John Adams never had his father’s talent for baseball. While World War II ended his dad’s minor league career, Adams admits it was something different that prevented him from realizing big league dreams. “I couldn’t hit or throw a curveball,” he said. “That is what kept me out of the major leagues and put me in the stands with the fans, where I belong.”
In the stands is where he has remained, with his drum, for nearly every Cleveland Indians home game since late August, 1973. On April 12, John was in his usual seat in the Progressive Field bleachers for his 37th Opening Day as the team’s “unofficial” head cheerleader. Anyone who has attended a Tribe game in the last few decades knows it wouldn’t be the same without Adams’ timely drumbeat to inspire rallies and excitement.
Most people don’t know the man behind the drum. Despite a comical misconception, Adams is not employed by the Cleveland Indians to bang his drum for each home game. He actually has a day job as data systems analyst for AT&T. Still, some of the Progressive Field ushers will tell you tales of upset fans on the few games John has missed over the years.
“When I miss a game, the ushers tell me how people complained to them saying, ‘Where’s the drum? We paid good money to come down here for the ballgame and we want to hear the drum,’” he said laughing. “A lot of people don’t realize that it actually isn’t my job.”
Adams never intended it to turn into this, but he is the ultimate people pleaser. The man who has taught a class on motor development and behavior modification for the special needs for 32 years at Cleveland State University—without pay—simply couldn’t deny requests from fans and the Indians organization to bring his drum to every game.
“Jackie York, who worked in public relations for the Indians at the time, approached me and said, ‘John, we like what you’re doing, would you come to every game?’ I said, ‘No,’” Adams said. “And I’ve been to just about every game since. I’ve missed 37 games in 36 years, so that’s not bad.”
Adams cares about the regular people in the community just as much as he cares about his favorite baseball team, living by the motto, “We need to take care of each other.” It is the reason he is involved in his Brecksville, Ohio community as a member of the Kiwanis service organization and the Civilian Emergency Response Team, yet still finds time to teach CPR and water safety.
When the Indians paid him $1000 to use his likeness and made him the first fan with his own bobblehead doll, he signed the check over to the Salvation Army. He has autographed and donated most of the bobbleheads the Indians provided him to charity events or fundraisers.
Adams is as amazed as anyone about the experiences his status as top fan has afforded him. “I still can’t believe they gave me a bobblehead,” he said. “The most nerve-racking part was throwing out the first pitch that day. When you are standing on the pitcher’s mound, home plate looks like it is about six miles down the road”
Prior to delivering that first pitch, Adams was taken to a holding room beneath the stands in Progressive Field. Also waiting was the double string quartet of the Cleveland Orchestra, scheduled to play the national anthem that day.
“My escort brought me in and they all stood up, knew me by name, and wanted to take pictures with me,” he recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘This is the Cleveland Orchestra!’ In music circles, this wasn’t just the major leagues, but the elite of the major leagues!”
“I’ve had the chance to meet people from all over the world and they have all wasted film on me,” he added. “It is amazing to think about; I feel really blessed.”
John and his drum have taken to the road several times over the years. He travelled as far as Columbus, Georgia at the request of one of several minor league baseball teams that have brought him in.
At the urging of a Browns-Backers Club in Oakland, California, Indians Ink Magazine paid his plane ticket to have him make Oakland Coliseum sound like home for an Indians/Athletics series. When the brutal snowstorm of April 2007 moved the Indians series with the Anaheim Angels to Miller Park in Milwaukee, the Indians sent him to Wisconsin to accompany the team.
He can talk about personal encounters with several Indians owners and even counted the late Ted Bonda as a good friend. Even when he no longer owned the team, Bonda would visit with Adams each time he went to a game. He describes current Tribe owner Larry Dolan as a “very unassuming, nice guy.”
“The first time I met him I was walking with the drum on my way to the game,” he recalled. “Two guys were walking by and I heard one say, ‘Hey, I really like what you are doing.’ I turn around and it was Larry Dolan. Since then he has come out to visit me in the stands on occasion.”
The one thing John Adams has yet to experience, and hopes for every year, is an Indians World Series Championship. “One of my best memories was walking in with the drum for the first World Series game in 1995,” he said. “Everybody was just kind of looking at each other like, ‘Look at this, we are the only game tonight; nobody else is playing!’ You just couldn’t get the smile off your face.”
“If the Indians won the World Series this year, I don’t know, that would be great,” he added. “That is something that could put a smile on your face for a few years. It would probably be the biggest shock in baseball if they did it this year.”
Still, Adams doesn’t let modest expectations for the 2010 Indians deter his enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
“You want to see your team win the title every year but realistically you know it isn’t going to happen,” he explained. “It doesn’t stop me from going. That is what being a fan is all about. Anyone can root for a championship team, but when you know your team isn’t going to win and you are still out there—that is a true fan.”