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Published: 9/21/2007

Indians fans slow to embrace club

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Indians fan Todd Callen Jr. rubs in his good luck to his sibling as he watches his heroes sweep the Tigers on Wednesday. Indians fan Todd Callen Jr. rubs in his good luck to his sibling as he watches his heroes sweep the Tigers on Wednesday.
CHUCK CROW / AP Enlarge

CLEVELAND - In a town where LeBron James and Brady Quinn get all the attention, fans have been slow to embrace the Cleveland Indians.

Wake up Cleveland fans, your team is tops in the majors.

The Indians are on the verge of their first division title since 2001 and thanks to a sweep of the Detroit Tigers and a 20-5 run since Aug. 25, they entered last night at 90-62, tied with the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in baseball.

With their magic number at three, they could clinch the AL Central this weekend during a three-game series against Oakland.

The Indians have sold more than 30,000 tickets for each game and will likely sell out, but that hasn't been the norm this year.

A franchise that sold out 455 straight games from 1995 to 2001, ranks just 19th in highest attendance out of 30 teams this season at 2.2 million.

There are a number of factors cited for the soft attendance: the region's weak economy, the Cavaliers' run to the finals eating up fan and corporate dollars, and losing four home dates because of an April snowstorm that wiped out Opening Day.

But Lewis Stevens, 22, of Parma, believes there's a simple reluctance by the fans to get passionate about this Indians team. He compares it to being hesitant about getting back together with an ex-girlfriend - the fear of getting dumped again.

"You get this close and they let you down. That's the whole reason. People don't want to be let down," said Lewis, who was at Jacobs Field buying two tickets for Sunday's game, which he figures will be the clincher. It'll be the sixth game he's attended this season.

Mike Hogan, 43, of Chagrin Falls, also believes the once bitten, twice shy sentiment is strong in Cleveland, a city that saw the Indians lose the World Series in 1995 and 1997 and hasn't won a championship in any major professional sport since the Browns in 1964.

"They don't want to latch on and have their hearts crushed," said Hogan, who will take his 10-year-old son, Brendan, to Sunday's game.

The Indians are also a bit of an unknown entity at home and nationally with big media corporations fixated on the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

"I think guys and teams are aware of what we can do, but if they don't the sneak factor is always good," said Indians closer Joe Borowski.

Borowski, who leads the league with 42 saves in his first year with Cleveland, is one of the players the casual fan probably hasn't gotten to know yet. Those who fondly remember Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel still haven't gotten acquainted with Fausto Carmona, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta.

"I don't think they promote the players enough. The new guys," said Jeff Best, 36, of Youngstown. "I don't think anybody knows the talent on this team."

While James and the Cavaliers turned Cleveland into a basketball town this year, and the quarterback Quinn's arrival has Browns fans hopeful for the future, a new group of Indians are ready to take the city into October again to try for their first championship since 1948.

They say this time there won't be heartbreak.

"It's our year," third-baseman Casey Blake said. "We've had some good teams in the past, but, for whatever reason, it just wasn't our time."

ASTROS/WADE: Ed Wade was hired as general manager of the Houston Astros, two years after the Philadelphia Phillies fired him as GM following eight seasons without a playoff appearance.

The 51-year-old Wade, who worked in public relations for the Astros early in a career that began in 1977, was heavily criticized in Philadelphia for his reluctance to make significant moves before the trade deadline and for giving big-money, long-term contracts to players who underachieved.

"The Phillies team was put together not through big trades but through player development," Astros owner Drayton McLane said. "We had some wonderful candidates, but Ed just stood out."

Wade replaced Lee Thomas in 1998 after serving as his assistant for eight years. He had two years remaining on his contract when he was let go.

"It was a great eight-year run for me individually and for the organization, I believe," Wade said. "We were able to do some things to re-establish the farm system, add stability and continuity and to build a team that was successful but just not quite successful enough."

Wade inherited a Phillies team that had finished last two straight years and had posted losing records in 10 of 11 seasons. He fired Terry Francona after the 2000 season, hired Larry Bowa and rebuilt the team around young stars such as Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins.

Astros president Tal Smith credited Wade with helping develop the current Phillies nucleus.

"You've got to look at the body of work and this was done under Ed Wade's administration with the Phillies," Smith said. "All the candidates bring something to the table but the 31 years of experience and the track record with (what) the Phillies have accomplished and where they are today is certainly a determining factor."

Francona won a World Series with Boston in 2004, the same year Wade fired Bowa and replaced him with Charlie Manuel, another move that was criticized.

"Happy for him. I think he deserves to get another crack at being a GM," Manuel said last night before the Phillies played in Washington. "He showed a lot of trust in me and a lot of faith in me."



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