1995 was the year I fell in love. I was nine.
It wasn’t like that third grade crush I had on Hannah Gnizak, and it for sure wasn’t that weird knees-shaking-stomach-turning-to-jelly thing that people always talk about. It was more like always being happy. And not just any happiness, but the happiness you get when you look outside and see everything covered by a foot of snow, and then find out school is closed. Baseball made me that happy.
It didn’t happen all at once, but, by the end of the summer, I was watching almost every Cleveland Indians game. Some of the between-inning commercials are still ingrained in my head as love letters from the past. “Get in the zone. AUTO ZONE!”
West Coast games started at 10 o’clock, and I always listened to them in my bed. Old Herb Score would lull me to sleep, and then Tom Hamilton would jolt me awake with his home run calls. “Awayyy back…GONE!!!” I spent the summer with those two. Herb Score was my grandpa while Tom Hamilton was my kid brother who forgot to take his Ritalin.
While Herb and Tom were family, the Indians players were my best buddies. I looked up to those guys—Omar Vizquel at shortstop, Orel Hersheiser on the mound, and Manny Ramierez in right field. But my favorite, my bestest best friend in the whole world, was Kenny Lofton.
Kenny was quiet, but he sure was fast. He was so fast, in fact, that when he would reach maximum speed, his hat stopped holding onto his head and flew right off. All of his baseball cards went in hard plastic cases instead of the cardboard box with everyone else’s.
Saturdays didn’t start until “This Week in Baseball” came on at 11 am. After the show was over, I would eat a quick lunch then run back downstairs for the Indians game. I always picked up a baseball after games and hurled it against the backyard fence for hours. I was Orel Hershieser throwing a thirty-five mph fastball and a very uncurvey curveball.
My dream of becoming a Major League All-Star needed to be tweaked a little bit when I tried out for pitcher on my Little League team. I threw a fastball ten feet over my coach’s head on the first pitch. Literally. Ten feet. I never pitched again.
I think the moment I truly fell in love, though, was when I attended my first game at Jacob’s Field. I brought my glove, a Sharpie, and a fistful of cards, convinced that I would get a foul ball and Kenny Lofton’s autograph. Instead, I left with nacho cheese on my pants and a signature from some benchwarmer named Ruben Amaro. I couldn’t fall asleep that night, I was so happy.
The Indians loved me back and won over one hundred games that year. I watched every postseason game with the biased television announcers muted, and Herb and Tom on the radio. There was absolutely no way in my mind that we could lose.
By the time we got all the way to the World Series, everybody in Cleveland had Tribe fever. We had Indians dress-up day at school and scheduled everything around games. After taking the World Series to six games, the Indians found themselves losing 0-1 in the ninth inning. I waited for one of my heroes to come through. Then, all of the sudden, they didn’t.
I’m not going to lie to you, even though I probably would have back then. I cried like a girl.
I loved, and we lost. But I would rather have my 1995 than never have loved at all. I finally got over the loss, and my broken heart hardened just a little bit. The next year, the Indians got to the playoffs again and lost. The next year too. In fact, in the years following 1995, they have never won a single World Series. I still love baseball, but somehow, I always kind of expect to lose now.
The best part of going to games for me now is finding that little kid in the stands who doesn’t expect to lose. I always smile when I see him. He’s got a glove in one hand, a wad of baseball cards in the other, and nacho cheese all over his pants.