CLEVELAND -- Fans lined up inside a crowded ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, waiting to take a photo with the Indians' American League championship trophy. It was symbolic of how much success the Tribe had last season, but also a reminder that the team's ultimate goal remains unfilled.There
CLEVELAND -- Fans lined up inside a crowded ballroom at the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, waiting to take a photo with the Indians' American League championship trophy. It was symbolic of how much success the Tribe had last season, but also a reminder that the team's ultimate goal remains unfilled.
There was a buzz throughout the hotel's halls at Tribe Fest, which drew an estimated 7,000 fans to share in the growing excitement for the season ahead. The Indians fell short of winning the World Series against the Cubs last fall, but they return as one of the favorites in the AL, especially after the signing of free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion and given that the core of the team remains intact.
Next year, the Indians hope to have the Commissioner's Trophy on display.
"Nothing's given to you in this game," Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. "The only thing I think we earned from last year is a target on our backs. We are the defending champions. When you come into town, everybody's going to know they're going to have to play a great game to beat us.
"It just raises everybody's expectation level -- ours as well. We've got to go out there and get the job done."
Tribe Fest serves as the unofficial baton exchange from one season to the next. It is the signature event of the winter for the Indians, who will pack up the equipment trucks on Friday for the trip to Goodyear, Ariz., for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers will report for Cleveland on Feb. 12 and position players will follow suit on Feb. 16. Many players will make the trek early.
Indians manager Terry Francona, who joined the 20-plus players in Cleveland for this weekend's activities, said that he would fly to Arizona on Tuesday. Hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo will be among the coaches traveling to Cleveland's spring headquarters around the same time, too. Starter Carlos Carrasco is among the handful of players who will be flying to Arizona directly from Cleveland after participating in Tribe Fest.
After losing the World Series in seven games to the Cubs, the players are eager to get started again.
"With how the season ended," Indians closer Cody Allen said, "that itch started a little sooner."
At Tribe Fest, former Cleveland players took the stage for question-and-answer sessions, kids lined up to help build a large Lego mosaic rendering of Francisco Lindor, mascots roamed the building and a long list of players made time for autographs. It was a chance to get up close to the group that brought Cleveland its first pennant since 1997.
There was much to celebrate from last year -- and more to look forward to for the 2017 season -- but Indians fans also feel the sting of coming so close to winning it all. The same goes for the players, who are not content with having just reached the Fall Classic. Multiple players were asked if they watched Game 7, which is regarded as one of the greatest World Series games in baseball history. Not one said that they've re-watched the contest.
"I think that the biggest thing is not being satisfied with what we did last year," Indians ace Corey Kluber said. "We did go to Game 7 of the World Series, but we didn't win Game 7 of the World Series. [It's] not just thinking that that's going to happen again, but doing the little things that we need to do that got us to that point."
Expectations among the fans and players are understandably high. Simply being competitive will not be good enough.
Cleveland will have Carrasco and Danny Salazar healthy and back in the rotation. Brantley is ahead of his comeback schedule and is hoping to be healthy and ready for the season as well. Encarnacion gives the Indians a potentially thunderous bat in the heart of the lineup. With the Tribe's AL Central rivals in various states of transition, the Indians enter the season as the favorites to repeat as division champs.
Given how the depleted Indians performed in the postseason, Cleveland will also be a popular preseason pick to return to the World Series.
"Two years ago, we were picked by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series," Indians owner Paul Dolan said. "But, maybe not everybody believed it, and maybe they were right. This year, we're going to be one of those teams that are picked and I think most people would believe it. It's great. That's what you want. You want to be one of those teams that's picked to win. That's the kind of pressure you want."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.