kid the Infield Fly rule or the difference between a frontwards and backwards K. It also is why a great place to stand and watch the game is now a corporate playland that costs $50. The park has been there for 14 years and I never been to Terrace Club, I have never been to the Club seat buffet and bar hidden from view. But these things are needed because there is a group that comes to park not to watch the game but to mingle, entertain clients and do business. I am not saying any of this wrong. It is what major league baseball is now about. Starting from the top, the Indians main priority is unearthing new ways to bring the non fan to the park.

Next on the list is the out of town fans. Heaven forbid a negative experience happens to one of them. My problem with this is not the Twins fan who drives down with the family to see another park. It is the obnoxious Boston and New York fans who gleefully pursue trouble. When did it become wrong to stand at a game? The rule is simple when there is a big moment, you stand and cheer. But since the stadium experience is no longer about the game but the experience itself, there are no big moments unless there are two strikes in the ninth or the wave makes it way to you. I have been a rival fan in other parks. Everyone should be allowed to root for their own team, but there used to be a level of respect. If you talk shit then trouble should find you. The Indians do a horrible job of policing that. I have watched time after a time where an usher just stands there and lets thing boil. And when it gets bad, the home crowd guy is always assumed guilty. When did the real Indians fan (and not the drunks who should be taken away) all get painted as trouble?

So what about the people who are there to watch the game. Why are they not catered to? It is because the Indians know the real fans are going to show up anyway. Sure some of us have great season tickets, but many of us can't afford season tickets. And so we keep pushed farther and farther away from the action. And the price keeps climbing up. But that doesn't bother the Indians, instead it just reinforces the belief the main priority is to attract non-fans to the park. A one-time person is going to spend more money than someone who goes to 30 games a year. If the Indians can get that one-time person to come one or even twice a year every year, they believe they will make more money than a real fan who comes every home stand. It is why dollar dog day is perfect for them. The idea of cheap food brings in people who normally stay home. Those people are not there to watch the game so the fact they are in line for three or four innings isn't a big deal. The Indians know the non-fan finds baseball boring and they need more. And they gladly charge them top dollar to make a stuffed Slider and to buy new gear.

So they make the music louder, they find more clowns to roam the stands and they build a team shop just for women. There was a time, the Indians took pride in finding new and exciting food items for fans. Not everyone likes hot dogs with brown mustard apparently, I was OK with that. Myself I would never personally miss an at bat to get a burrito but hey whatever. Now the Indians have replaced those ethic foods with corporate booths. This works for the Indians because it is another revenue stream. The corporations have their reasons too I am sure. But I will never order (even outside the stadium) that pizza or those wings because I don't respect being high jacked by high prices. I have always understood nameless faceless corporations raising the price of beer and food but for a local business to do it, shame on them.

I know this rant is more about me than anything else. I know there will never again be $1 Saturdays. I won't get to sit in general admission and bang wooden chairs ever again. I miss the old stadium and I may be the only one. I get it that it is a different world. I understand the Indians don't really care about me. I accept it. It is a business.

And yet, every time I go to a game, I get excited. I get there early. I take in the sight. I savor the sound of the crack of the bat. And then around the fourth inning I get annoyed by the non-fan as they distract me from the game.

Baseball is slowly dying. And it isn't about steriods. No one cares about that but the high and mighty press. It is dying because going to a game for a little kid is like going to the circus or an amusement park. It is an event and an experience but very few kids are being taught to love the game. When was the last time you saw kids in a park playing baseball without a uniform on? I get that corporate money is allowing the game to go on now, but it is also killing it at the same time.

And that sucks.