Tribe Fest gets fans, players pumped for 2019

January 13th, 2019

CLEVELAND -- It's not often that a pitcher is seen smiling on the mound after giving up a home run, especially in his debut with a new team, but that was the case for on Saturday.

Yes, it was technically Rodriguez's first appearance with the Indians, but the diamond was about half the size of a big league field in the middle of the Cleveland Convention Center, where the team hosted its seventh annual Tribe Fest.

After spending hours pitching to children who attended the event, Rodriguez faced his first Major Leaguer when teammate stepped into the box. After a half-hearted whiff at the first pitch, Lindor took Rodriguez deep to right-center field, celebrating with a massive bat flip. Lindor jogged his away around the bases as Rodriguez was left laughing on the rubber.

"I think he was just trying to get the kids to enjoy it a little bit," Rodriguez said through an interpreter, while still laughing about the at-bat.

This was the first Tribe Fest for many of the players in attendance, including recent acquisitions Rodriguez, , and . Although it could seem a little bit awkward for these new players to be a part of the team's event before the season even starts, especially for Plawecki, who was traded to the Indians about a week ago, manager Terry Francona said that he thought it was important for the team's additions to be involved in the event.

"I actually encouraged a couple of the new guys to come to this because it's a way before they get to Spring Training to not be the new guy anymore, " Francona said. "The first day's a little awkward and then after one or two days you're not new anymore, so the guys come to this, they hang out with the guys, they go to dinner and they get to know each other. And then when they show up in Spring Training, already they're getting reacquainted as opposed to introducing themselves."

Fans in attendance had plenty of entertainment options once they stepped through the doors. Kids could play baseball on the miniature field, some took swings in the batting cages and others lined up for autograph sessions with Indians players. Younger children even had their own options, including dancing with mascots Slider and the Tribe Hot Dogs.

On the the main stage, Francona and general manager Mike Chernoff sat down to talk about the current state of the roster, while a handful of players took questions from fans.

The big leaguers then stuck around to play games with the fans, including a crowd favorite, "Say What?" For the first round, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and were each paired with someone in the audience. Each person wore a mouth piece that stretched their cheeks, making it difficult to speak clearly. Their partner was required to guess the phrase they were saying, and the ridiculous guesses and funny sounds coming from the stage created a roar of laughter from the back corner of the Convention Center.

"[Bauer] was probably the best one on the stage at deciphering what was said with the mouth piece in," said Bauer's partner, Austin Cook. "With us being the last ones to go, we were talking strategy on if it was better to go word-by-word or saying the whole phrase. We were in it to win it."

The annual event, which was expected to be its biggest to date, also gave fans a sneak peek of what to expect during the 2019 All-Star week in July at Progressive Field.

"It seems like a really beautiful event," Rodriguez said. "I'm really happy for how everyone's received me here. The fans and the team and the organization, everyone's been really welcoming."