This season, baseball historian Bill Savage has been contributing a Chicago Cubs fan’s perspective from his seats at Wrigley Field in a column called “The View From Section 416.” For the World Series, Cleveland Indians fan and baseball writer Susan Petrone has joined the party and will write “The View From The 216” — aka Cleveland’s area code.
When I was a kid, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing Wiffle ball in the backyard with the neighbors. There were usually only five of us, thus we frequently made use of “ghost runners.”
Unless you grew up in a neighborhood with an overabundance of children, you’re familiar with ghost runners. If you have fewer than four players on a side, you often end up in a situation where the runner on base is next in line to bat. Since you can’t be in two places at once, you have a ghost runner — an invisible player who will logically advance the next time the ball is put in play.
I thought about ghost runners a lot this past weekend, less because of Halloween (although I’m thinking that would make a good costume) than because I went to my first official World Series watch party. On the rare occasions when the Indians have been in the postseason since I’ve been of legal drinking age, I’ve watched most games at home. Situations like the Indians’ 1-0 win in Game 3 can cause a great deal of anxiety. It’s been proved that petting a dog can lower your blood pressure. Since you can’t bring your dog to a bar, I stay home, rub the dog’s belly, and try to remain calm. It’s a coping strategy.
But on Saturday night, a friend invited me to join her at the official Cleveland Indians watch party at Progressive Field. For all three World Series away games, the team sold $5 tickets (proceeds going to Cleveland Indians Charities) for fans to watch the game on the 13,000-square-foot scoreboard.
At first, this struck me as an odd sort of arrangement. You want me to go to the ballpark and watch a game that isn’t actually being played there? It seemed like the equivalent of watching two teams of ghost runners. Why not just watch it closer to home with some friends, or at the closest watering hole with a liquor license and a wide-screen TV? But my friend had sprung for the Club seats, which included an all-you-can-eat buffet. Free food and baseball? Sure. I put aside my initial skepticism and went.
They opened the doors to Progressive Field about an hour before game time. Maybe it was the excitement of a World Series Game 4, maybe it was the first-come, first-served open seating, but when I arrived, thousands of people were lined up outside the right-field gate, waiting to get in. They spilled out along the sidewalk on E. 9th Street and down Bolivar Road. It felt like a game day, only when I peeked through the gates, there were no players warming up, no batting practice, just the tarp covering the infield. A ghost park ready for ghost teams. Still, I felt that little tingle up my spine the baseball-obsessed get when we’re at the ballpark.
It was not a ghost crowd. We were quite real, loud, boisterous and ready to watch Game 4 of the World Series, even if it was taking place 350 miles away. Food and beer stands were open, the team shop was open, everybody in attendance even received the same red rally towel the team has been handing out all postseason. It was, for all intents and purposes, a standard ballpark experience. The only thing missing was the presence of actual live baseball players.
The place was packed, but it just had the look and feel of a box whose contents have shifted to one side. Hey, when the action is happening on a flat surface at one end of the bowl instead in the middle of the bowl, you adjust. The only truly empty sections were the bleachers directly under the scoreboard.
Once the game started, the crowd shifted into overdrive, just as though the action really was happening in front of us. We cheered, we jeered, we waved those rally towels as if the Series depended on it. Ghost team or not, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
I did a little bit of searching to see if other ballparks have done this sort of thing. The Cardinals have Ballpark Village, but it’s outside of Busch Stadium. The Royals have hosted watch parties at Craft and Draft, the bar/lounge inside Kauffman Stadium. The Chicago Tribune noted Tuesday that the Cubs have no plans for watch parties at Wrigley Field for Games 6 and 7.
That’s too bad. World Series tickets are expensive and hard to come by. The cumulative attendance for the three watch parties at Progressive Field was 67,218 (in a stadium that currently holds approximately 35,000). That’s 67,218 more fans who were able to get a taste of the World Series at the ballpark, even if every last player was a ghost runner.