CLEVELAND — No, it's not an illusion.
The Cleveland Guardians are in first place in the American League Central Division on June 23. The Guardians just wrapped up an impressive road trip by winning seven of nine games against the Rockies, Dodgers, and Twins.
Since Memorial Day, Cleveland is a healthy 17-5. On May 29, they were just 19-24 and laboring in 3rd place. Things have changed dramatically.
But it's how this team is winning games that's impressive. 15 of their 36 victories have been of the come-from-behind variety. The Guardians are the youngest team in all of baseball, yet they play like savvy veterans. The offense constantly puts together quality at-bats and players seemingly always pick each other up after mistakes.
Can they keep this pace up all year? Who knows. I just know that it's time for the fans of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio to drop the excuses and start giving this team the support they deserve.
What excuses do I mean?
"I won't support this team because the Dolans are cheap"
I have heard this argument for 20 years. Many fans refuse to look past the fact that so many of the franchise's best players have been shipped out since the Dolan family took over as owners because they couldn't afford to sign their stars to long-term contracts once they reached past their arbitration years. (See Thome, Jim; Sabathia, C.C.; Lee, Cliff; Lindor, Francisco, etc.)
It's frustrating, I get it.
Well here's the good news if you're in this camp: Money may be coming down the line soon. David Blitzer, who currently owns stakes in NBA and NHL teams, has been approved as a minority owner of the Guardians by Major League Baseball. Blitzer will apparently begin with a 25-30% share of the team and can eventually take over as majority owner.
So whether there's just an infusion of cash coming, or a new majority owner, the wallet may not be as tight as it has been in the past.
Having said that, I just want everyone to consider how well the team has done recently in executing trades of high-priced talent to bring back young prospects in return. My colleague, Ben Axelrod, wrote a great piece on this the other day.
Guardians president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff turned Trevor Bauer into Franmil Reyes, Corey Kluber for Emmanuel Clase, and most impressively, Mike Clevinger into Austin Hedges, Josh Naylor, Owen Miller, Cal Quantrill, and Gabriel Arias. Not too shabby.
Oh and one other thing, the Guardians did give José Ramírez a franchise-record five-year, $124 million extension before the start of this season. Yes, it was well below what he could have made elsewhere, but you have to give the Dolans credit for giving their best player a well-deserved reward. Ramírez, meanwhile, has responded by putting forth another MVP effort.
"I won't go to a Guardians game because of the weather, or gas prices"
Yes, the weather has been miserable in Greater Cleveland this spring. But summer is here, the sun is out, and it's time to enjoy some memories at Progressive Field. I can't think of a better way to spend a summer evening than taking in a game at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Or head to the ballpark on the weekend. You'll remember why you love baseball in Cleveland.
If you're worried about the price of gas, there's always the RTA rapid. Park and ride my friends.
And if you can't make it to the game, check out my guys Matt Underwood & Rick Manning on Bally Sports Ohio or Tom Hamilton & Jim Rosenhaus on the Guardians radio network. We're lucky to have some of the best broadcasters in the business in our town.
Bottom line: Find a way to follow this team at home or away.
"I won't support this team because my Indians are gone"
This is the hardest excuse to talk about because many of my friends and loved ones are in this category. No matter how much they love baseball, no matter how much they love going to Progressive Field, these fans can't forgive the Dolan family for taking away the Indians nickname.
Here's the thing: I get it. I totally understand. I didn't want the team to change their name, either. We've all come of age referring to the baseball team in this town as the "Indians" or the "Tribe." We have Indians jerseys and Chief Wahoo caps in our closets. Heck, I still hum the notes to "Indians Fever" or "Talkin' Tribe" at times. It's a hard thing to let go of.
Perhaps if FedEx hadn't scared Daniel Snyder into pulling out as a sponsor, the Washington Commanders would still be the 'Redskins' and we might not be having this conversation in Cleveland. But I also believe that the decision to eliminate the name "Indians" came out of a genuine desire by the Dolans to be at the forefront of social and racial justice.
Regardless, the name on the jersey still says "Cleveland." These players, their manager, and the rest of the organization are a credit to our city and our region. It's time to give this young team a chance, regardless of their nickname.
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