You probably won’t find this story in too many people’s top 5 sports events in Cleveland, but I for one will never forget it. It happened in the summer of 1995. One of the best baseball summers in our city’s history. The Indians were on fire. Their last trip to the playoffs was 1954 when they were swept from the World Series by the New York Giants. The Indians had failed to live up to expectations over the last two decades, but this summer was different.
The Tribe rolled over their competition and finished with a record 100 wins and 44 losses in 1995. This team will be remembered as on of the best offensive clubs in the cheap dab recyclers history of the franchise. The only thing they were missing that year was a shutdown pitching staff. Still, they had some respectable names in the franchise like Orel Hershiser, Charlie Nagy, and Dennis Martinez.
It was a great time to be an Indians fan and July 18, 1995 was my favorite game. I was fourteen years old. The Indians were playing the California Angels who were leading the AL West. The Tribe entered the 9th inning trailing 5-3. I was at the game with my parents. We were standing on the home run porch like we often did during the 9th inning. My dad liked to get a jump on the traffic if things looked grim, but this wasn’t going to be one of those nights.
Wayne Kirby led off the 9th inning as a pinch hitter and reached base on an infield single past JT Snow. Jim Thome was up next, but struck out. During the Thome at bat Kirby stole second. With one out Omar Vizquel hit a line drive that tipped off of the glove of a leaping shortstop. This put runners on the corners with one down. Baerga walked to load the bases for Albert Belle. We all know what happened next. Belle drove a two strike pitch to dead center field. It was a walk-off, grand slam home run, off of the all-time saves leader in Lee Smith. Euphoria rained down on Jacob’s Field. Forty-two thousand, playoff starved, fans went absolutely bonkers. Belle was beat down, gang style, at home plate by his teammates. The magic at Jacob’s Field that we all talk about to this day was born.
I can remember watching Belle put that ball into orbit like it was yesterday. I was standing right next to the left field foul pole. I had the perfect angle to watch such a feat. As Albert’s bat struck the Lee Smith offering I defiantly put my hands into the air. I knew it was gone. It was a rocket of a home run. It zipped past the center field camera man as the fans in the bleachers and right field went nuts. I immediately turned around and started to hug anyone in site. I watched as others around me did the same. I then noticed fans curiously bolting out of the stadium. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had to join them. I ran past my parents and high-fived them as I followed the jubilant mass into the warm Cleveland night. We ran straight to the grassy knoll between the Gund Arena and Jacob’s Field. In that grassy field hundreds of fans jumped into a huge pile of happiness. We pretended that we just hit that walk-off home run and we recreated the mob scene at home plate. I was buried under a mass of complete strangers and wouldn’t have traded places with anyone in the world.
The feeling was fantastic. I wanted more. I still want more to this day. It’s the feeling that drives me as a fan. It’s almost like a really, really good drug. Once you have a taste you will do anything to get more. (Fill it up again! Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!) You will sit through misery and disappointment and always hold out hope that you find that fleeting emotion one more time. I really think it’s this moment that hooked me as a sports fan forever. I had always liked sports as a kid and loved my Cleveland teams, but this moment took my relationship with Cleveland sports to the next level. I was all-in. No matter what Cleveland sports did to me as a fan I would always take them back with open arms.