Fans fend off frigid temperatures for Tribe Fest
CLEVELAND -- It takes something drastic to stop Nick Swisher from smiling. A loss to the Rays in the one-and-done American League Wild Card Game last October did the trick, bringing Cleveland's high-energy first baseman down in the days that followed.
One day after the Tribe's abrupt departure from the postseason, Swisher's wife, JoAnna, suggested they get out of the house. They headed to Crocker Park, an outdoor mall on Cleveland's West side, where Swisher would surely be recognized by Tribe fans.
It turned out to be the fans who helped pick Swisher back up.
"I was really down," Swisher said on Saturday. "We worked so hard to get to that game, and even just to get into the playoffs, and I was really bummed out. ... The crazy thing is these people would come up to me and they would say, 'Hey, thank you so much for such an amazing season. There are going to be so many great things to come.'
"I think that's exactly what we're shooting for. Last year was hopefully that stepping stone we needed to get ourselves in the right direction and continue to build on that."
Swisher was on hand, along with a large group of Cleveland's players, for the first day of Tribe Fest on Saturday. The two-day event -- featuring autograph sessions, guest speakers, appearances by Indians alumni, games, concessions, and more -- continues from noon-6 p.m. ET on Sunday. More information can be found at Indians.com/TribeFest.
On that day back in October, Indians fans were there for Swisher, and he was surprised again by their passion on Saturday morning. With Cleveland's temperatures dropping and a snowstorm blowing through the region -- making for a frigid environment and tough driving conditions -- there was a considerable showing by fans on the first day of the event.
"I was driving in this morning," Swisher said, "and I was like, 'No one's going to show up.' And next thing you know, this place is packed. That's super exciting, especially as a guy who's going to be here for a while."
Last winter, Swisher inked a four-year pact worth $56 million that has the potential to last five years. With a new baby daughter and a house in the Cleveland area, the 33-year-old first baseman jumped at the chance to call the area home and embraced the local fans. That did not stop Swisher from enduring a rough season by his standards a year ago.
In 145 games for the Tribe, Swisher hit .246 with 22 home runs and 63 RBIs, but a left shoulder injury hindered the first baseman during portions of the season. Still, Cleveland went on to win 92 games and reached the playoffs -- two things Swisher is quick to mention.
"Last year wasn't about me," said Swisher, who added that he is recovered from his shoulder injury. "It was about the resurrection of this franchise."
Compared to last winter, when the Indians reeled in Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn with lucrative contracts and underwent a dramatic roster overhaul, this has been a relatively quiet offseason for the team. The Indians did sign a new closer in John Axford and add a new right fielder in David Murphy, but the club's deals have hardly stolen headlines.
The returning players still believe they have the pieces to build on last season's showing.
"We have such a great core group now," Indians left fielder Michael Brantley said. "And the core group is coming back again. Last year, it was kind of getting to know everybody, kind of feeling each other out. But you saw how well we played down the stretch. Everybody started just kind of clicking.
"To me, it's more about team bonding and our core guys making sure we keep a strong foundation in this locker room."
Former Indians players Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Charles Nagy (recently hired for an unspecified coaching role with the Tribe) were on hand on Saturday, reminding fans of the team's great run in the 1990s. Cleveland went to a pair of World Series during that decade, but has not won a championship since 1948.
Lofton said it is easy to see how starved Cleveland's fans are for a winner.
"Until you actually get a championship here, it's going to be tough for the city," Lofton said. "It's good to get the city back riled up again, because it's always exciting to see your team getting to that level, getting to the playoffs or getting to the World Series. The fans like that. To get them pumped up for that, that's great. The city wants a championship. That's the bottom line. Hopefully it can happen."
After the brief taste of the postseason last season, Swisher said the current Indians team is striving to take that next step.
"You want to build something and be a part of something," Swisher said. "If you would win a World Series around here, do you know how amazing it would be? This place would go crazy. Obviously, that's the goal every single year, man. A lot of things have to fall in place, but we're ready to make that run."