More than just a game in Cleveland

There was never one dream.

When I was a kid, there was a series of them.

Growing up, I wanted to be a beat writer for a big league team.

But I also wanted to be a front man of a rock band, quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and a garbage collector.

Most dreams faded — I gave up on being a garbage man when I was five, forgot about being a quarterback when I figured out what genetics were — but a few persisted.

Being a big league beat writer?

Well, that’s why I started working in newspapers. That was the goal.

Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do now. I’m writing this from the media room at the state track meet, which year after year is my favorite thing to cover. Doing prep and college sports has not only made me a better writer, but a better person, because of the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned.

And yet, doing big league baseball has remained in the back of my mind.

So about a month ago, I decided to do something about it. I contacted the Cleveland Indians — an old friend works with them — and asked if I could just come up for a game. I also checked at The A-T, and picked a day without much going on.

And then Tuesday, I found myself in the dugout of Progressive Field, watching Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez clown around in pregame.

From the moment I parked my car in downtown Cleveland, everything seemed special.

But for some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandfather.

Robert Baker was 82 in the summer of 1989. He lived in Florida; I’d only see him a couple of times a year. When I was in his company, he would tell me stories about the baseball players from an earlier time.

He’d tell me how he’d take the train from southern Ohio to League Park in Cleveland to watch Bob Feller pitch.

The stories would bring old baseball to life for me. Pretty soon, I was seeking him out so he could tell me more.

One day, he sat on a bed. He wasn’t feeling well, but he still talked about great ballplayers, and his love of baseball. He had pitched to my younger brother just a few hours earlier, so we were all in a baseball mood.

I still remember the names. Feller. Bob Lemon. Larry Doby. It was a great conversation.

It was also the last one I had with him. He died two days later.

Sometimes I wished I’d spent that day talking to him about his life. Or his family. Or his time in the service in World War II.

But then I realized talking baseball with my grandfather might have been exactly how he wanted to spend his time with me.

I was nine. He was helping to cultivate an interest in the sport that would continue decades after he was gone.

And that’s all I could think about.

When I was sitting in on a Terry Francona pregame press conference.

When I was in the dugout talking to the incredibly gracious Indians announcer Jim Rosenhaus.

And when I saw Rick Manning and A’s announcer Ray Fosse — both former Indians — talking at dinner.

I wondered if my grandfather was watching this. I wondered what he’d be thinking.

It was special. But I didn’t want anyone else in the press to know that.

My goal for the day was to blend in. To treat the game as if I were just covering anything else.

So when starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was mowing down batters, I just jotted the information down in my scorebook.

When the announcer to the pressbox announced a statistic — you can sometimes hear the voice in the background of a radio broadcast — I tweeted the information and added to my “notes section.”

When Jason Kipnis smashed a homer to right center, I didn’t cheer or react at all.

Just wrote it down.

And when legendary Indians’ announcer Tom Hamilton walked up and joined the conversation I was having with Rosenhaus, I tried to act like this wasn’t so different from my usual routine.

When the game ended, I wrote my story, emailed it in, and left.

When leaving the stadium, it was like being nine-years old again.

Being in a big league stadium, in a big league pressbox, and writing a story about a big league game felt like a day at the amusement park.

When you go to Cedar Point or King’s Island as a kid, you ride the roller coasters. You drink tons of Coca-Cola. You hug Brother Bear at the Bernstein Bears’ treehouse (at least I did).

You love every second of it, and you can’t wait to come back.

Even if you know it probably will be a while before you do.

I don’t know if I’ll ever cover a big league game again. But years from now, when my grandchildren sit with me, I’ll be able to tell them about one day when I was in the dugout. In the pressbox. In the clubhouse.

Hopefully, my stories will help the kids to appreciate sports, history, and dreams.

Sort of like what conversations with my grandfather did for me.

Roy Orbison once sang “If only we could always live in dreams.”

It wasn’t always for me. But it was a day.

And I’m so grateful for that.

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