CLEVELAND -- "If that doesn't give you goose bumps, you don't have a pulse."
Yes, I admit I just borrowed that line from Matt Underwood, the television play-by-play voice of the Cleveland Indianson SportsTime Ohio.
Though he used it to describe Travis Hafner's walk-off homerun, I think it wholeheartedly depicts the exciting moments I witnessed in every single game during the 2011 baseball season.
I love the game of baseball, especially Cleveland Indians baseball. I thank my Mom for the passion I have for this game, this team, this city.
Excitement in a game consists of offense, defense, history making plays (even if the Indians are on the losing end like Irvin Santana's no-hitter), and so much more than what you read in the newspaper box score each morning. Every game in 2011 fit that description to a tee, definitely worth the price of admission and did not disappoint.
The Cleveland Indians came out of the gate having one of their most successful Aprils ever, winning the first 14 of 16 games at Progressive Field. They were either in or toying with first place thru the end of August.
Thank goodness the players did not listen to the critics and came out like the scrappy players they are - with their eye on the postseason and the notion that they were contenders from Spring Training.
Honestly, the Indians were mathematically still alive well into September and really only collapsed with about 3-4 weeks to go.
Manager Manny Acta said "They played meaningful games all year long." They did. Even in the final weeks, they were playing the role of 'spoiler' with potential playoff teams.
Oh, there were so many magical moments.
This true fan of the game of baseball is not going to rehash the season but would like to share some key, chilling memories why this Cleveland Indians'season is surely one to remember forever and why this amazing team is a force to be reckoned with for the 2012 season!
Indians' pitcher and ambassador Bob Feller passed away in the off-season so this year was dedicated to probably one of the best Major League pitchers of all time.
Opening weekend festivities were geared to remembering Feller, who not only did so much for the game of baseball but for the United States of America. Players wore a special patch on their uniforms all season long.
And these guys were off and running.
It did not take long for the excitement to begin. In his first start at first base against the Chicago White Sox on April 3rd, Carlos Santana dove for a bunt attempt, caught the ball, tossed to Orlando Cabrera at first who threw to Asdrubal Cabrera at 2nd for an amazing triple play.
I could watch that play over and over.It was showed over and over. And friends, the magic never ended until the final game of the season.
The walk-off wins came in all shapes and sizes. From the towering home runs by Travis Hafner or Carlos Santana...to an unlikely hero named Cord Phelps. Phelps had just been called up to the Majors to help out at second base when he slid into the role of hero.
June 19th against the Pittsburgh Pirates...a two hour plus rain delay...and 11 innings. I was fortunate to be at the game with my entire family. The rains came. With the way the Indians had been playing, no one was about to leave. We played UNO to pass the time. The rain ended. And then it happened. Phelps stepped up to the plate in the 11th, socked his first home run, a 3-run homer, to beat the Pirates 5-2. We had walk-off walks (Michael Brantley on May 10th against the Rays) and even a walk-off hit batter as Kosuke Fukudome got plunked in the 14th inning on August 9 to bring home the winning run against the Tigers.
The defense, especially of Asdrubal Cabrera, brought flashbacks of the Omar Vizquel era. He's just THAT good! Night after night bare handed grabs & flips behind his back to second base looked like he was putting on his own clinic out there. But it did not end with Adsrubal.
Each player gave their all with amazing dives and grabs from Matt LaPorta at 1st to Jason Donald at 2nd to Jack Hannahan at 3rd all around the outfield...to another rookie who Manny Acta said has the job come 2012 - "it's his job to lose."
Jason Kipnis. From day one he showed the fans what he could do with his glove and then with his bat as his first ML hit was a single to right field beating the Angels 3-2. At the end of each game, you could see how each ballplayer gave 100 percent as each uniform was covered in the red clay of the diamond or grass stains from the outfield.
I haven't even touched on our pitching staff. They rocked! Justin Masterson was masterful all season long. Our Ace. We acquired Ubaldo Jimenez. Every pitcher held their own, even through the injuries. They kept the team in the game always giving us a fighting chance.
Young Josh Tomlin became the 1st pitcher since 1919 to pitch 5 innings or more in his first 29 consecutive starts. I believe he actually took that record to 37 straight games. And he had 10 wins by the All-Star break. He's a keeper! The bullpen developed their own image by their stellar performances night after night: The Bullpen Mafia. They were known around the Major Leagues, on Twitter, and on Facebook by that nickname. Rounding out the pitching staff -and The Bullpen Mafia-- closer Chris Perez.
July started out with a bang as the New York Yankees cruised into town. Each game packed not only because it was the dreaded Yankees but Derek Jeter was close to his quest for 3000 hits. The camera flashes went off every single Jeter at bat. He did not reach that goal in Cleveland but quite an exciting series.
And sure enough, on the 4th of July another unlikely hero, Austin Kearns,hit his 1st home run to put the Indians ahead in the game the Tribe would win 6-3. There is nothing greater than beating the New York Yankees!
History was made at Progressive Field on July 27, 2011. My co-workers were sure I'd walk into work mourning. They were surprised how excited I was that my Indians had just lost. My philosophy is if you know your team is not going to win, next best thing is seeing history. That I did as Irvin Santana of the L.A. Angels pitched a no-hitter against the Tribe. It really was so exciting. Come the 9th inning the fans were on their feet cheering for Santana's quest and achievement. And I was part of history.
Just when you thought the season may be fizzling, the Indians acquired long time Indian and fan favorite Jim Thome in August 2011. This truly was one of the best moves the Cleveland Indians ever made. Not only did he fill the stands and rev up the fans, but acted as mentor in the clubhouse for all the young players.
The 2011 Indians were the 3rd youngest team in the major leagues. Even though the Indians started sliding out of 1st and away from their postseason dream, the excitement level popped up a few notches with Thome's return. The applause deafening for Thome's first at bat and appearance. That same applause and pride continued each time Thome took his place at the plate.
September 23 was Jim Thome night at the ballpark. The renderings of a new statue being built at Heritage Park were unveiled. Even through the rain, the stands were filled to honor this longtime hero and Cleveland Indian favorite.
And on September 25, Cleveland Indians' Manager Manny Acta pulled one of the classiest moves ever by putting Jim Thome in at 3rd base for the final home game of the season. The crowd jumped to their feet when they saw Thome run out to third with his glove and take practice throws.
It's surely a moment that I will never forget for as long as I live. It's not known yet whether Thome will return in 2012. If it were up to the fans, he'd be there for sure. The Indians have said they are letting Jim Thome make that decision. And Thome said he will take some time with his family to mull over whether he will be back or not. Fingers crossed.
Oh, there were hundreds of other memorable moments all season long. Where else can you meet Bob Costas who just happened to be in town for fun and wanted to take in an exciting Indians game? Or watch batting practice from the field?
Long-time radio broadcaster Mike Hegan announced his retirement after more than 50 years with this organization. He was honored during the final weekend of the season.
You can not forget how this unique and tight knit team of men passed the hat around the clubhouse to raise enough money so Jack Hannahan could catch a charter flight and see the birth of his baby. Again, a classy move on the part of the Indians and White Sox allowing Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel to exchange lineup cards when Chicago came to town. A picture that wound up all overTV and the internet.
The final game of the season in Detroit, Manager Manny Acta got himself thrown out of the game on purpose in the 1st inning to not only fire up his team one final time but to allow his longtime bench coach Tim Tolman to manage the last game he would ever coach. Tolman announced he would bestepping down as coach because of his Parkinson's Disease.
After the final game, players were grateful to their fans thanking them profusely on Twitter and Facebook for their support all season long....as fans reciprocated the sentiment offering words of encouragement for next year.
Oh, the 2011 season may be history but it truly was a historical year never to be forgotten. But my friends, this year was just the beginning of what is shaping up to be a thrilling adventure with our Cleveland Indians.
Only chapter one. If you missed it, you did miss out on an amazing 7 months of Cleveland Indians baseball. But it is certainly never too late, as the 2011 Indians showed us game after game after game.
To be continued....in 2012.