The Thomecoming best represents the '11 season: Unexpected.
Dear passionate, amorous, and mildly obsessive Wahoo Maniacs,
It felt like just yesterday you had the best record in baseball. You began the season off with a sizzling hot start worthy of a fourth Major League installment, with young talent progressing before our very eyes, and a season worthy of corny yet embraced mottos, like "What if?" It felt like destiny: walk-off wins pouring in faster than Chris Perez tweets, hometown hype running rampant faster than Vinnie Pestano sprints, once highly hyped prospects graduating into highly hopeful major league careers and a trade deadline that brought Christmas in July. We witnessed the formation of a once bullpen-bound setup man to a bona fide front-line starter. We saw shades of Omar Vizquel in Asdrubal Cabrera. We witnessed a shift from stopgap and mind aching infielders like Ron Belliard and Andy Marte to core players best depicted by Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. We saw Travis Hafner reappear as the half project, half donkey he once was. We saw pitching come together as Carlos Carrasco had a stretch of brilliance in the early going. Josh Tomlin hit the ground running and was beyond a pleasant surprise. And we built a great relationship with a bullpen that was worthy of its own title. Finally, we saw the biggest trade acquisition in decades and, of course, we had a homecoming nine years in the making in the form of the Thomecoming.
All of these seem like mere memories from where we stand today, do they not? The pessimism flows on and the waiting for 2012 tag is out. The season was best defined as unexpected. From all the bads, to all the goods, it all caught us off guard. Shin-Soo Choo’s turmoil and fall. Grady Sizemore’s complete nightmare season. Matt LaPorta’s idled progression…to Asdrubal’s new reputation as the premier American League shortstop. To impressive pitching and a dominant bullpen. To the unforeseen trades of Kosuke Fukudome, Ubaldo Jimenez and the storybook acquisition of Jim Thome.
We move past the negative of late and onto the great strides we've taken in '11. And that is where we end the year. Sure, Grady Sizemore looks like a lost soul. And yes, Shin-Soo Choo caught the DL-bug. In fact, fine, the entire team was a DL-revolving door with a weekly guestbook. But then think back to September 2010: the Indians starting staff consisted of a starter that seemed bound to set up in Justin Masterson, and the staff had not a single pitcher with a record above .500. The highlight of the year was an Andy Marte bullpen appearance. The hitters were worse and had little potential. 2011 was deemed Part III of the "reload." However, April sprung the Indians forward two years ahead of schedule.
We went from a team that had the worst attendance in baseball to a team that had many must-see games in 2011. From the debuts of Ubaldo Jimenez in Cleveland to the return of Jim Thome to some late-inning thrillers and bullpen battles, the Indians provided more excitement than they were ever supposed to in 2011. While August and September have admittedly been an absolutely brutal stretch for Wahoo maniacs nationwide, we’ve got to keep things in perspective and look at the season collectively.
If you went to Progressive Field any time this season, surely you heard the ghost of Manager Lou Brown echo, "We're contenders now." 2011 has served as the platform and compass for the seasons to come. The Indians had saved up a little bit of money for a rainy day. And in 2011, it rained. While they became the poster-child for trading Cy Young winners in '08 and '09, '11 broke company policy as they spent that rainy day money on Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez in return for their perks of 174 losses over the last two seasons...or in other words, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz.
While the relationship has been bumpy over the last six weeks, the season as a whole has been a majestic one. Analysts proclaimed the Indians the worst team. They were to finish dead last by many people’s accounts. In 2011, we expected nothing. However, it left us with highlights and hope that will bring us back with more expectations and hope in 2012. 2011 was a season of ups and downs.
But most loves are.
Cheers to the Indians summer of ’11 surprise.
A Fellow Tribe Admirer