A Baseball Fan Memoir Chapter 3 – On the Banks of the Cuyahoga

As the decade of the 70’s began, I was a college student in Northeast Ohio. I had some time on my hands, a friend or two with cars, and an on-campus job that yielded a couple of dollars. That was the perfect scenario for becoming a Cleveland Indians fan.

The Indians played in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a New Deal era structure which also went by the name of “Mistake by the Lake.” It was old, massive, dirty and windy.

The early 70’s era Tribe squads were about as appealing as their ballpark.  Between 1969 and 1972, the four years when I was in Ohio, the Indians finished last twice and next-to-last twice. I tried to think of who the best players were at the time, but I couldn’t think of any. I looked online to jog my memory and it did just that. Ray Fosse was the Indians catcher. He was an excellent player but was beset by injuries including a broken shoulder from a violent collision at home plate with Pete Rose in the 1970 all-star game.

I stole the title for this chapter from the movie Major League in which Bob Uecker uttered the phrase “on the banks of the Cuyahoga” in setting the stage for another Indians game. The Cuyahoga is the river that famously caught fire in 1969. So aside from the deteriorating stadium and crappy team, the Indians played alongside a river that stunk and looked putrid.

cleveland indianAnd yet what I learned in college was to love the Indians. While I considered myself a politically conscious and progressive college student I somehow managed to overlook the name of the team, the logo which featured a caricature of an Indian with a shit-eating grin on his face and the fact that there were usually some shirtless folks at the game banging drums and wearing dime store headdresses.

Going back to the idea that we had more time than money, we tried to maximize both by going to doubleheaders. Here’s what I remember about those glorious and long Sundays watching the Indians at Municipal Stadium.

First of all these games didn’t fill the stadium, nor were there a lot of people heading into downtown Cleveland for a Sunday stroll at the time. So we ignored the parking lots and easily found spots on the street. This was free…almost. After you parked your car you were likely to be approached by a young fellow who would offer to guard it for you for $5. We were up for that. Not much of a parking fee and my friend’s car was always there when the game was over.

It seems as though every one of these doubleheaders were against Detroit. And my memory is that the Tribe usually got ambushed in the first game and scalped in the second. I checked baseball-reference.com and it turns out that the Indians really didn’t play Detroit every weekend. But I did find a Sunday in June of 1970 in which the Tigers won the first game 7-2 and the second game 9-8 and the whole event took more than 7 hours. That sounds fairly typical of my experience going to Indians games.

As you can imagine, college students sitting in the hot sun for that length of time tended to put away some beer. In fact we would consume quite a bit of beer, so much that I remember having to change our seats because there were so many discarded beer cups there was no room for our feet. That of course was not a problem because as you slowly waded into the back end of the second game there were seats aplenty.

What was a problem was that if you were going to drink that much beer, you were going to have to pee, and just about every other guy who was still at the stadium had the same problem so there was a good sized line for the men’s room. The toilet facilities in a stadium as old as the Cleveland Muni were not what you would expect to find in a 21st century ballpark. So while I was not totally surprised to see a group urinal type of arrangement I was bewildered to see that the urinals here were like bathtubs and guys lined up around the tub trying to avoid eye contact while they peed. At the tail end of one of these games, my friend Jay and I stood in line for a good 20 minutes, bouncing up and down trying to hold it, and then when we got to this cluster flush, neither of us could make ourselves go.

I haven’t been to a game in Cleveland for many years although I very much hope to get there in near future. I have never quite been able to bring myself to wear a cap or shirt with a stupid-looking Lone Ranger era grinning “Indian” on it. But I will always be a Cleveland fan.

(In next week’s post I wander off into the midwest and find new teams to root for.)

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29 Responses to A Baseball Fan Memoir Chapter 3 – On the Banks of the Cuyahoga

  1. Pingback: A Baseball Fan Memoir Chapter 2 – Coming of Age | off the leash

  2. Arleen says:

    The bathtub urinal is too funny. What we did when we were young. Great fun and really didn’t get into the trouble like kids today

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  3. crystalzakrison says:

    I am from Michigan and I can’t believe the tigers won those games. I don’t know much about the tigers but I think they where a team that would lose all the time . That is funny about the urinals. My grandpa is a Cleveland Indian s fan and a Ohio state fan too.

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  4. lenie5860 says:

    Great post – I had a lot of fun just reading it – the bathtub urinal was hilarious. Your loyalty to the Cleveland Indians is similar to Canadians loyalty to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They can’t win either but they keep attracting the fans.
    Lenie

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  5. jacquiegum says:

    What fun! All except the bath-tub urinal, which is just downright funny! Hard to believe the Indians had so many loyal fans…I applaud that, by the way. If it’s your team…it’s your team win or lose:) Fun post Ken.

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  6. Kire Sdyor says:

    Ken, I can remember the bathtub urinals at Fenway Park in Boston. Messed me up so bad that at one point in another venue I peed in the communal sink that had a foot pedal to activate it. I thought it was the urinal.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great fun! Loved the bath-tub urinal.

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  8. andleeb says:

    It was really a fun for you. All these memories bring smile not only on your but also on many faces.
    I never came up with any such bathtub urinal. It was funny and the way you were jumping up and down to hold… It was funny to read…. as my daughter also does the same :).
    It is nice that you will be Cleveland Indian’s fan. Nice post.

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  9. Beth Niebuhr says:

    It was fun to read your post. Loyalty to the team regardless of the less than inviting location makes sense. We all want to root, root, root for the home team.

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  10. People that do not like baseball, do not understand. There is something about that game that draws us to it. It is the good and the bad times that make us loyal to this game, sometimes it is not even the game itself, but the comradely we have with other fans.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Meredith says:

    Ken, I had to laugh at your need to move seats due to the number of discarded beer cups. Trust a bunch of college kids to move, rather than just throw away their trash! And of course I cracked up at the urinal story. I cannot imagine!

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  12. Tim says:

    I have been in that situation Ken and could feel the discomfort as you described the bouncing. As for the Cuyahoga I visited it many times in the 90’s and over the years it has changed dramatically to be nice place for a meal and a drink. Big change from a couple of decades earlier.

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  13. Didn’t we all have more time than money when we were young?! I don’t know much about baseball, but you obviously had a great time, despite the somewhat less than ideal conditions – did you even notice? You were probably enjoying yourself too much to care. : ))

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  14. dbuckmir says:

    Considering that you overlooked the Indians name back when you were in college, what do you think about it now? Especially with the controversy with the Redskins name, what are your thoughts about changing those team names?

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    • Ken Dowell says:

      The names should be changed. I don’t think it is discussed as much with the Indians as with the Redskins. I guess because Cleveland isn’t the nation’s capital. No reason to give a sports team a name that is offensive to any group.

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  15. angelabhobbs2009 says:

    Fun Reading! I can’t believe I read the whole thing because I’m not a sports fan and I’ve got a project in the kitchen I’m supposed to be doing instead, but I couldn’t stop reading! Your writing style draws a person in and I’m glad I wandered in.

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  16. Welli says:

    Haha Ken, I know that story from the Urinal, where you wait so long you fail to go when your turn comes. That was a lot of beer drinking there. I need to read more about how that river caught a fire.

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    • Ken Dowell says:

      Oil and debris floating atop the river caught fire in 1969. The river had been a dumping ground for industrial waste for decades. The publicity that occurred after the fire helped spur some cleanup efforts. Equally as significant for pollution levels, industry was heading out of Cleveland. The former industrial area known as the Flats became a restaurant and nightlife center and as Tim noted in his comment it became a pretty nice place to go for a meal or a drink.

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  17. I’ve never been much of a sports fan. Baseball is about the only sports I enjoy watching. I do remember the strong connection my family had with the Orioles when I was a kid. I followed suite becasue that was what you were suppose to do… LOL. Regardless, I had a great deal of fun reading your post. I have to morrow what others have said; the bathtub urinal was hilarious. 🙂

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  18. Eileen says:

    Baseball is not big here in my country. College basketball is the big crowd drawer. Regardless of the sport, we make it a point to be at the game when our team is playing.

    It must be nice to be allowed to have beer while watching the game. (We cannot have beer, and cannot smoke when inside the arena).

    I loved the way you wrote about that bathtub urinal. What a was hilarious thing!

    Like

  19. Don Purdum says:

    Hi Ken,

    Yep, those awkward moments at the ballpark in the mens room. Too funny! I have some fun memories of going to the minor league games as a kid in Oklahoma City. They were so much fun. When we lived in Dallas we went often the Rangers games and those were a lot of fun as well, and the bathrooms were up-to-date, lol…

    Thanks for a trip down memory lane!

    ~ Don Purdum

    Like

  20. Hey Ken,

    Seven hours is a long time to watch a game! But fans will be fans. 🙂 When I first saw the picture of the stadium beside the river, I thought “what a lovely setting!” Wow, your description of what the environment really was was an eye opener. I also wondered how a river could catch fire. Loved your humor and especially the “cluster flush.”

    — Vernessa Taylor
    @CoachNotesBlog

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  21. Sweet! I grew up a Dodger fan but no matter what team you go for the memories are all good ones. The make for good stories just like this one.

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  22. Pingback: A Baseball Fan Memoir Chapter 4 – New Places, New Faces | off the leash

  23. jbutler1914 says:

    Sounds like Progressive Field is a major upgrade from Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

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