Lindor stars at jubilant Tribe Fest in Cleveland

January 20th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- While walking through the main hall at Tribe Fest on Saturday, retrieved a handful of red and blue bean bags from the ground. The Indians shortstop then handed one to an unsuspecting fan and insisted he stop to take on Lindor in an impromptu game of cornhole.

There was one condition.

"If you miss," Lindor told the boy, "you have to do push-ups."

The young fan stopped, peered at his target and then sent one of the red bags flying wide of the large wooden box. He then dropped to the ground and began doing push-ups, while Lindor bent over in laughter. It was a fun exchange in the middle of the packed hall, which was a hive of activity from morning until evening at the Huntington Convention Center downtown.

In recent winters, the annual event moved from the bowels of Progressive Field to local hotels, where fans experienced cramped interactive spaces. This year was much different. The spacious environment at the convention center allowed for more activities, and the attendance was up nearly 40 percent from last offseason's gathering.

The Indians had 26 players on hand, along with manager Terry Francona, a few of his coaches, and members of the front office. First baseman , who signed a two-year contract with Cleveland this offseason, was thrilled to have the chance to not only get to know his teammates better, but interact with Tribe fans ahead of Spring Training.

"It's very important," Alonso said. "I think I've gotten my feet wet getting to know all the guys, getting to know the staff. And then obviously with the fans, being able to be here at fan fest and they can see me, and I can see them, and just realize how excited this city is for the team and they can see how excited I am to be here."

The highlight of Tribe Fest's morning session -- limited to season-ticket holders -- was the announcement that Lindor is on the cover of R.B.I. Baseball 18, which will be released in March. Lindor took to the main stage for the official unveiling of the cover, which shows him finishing a swing in an Indians uniform.

In a lengthy question-and-answer session with Lindor ahead of the announcement, Indians radio voice Tom Hamilton noted that Lindor rarely seems to have a bad day.

"That's just me," Lindor said. "I'm a happy kid and I enjoy life."

The rest of the day included more on-stage Q&A's and interactive games with fans. There were multiple booths set up around the hall to give kids a chance to take a swing or see how hard they could throw a ball. There were video game stations, photo opportunities with the Indians' American League championship trophies, autograph sessions and a craftsman carving a bat live in front of fans.

Thanks to the larger venue, the Indians also constructed a small field, where Indians players invited kids to join them for a pick-up game. Josh Tomlin, , and Alonso were among the Tribe players who took the diamond and threw pitches to young fans.

"My mom signed me up for it right when we came over," said Adelayde Ruth, an 8-year-old from Avon Lake, Ohio. "I was nervous, but then I realized that it wasn't scary. They were nice."

Landon St. Clair -- a 10-year-old from Columbus, Ohio -- hit on the field and got Kipnis to sign his hat and a baseball. St. Clair also expressed optimism about the season ahead.

"I'm really excited," he said, "because I think we have a really good chance for the playoffs this year."

That is definitely the goal for the Indians, who won 102 games last season and are aiming for a third consecutive AL Central crown this year. Cleveland lost a handful of players in free agency this winter (, , and Joe Smith), but spent the past two days expressing optimism that the team in place is still very capable of contending for a championship.

"'It's a new team and a new year," Indians pitcher said. "You've got to develop chemistry and cohesiveness, but we all feel very confident that we'll end up back in a position that we'll have a chance to go out and win a World Series."

The players also enjoyed hearing from fans at Tribe Fest who shared that confidence.

"We appreciate everyone that does come out," Bauer said. "It's good to connect with fans and try to build excitement for the season on both ends -- the fans' side, the players' side -- send the message that the season's coming back around and we want to do it together."