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Sports


In the Browns' shadow, Indians bank on nostalgia
Indians showcase Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton during second annual TribeFest that coincided with Browns naming new coach
by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ


Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
 
A Jim Thome statue will be unveiled at Progressive Field on Aug. 2. Cleveland's career leader in home runs joins Bob Feller as the only other Cleveland player to be honored with a statue outside the ballpark.
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It’s no secret that the Indians have to work harder to get Northeast Ohioans’ attention than the Browns. So, to drum up interest --- and sell tickets --- the team has started TribeFest. Fans are invited to Progressive Field in January to meet players – past and present -- and tour the locker rooms. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks about the Indians tough competition this past weekend.

LISTEN: Terry Pluto on Indians TribeFest and nostalgia

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Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:11)


TribeFest: Unfortunate timing
The Indians spent lots of time planning their second annual TribeFest. The Indians set tickets for the opportunity to Progressive Field in January, meet the players for autographs, tour the locker rooms, hit in the batting cages and hear from manager Terry Francona. “It’s a great event for their fans. On Thursday, the day before it opens, the Browns hire a coach. Friday, the snow-storm hits; it goes all weekend.

Pluto says it all goes back to the Browns trumping Northeast Ohio's sports scene: "I posted this nice story about Kenny Lofton, and people [are writing me], 'What about a the Browns?'"

Indians deserve the attention
Pluto says the Tribe deserve their time in the spotlight: “The only team that frankly was worthy of fan support in the area in the last year was the Indians … They won 92 games, they lost 70. It would be just like if the Browns were 9-7 and made the playoffs. There was something to watch."

“They had all their key players, Jason Kipnis, Michael Bourne, Danny Salazar, their young star. They also brought in Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton from the 90's because people love those older players. I know when I was a kid I would have just been begging my dad to take me down to something like this, even in the snow."

Off-season events usually help ticket sales
Terry Pluto says TribeFest drew about 7,000 to Progressive Field over the weekend. That's about equal to their season ticket base. "These are the fans they were in jeopardy of losing a year ago, before they hired Terry Francona [as manager]."

Indians still banking on their 90's stars 
The Indians continue bringing back Thome, Lofton and the other players from the 90's. And Pluto says those players are just as eager to return to Cleveland to meet the fans. “They know that baseball of all the sports has the most nostalgic pull on people. Kenny Lofton spoke to the media for a half hour. They had to shut him up. Kenny would never refuse to talk but he was always kind of suspicious, and  guarded. [I think] Kenny’s discovered like a lot of these guys, Thome or Omar, yeah they played other places but the prime of their lives where they’re recognized and loved the most, is Cleveland and they’re really appreciating it at this stage."

A statue for Thome: Is it necessary?
The Indians announced during TribeFest that they will unveil a statue of Thome at Progressive Field on Aug. 2. Cleveland's career leader in home runs will be forever honored with the statue, which depicts him standing in the batter's box and directing his bat toward the mound. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller is the only other Cleveland player to also be honored with a statue outside the ballpark. “Even Thome’s like, 'I really appreciate it, but I’m not sure why,'" Pluto says.

“I think [the Indians] like Jimmy personally. The Indians included the statue in their contract negotiations with Thome when he became a free agent after the 2002 season. "But the problem is they offered $50 million less than the Phillies, so he went to Philly for the money," Pluto says. Thome signed a six-year, $85 million contract with Philadelphia. But, Pluto says, "Thome wasn’t all that hepped up on [the idea of a statue] then.”

Who deserve a statue at Progressive Field?
Pluto isn't sure Thome should be the next Indians player to be honored with a statue. “I always thought the next statue should be Larry Doby, broke the American League color line. Some fans have written me …that it should Lou Boudreau." Bourdreau was manager when the Indians won the 1948 World Series, Cleveland's first championship in 28 years and only the second in their history. 

Still, Pluto says the Indians should honor the great team of the 1990's as a whole. "My wife Roberta suggested you put about five or six of the players in some sort of statue with [Albert] Belle, Lofton, [Carlos] Baerga, Thome, Vizquel, maybe [Charlie} Nagy, those guys with Jim Hargrove, the manager, somehow."

LISTEN: Terry Pluto on new Browns coach Mike Pettine
Other options:  MP3 Download (8:28)



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