baseball

At Guardians Fest, Triston McKenzie and Myles Straw wonder aloud: Why don’t Cleveland fans hate the AL Central?

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The man in the Chief Wahoo crewneck refuses to say their name.

When New York’s baseball team – you know which one – travels to Cleveland, longtime Guardians fan Marty identifies them only by their pattern.

“Anybody who plays against Pinstripes, I hope they beat the snot out of them,” the Mentor native told cleveland.com. “I’ll say it that way.”

Marty sounded a lot like the rest of the Cleveland fans buzzing around the Huntington Convention Center on Saturday during Guardians Fest 2023. Asked which baseball rival most draws Cleveland’s ire, most attendees had quick answers prepared: Yankees, Dodgers, Astros and Cubs.

Notice anyone missing?

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Across baseball, you can easily trace the correlation between vicinity and vitriol. The Dodgers hate the Giants. The Yankees can’t stand the Red Sox. Every NL Central dweller dislikes the Cardinals.

But during Saturday’s fan event, the Clevelanders struggled to summon the same disdain for their divisional neighbors. Marty said Guards fans feel a “kinship” with Detroit, a fellow small market. Canton natives (and former little league teammates) Ryan and Eric feel no hostility at Progressive Field when the Twins come to town. Fellow Cleveland fan Neena Arora-Sanchez can’t hate a White Sox team that plays second fiddle in its own city, and not a single fan even mentioned Kansas City.

Maybe that’s why Guardians pitcher Triston McKenzie did.

“We get a lot of fans when we play big name teams, but I would love for them to come in and boo the Royals every single time they come in here,” McKenzie said. “Not because of anything, just because it’s the Royals.

“…Even just consistency in the season like that, I think it would feed a lot into our energy because that’s how we’re coming out–we want to come out and dominate. So I think if the fans come out with that same mentality, it’ll carry over into the playoffs.”

Cleveland manager Terry Francona tells players like McKenzie that playoff baseball is a privilege earned by the teams who can fight through the season’s Malaise. But of course, it helps to have a home crowd that pushes you through it. And Cleveland baseball fans, by their own admission, can be a fickle bunch.

Their energy spikes when the big-market bad guys come to town. Heck, it perks their Irish to hear the names.

“Everybody just hates the Yankees,” Marty said. “I mean, we’ve got to be civil, but we’ve still got to show that we do not like them.”

“When the big people come, like the Yankees and the Red Sox, they always win,” added Arora-Sanchez. Like God dang it! I just want us to – I’m so sick of the big people always winning.”

Neena Arora-Sanchez (left) can’t hate Cleveland’s division rivals because she’ve had the same bum luck as the Guardians. She attended Guards fest with her husband Juan Sanchez (middle) and sister Monica Arora (right).

The smaller, more familiar markets don’t inspire the same passion. Jalen Curry watched his brother Xzavion debut last summer in a 7-5 loss to the Tigers, and he described Cleveland’s home crowd as “relaxed.”

“The fans didn’t seem upset or have any animosity,” he said. “I haven’t seen it.”

Neither has Ryan, the Canton native who attends several games per summer with his friend Eric. At the average regular season game, Ryan said, “You’re just less and less present. Your heart’s not there.”

And Kelly, a season ticket holder who attended her first game as an infant, misses the intensity of a playoff crowd during the summers.

“At playoff games, everyone is one. You hug everybody,” she said. “You go to a game on a normal day, and they win, it’s like back to life.”

Kelly-Lindsay Guards Fest

Kelly (right) and Lindsay (left) are season ticket holders who want to see more energy at the average Guardians game.

Perhaps the fans around Kelly are, as McKenzie suggested, showing their Midwest charm. “We’re not big booers,” the third-year pitcher said. “We’re big cheerleaders for our team.”

Maybe the onus is on Major League Baseball to increase fan engagement — Curry said the league should be introducing fans to a game’s stakes and “creating an atmosphere of excitement.” Or maybe the Guardians’ divisional foes remind fans too much of the home team, as Arora-Sanchez suggested.

“It almost feels like when you’re sort of in that same underdog category together,” she said. You’re like, whatever. I’m not gonna root for them, but I’m not gonna (have) this visceral reaction. I don’t have that because they have kind of the same s—–history.”

Regardless of the issue’s origin, Guards Fest goers agree that the Progressive Field – and ballparks across the country – could benefit from more spice in its sport.

To be fair, some fans enjoy baseball’s unassuming aura. A fan named Jake said he prefers attending Guardians games to Browns games because “I don’t need to come out of my shoes and drink seven beers.”

But Kelly’s friend (and fellow season ticket holder) Lindsay said she wants to see more “jawing” from players. Arora-Sanchez believes that the more fans hate an opposing team, the harder they’ll support their own. And Curry believes in the power of signature celebrations after watching fans follow first baseman Josh Naylor at Guards Fest and miming his “rock the baby” celebration.

“It’s like Tiger Woods’ fist pump,” he said. That lights a fire into a crowd as well. Fans react to (Naylor) differently.”

Jalen Curry Guards Fest

Jalen Curry, brother of Guardians pitcher Xzavion Curry sees personality and story-building as avenues for more engaged fans

The Guardians welcome any solution that will help them grind through their grueling schedule. As outfielder Myles Straw told reporters Saturday, “It all starts with a packed house.” A rowdy house. A house that, as Straw saw last October, can be as raucous as any.

When asked why that energy lacks during divisional games, Straw chose his words carefully.

“I can’t say what I’m gonna say, but you’re gonna draw more crowds from other teams,” he said. Everybody wants to come see the Yankees or certain teams. Sometimes you can’t have 40,000 people there, if you see where I’m getting to. It’s hard to fill a Major League Stadium, but we did a good job. And towards the end of the year, it was really fun. Cleveland fans get after it pretty good. It was pretty cool to see that.”

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