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The View from the Porch: The Rebirth

HRPorchViewHello friends of the feather. You may remember me as that crazy, opinionated, almost-always-correct author of The View from the Porch over at TheClevelandFan.com. While I still have the same home at Jacobs, er, Progressive, Field, I’ve got a new home for my thoughts on the Cleveland Indians right here at Everybody Hates Cleveland. I’m excited about the direction of this incredible collection of talent, which is convenient, because I can say the same thing about both the 2015 Cleveland Indians and the outlook here at EHC.

Because I can, I’m going to wax poetic about personal growth and how it parallels to the Cleveland Indians and the View from the Porch. The first installment of View from the Porch was published on April 30, 2011 at TheClevelandFan (and thankfully archived by the wonderful Dan Wismar). Up until that point, I was dabbling in hockey coverage and writing a weekly recap article titled the Wahoo Week in Review. Suffice it to say that the View from the Porch became my soap box and the platform from which my Indians fandom grew by leaps and bounds. Nearly four years later, I won’t cite batting average in any sort of meaningful context and I won’t have to ever mention David Huff’s name in this recurring column (this one excepted).

My days as a baseball fan date back to pretending I was Candy Maldonado, happily hitting a wiffle ball in our fenced-in side yard while my dad stood shirtless in a pair of jorts watching me run around like my head was on fire. Ignore that Candy Maldonado and I have drastically different skin colors and I don’t have a cool name like Candido. Maldonado posted a .261/.331/.446 slash with the Indians, which was well below my slash line as a seven-year-old wiffle ball All-Star.

It took a while for my love of baseball to truly blossom. My old man played football and hockey for South High and hockey was my first love, even though I never played on ice until high school. In fact, I missed most of the fun of the ‘90s for the Indians, which is probably why I don’t get nostalgic about it at the drop of a hat and mildly detest people who try to compare the present to the past. (Guys, the ‘90s are never coming back for the Cleveland Indians. I’m sorry, but it’s true. The sooner you get over it, the better off we will all be.)

I sporadically attended games thanks to the season tickets of an uncle, and have a Mark McGwire signed ball that he hit out of the park during batting practice during the 1998 season, when he was chasing down Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. The next night, my dad positioned himself close enough down the first base line for McGwire to sign the ball between PED injections and I still have that keepsake today, despite its major drop in value. We went back out to the outfield and he caught another McGwire practice blast. Both of those balls were caught on the Home Run Porch and those are my first two Porch memories.

It wasn’t until 2001 when I fully realized how special baseball was. I was 14 and the Indians were playing a Sunday night game against the Seattle Mariners. All of you already know this story, but the Indians erased a 14-2 deficit to win 15-14 on Jolbert Cabrera’s lone Indians highlight. As I sat on the floor in my basement trying my best to comprehend what just happened because it all seemed so impossible, baseball consumed me. It became the blood flowing through my heart and the thoughts ingrained in my mind.

Once I got to high school and had friends that drove, I began my Home Opener streak in 2003, which continues in the present. My dad never liked crowds and Indians tickets were so hard to track down during my childhood that I was robbed of time at the ballpark. Since then, I’ve made it a point to make up for lost time.

I have so many great memories at the ballpark since August 5, 2001 because I started going to more and more games. There was the time when a man with a replica WWF title belt slung over his shoulder threateningly asked me if I had a problem when I turned around and laughed at him. There was the time my fiancée and I befriended a police officer after an angry mother accused her of elbowing her child in the face. There was the time I randomly met Rich Swerbinsky, the creator and founder of TheClevelandFan, after seeing him on an episode of All Bets Are Off and recognized him next to me on the Porch.

And, yes, there are baseball memories, too. The 2007 Home Opener snow out and the infamous “Snow Angel” guy, who was happy to get escorted away in handcuffs so that he could feel his nether regions again. The 2007 Central Division clinching win. The Travis Hafner ALDS Game 2 walk-off single. Jim Thome’s return to the Cleveland Indians. Ryan Raburn’s three-run walk-off homer after the one time I would ever wish for a sacrifice bunt. Jason Giambi’s 80-grade bat flip to save the 2013 season. The electricity of the 2013 AL Wild Card game. Stephen Strasburg’s second Major League start. Asdrubal Cabrera’s unassisted triple play. Countless walk-off wins. Countless deflating losses. Eric Wedge’s complete hack job during Game 5 of the ALCS. Many beautiful summer nights at the ballpark. Many painful rain delays, including the May 31, 2013 games against Tampa Bay that ended at 3 a.m. The day I had to put my best friend down, June 18 of this past year, I was at the ballpark that same night. The game was rained out, which seemed all too fitting because all I wanted was baseball, which has become my escape from everything.

And there are the other memories. Like when I decided to become a season ticket holder for the first time for the 2012 season. There aren’t many things more deflating in sports than watching September baseball with a team ticketed for 90 losses. Fortunately, since my first recollections of baseball begin in the early ‘90s, I was spared the hell and heartache that tenured Tribe fans have from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I’m a season ticket holder again this year.

Over the course of time, I became an unapologetic sabermetrician. I was swept up into the poker craze of the early 2000s and my current job is to write about sports and sports betting for BangTheBook.com. I hate math, yet numbers and I just get along so well when it comes to sports. I found that it was impossible to criticize how the Indians front office operated unless I knew the reasons why. As you might expect, I found the answers in sabermetrics.

The Indians are a small-market team, as much as we tend to think that Cleveland is the center of the universe. Among the 30 MLB franchises, two have a smaller metro population than Cleveland – Kansas City and Milwaukee. In Major League Baseball’s painfully imbalanced financial landscape, the Indians simply cannot be players for the Max Scherzers or Albert Pujolses of the world. It’s just not feasible. I wanted to know what they could do instead. When they did do something, I wanted to know why. I needed to process it. I needed to see its risks. I needed to see its upside. I needed to know the method to the madness.

So, I grew as a fan, as an observer, and as a baseball thinker. I’m not on the level of my baseball idols, who don’t play the game, but write about it at Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and various other media outlets. Instead of looking at my phone or holding conversations between pitches, I’m pondering stats and outcomes. I’m considering pitch sequencing and what the hitter may be looking for. I’m determining win expectancy and thinking three plate appearances ahead. My fiancée is with me at every game, and she’s heard enough acronyms to make her head spin, but she asks questions and plays along. And, frankly, she’s significantly more informed than your average fan. I’m proud of that.

When I get to the ballpark on April 10, the view from the porch will be different. The Indians studied some of their attendance data and realized that the wasted upper reserve seats in the right field corner could be utilized in a much different way. They decided to tier the bullpens in center field, rather than banish the visitors to the dark right field corner. The mezzanine has been cut by more than half. New concession options behind the lower deck pay homage to Cleveland’s rapidly-growing and extremely delicious food scene. My first thought: How will this affect the park factor for left-handed hitters?

I never played. I’ve never stood in the box against 95 with cut or 83 with six-inches of horizontal movement with two inches of drop. I’ve never rounded third for a play at the plate and I’ve never picked a cutoff throw on the hop to throw a seed to home plate. Hell, I’ve never even stood in the box against 70 with no movement and no semblance of control. I’m the guy that Charles Barkley can’t stand. I’m the guy that measures offensive value in wOBA and couldn’t care less if a player is batting .235 as long as he’s drawing walks and hitting for power. I’m the guy that tells anybody that will listen about pitch framing.

Nearly two years ago to the date, I wrote this article outlining reasons why the Cleveland Indians could be the 2013 version of the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles, who both made the playoffs in 2012. I believed it when I wrote it and it came to fruition. It was at that point that I felt I had a good grasp of what was going on and how to interpret the Indians’ philosophy.

Despite Kenny Lofton’s best efforts to downplay what the 2013 team accomplished, the Indians made the playoffs. It was short-lived, but my goal for the team entering every season up until this one is to see meaningful baseball in September.

This season, that’s not good enough. This team is really (expletive) good. Strap in for the ride, Cleveland, because it’s going to be fun. The Tigers have to replace 530.1 starting pitching innings from Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly. The Royals have to replace James Shields’s 200 innings and somehow defy the odds again of being one of the worst offenses to make the playoffs. The White Sox made some good paper moves, but they’re still deeply flawed. The AL West features three teams capable of good things and two teams that will improve, but they’re not a big concern, and the AL East is wide open and every team in that division has flaws. It’s not a big stretch to say that nobody enters the season with fewer question marks than the Indians. That’s not to say that there aren’t any, because Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn are three big ones, but the Indians are in great shape.

Consider this. Had TJ House made one, maybe two, more start(s) to qualify (one inning pitched per team game played), the Indians would have had four of the top 45 pitchers in Fangraphs’s calculation of wins above replacement player in the second half of last season. The Indians were 11-17 when they started the month of May on May 2. They were 14 games over .500 (74-60) the rest of the way. The other teams better than that in the American League over the final five months: Seattle (76-61), Los Angeles (84-51), Baltimore (84-54). Two of them, as you know, made the playoffs and the other fell one game short.

This is going to be fun. All of it. From Spring Training to Opening Day to Game 43 to Game 112 to Game 162 and hopefully beyond. I, and the outstanding collection of writers at EHC, will be your companions for the winding ride that is the Major League Baseball season.

I’m happy to be here and beyond excited to see what the 2015 season brings. I hope you enjoy the View from the Porch.
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