CLEVELAND -- Welcome to Mets Country. Yes, really.
I try to make one road trip, solely for entertainment purposes, each year. Of the 19 or so other ballparks I’ve been to I can’t remember many that were this far away from New York that housed so many Mets fans.
Wednesday night, I took a count and tallied more than a major league roster’s worth of Mets jerseys/t-shirts among a crowd that didn’t feel much larger than that which you’d see at a minor league game.
I wasn’t surprised to see those for David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Jonathon Niese (who grew up three hours away in Defiance), but go figure that I’d spot a Todd Hundley, an Edgardo Alfonzo, a Ryan Church, a Joe Smith, a Roberto Alomar and an Aaron Heilman.
Indians fans are currently depressed about their baseball team from what I can gather in my two days here, and that fits in with a city that is economically depressed and waiting on a basketball player who has emotionally worn out the sports fans of the city.
I guess I can forgive them if they're a little annoyed at New York right now. First the baseball team comes in and steals a few ball games. That's a warmup for what may happen on July 1 when a certain someone hits the free agent market. I've been treated well though.
Cleveland looks like a place that has been stepped on, physically (their version of the Citi Field fan walk, Heritage Park, has a lot of worn out tribute bricks) and emotionally, which is a shame because there’s a lot of good there, and I’m not just talking about the basketball team.
I spent most of my second day here sitting with a man named John Adams, whom you may know not by sight, but by sound -- he’s the longtime Indians fan who bangs the drum while sitting in the last row of the left field bleachers -- his wife and a couple of their friends.
Adams took great pride in telling me about the internationally renowned Cleveland Orchestra, and the Emerald Necklace parks, which he says put Central Park to shame. There’s also the Western Reserve Historical Society, which currently houses a fascinating exhibit on Abraham Lincoln that I heartily endorse checking out.
LeBron James may say he’s not a real Clevelander, but Adams is, and his passion for the team and his drum was impressive (and the latter was piercing ... if you go up there, come mentally prepared for the noise). James seemed to be a sore subject with him and the folks in his area, so I steered clear after a few brief queries.
In fact, James was a sore subject for a bunch of people whose opinions I tallied, though I elicited some sympathy when I told them I was a Knicks fan who wanted James to stay in Cleveland.
“LeBron’s gonna do what’s best for LeBron,” was an echo I’ve heard as often as a drum beat the last two days from the likes of the cabdriver, hotel clerk, and newspaper salesman. There seemed to be an accepted, surprisingly unanimous resignation from those folks that James is headed not to New York, but to Chicago.
The most positive response I got regarding King James came from the Ketchup and Mustard hot dog mascots, who participate in on-field races between innings, and both of whom gave a quick thumbs-up when I asked if James would stick around.
One of the restaurant waitresses I asked was trying to be optimistic. The younger folks seemed to fall into that vein, perhaps because their hearts haven’t previously been broken by an athlete leaving his hometown yet.
“LeBron has a heart. I think he’s changed. But I still think he has a heart,” she said.
For the city's sake, I hope she’s right.
Three things I didn’t know about Cleveland, Ohio, and LeBron that I do now:
1. Something I found interesting about Cleveland: The state of Ohio is the native home of 10 pitchers who have won 200 or more major league games. That’s the most of any state in the United States. Two were born in Cleveland- Hall of Famer Rube Marquard and George Uhle.
2. Type “LeBron” into Baseball-Reference.com and you’re led to the page for former pitcher Francis Beltran (middle name “Lebron”). He’s close to James in build- 6-foot-6, 255 pounds- but was just 3-2 with a 5.69 ERA in a 67-game career that spanned 2002 to 2008. His claim to fame is yielding Barry Bonds 692nd career home run. Speaking of Beltran: Two minor league players named Juan LeBron never cracked the majors, including one who was briefly in the Mets organization (that much, I did know). One had, on his rookie card, a picture of then-Royal Carlos Beltran, instead of himself
3. Former major league pitcher Reggie Cleveland never pitched for the Indians. He did pitch against the Mets, finishing 2-4 against them, with his last four decisions being defeats. One was a key loss down the stretch in the Mets climb to the 1973 pennant.
Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight. Follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.