For fans, Opening Day is like Baseball New Year. It’s a time to celebrate a new season, a brand new start for every team and the beginning of warmer temperatures around the country. But for the first time since 1973, the Indians will be without their outfield drummer for their home opener.
“I should be dead,” John Adams said.
Adams has been known as the man with the enormous bass drum in the outfield bleachers for decades. But it was around this time last year that he started to feel a little bit off. He experienced symptoms like shortness of breath, exhaustion and weakness. He then broke four ribs and recovered, but never regained his strength. His health slowly kept declining until December, when it hit rock bottom.
“I went in for them to examine one thing in the Emergency Room,” Adams said, “and one thing led to another and triple bypass, fixed a valve, thyroid was shot, which I found out affects your energy levels, too. Then I had some setbacks that really set me back.”
Adams had emergency heart surgery after doctors discovered two 80 percent blockages in his heart and one that was nearly 100 percent. But just after the operation, it was clear he wasn’t recovering well. Doctors noticed that he was bleeding too much and was rushed back into surgery again the following day. From there, he was taken to the ICU before he was moved to an area he said was called the “staging area.”
“My first night up there, my blood pressure dropped down to 53 over nothing,” Adams said. “And my blood sugar dropped down below 40. I should be dead. Seriously. Those numbers? I should be dead.”
He was sent back to the ICU for a second time (and would eventually go back into intensive care one more time) and was bed ridden. It was in that moment that the reality set in that his life wasn’t going to be the same as it was just a few months ago any time soon.
At this time of year, Adams is used to prepping for the baseball season that’s just three weeks away. But now, Adams has to put his health first and know that Opening Day is just not feasible for him in 2021.
The top of the bleachers in left-center field will be strangely quiet on April 5. It’ll be a silence that the Tribe hasn’t heard since the beginning of the 1973 season. On Aug. 24 of that year, he decided to bring a bass drum to the Indians game in order to have something to bang on to create noise since smacking the bleachers didn’t quite do the trick (and hurt his hand).
“I was told as long as I didn’t bother anybody [I could bang the drum],” Adams said. “I was at the bottom of the bleachers. I always sat there. A [group of students] come in, 16 of them from East Tech [High School]. They sit directly in front of me. And I thought, ‘Oh well, I guess I’ll never get a chance to do it.’ A guy was making a beer run to the top of the bleachers and he looked at me and said, ‘Are you ever gonna hit that drum?’”
Adams knew that his requirement was that he couldn’t bother anyone in the stands if he chose to hit the drum. Since he had a crowd gathered in front of him, he already had made the executive decision not to strike it.
“[The guy] said, come up here, you won’t bother anybody up top,” Adams said. “And that’s how I got to the top of the bleachers in Section 55.”
A guy from work asked Adams to go to the game with him the next night with his drum and it was then that the Cleveland Press took its photo and tracked Adams down for an interview. When the story ran the following Tuesday, it encouraged fans to go to the ballpark to hear the drum.
The rest is history.
Fast forward 48 years and now Adams will have to miss his first Opening Day game in that span. He had his first surgery on Dec. 23 and finally got back home at the end of February. He will need to have one more heart surgery in the coming weeks and is relying on friends, neighbors and a walker to get around.
But this is far from the end of the story of the Cleveland Drummer.
He may have more hurdles to overcome. He may need to regain strength in his legs to even be capable of walking up a flight of stairs. He may need to learn how to regain his balance. And he may not be able to drive right now. But Adams knows this is only temporary.
Adams’ goal is to – after his final heart surgery – get himself back into decent enough health that he can get back to Progressive Field before the end of the 2021 season. Excluding the 2020 season (since no fans were allowed in the ballpark), Adams said he has only missed 48 games in 47 seasons. And he wants everyone to know he’s doing everything he can to make sure the number of games he’ll miss in ’21 will be as low as physically possible.
For now, he’ll continue to dream about that moment when he walks back into the ballpark for the first time as inspiration.
“Just to be at a ballgame with people, sharing stories,” Adams said, “it’ll truly be like what happens at Easter: Rebirth.”