Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Heading West: End of an Era, a New Start

As Tom Cruise so eloquently put it, You lost that lovin' feelin'

Sure, he wasn't singing to me. Nonetheless, those words relate to the mixed feelings I've had regarding my chosen ballclub, those Cleveland Indians I’ve supported for the past 13 years. 

It’s true, I have lost that lovin' feeling. And I’ve been fighting this for a while, if I’m honest. I'm writing this now because I need to make it official, I need to have some closure. 

My time following the Indians has come to an end.

How can you do this, I hear you cry, violently waving your fist above your head in my direction. It’s been a difficult decision, I assure you. I’ve always hated the idea of changing your sports teams and yet here I am, doing exactly that. Funny how things work out. It wasn’t easy.

Allow me to explain. Being from the UK, I had the luxury of selecting my American sports teams, as I wasn’t born into a fanbase. There were no strings holding me down, I could choose whoever I wanted. 

Cleveland became my adopted city when I was still just a teenager. I selected the Cavaliers as my basketball team in 2004 after I became obsessed with playing the sport at school. I was in a local store and wanted to choose a jersey, to choose a team to follow. The range was limited. I couldn’t be a Bulls or Lakers fan, everyone knew who they were. What about that team with James 23 on the back? Yeah that looked good! How ‘bout them Cavaliers?

Thus, a fan was born. By 2007 my allegiance to Cleveland was cemented when I started following the Browns and Indians. I had consolidated my US sports teams to one place, this city that outsiders weren’t overly fond of but those within were fiercely devoted to. I admired that. My sporting trilogy was complete.

England Tribe was born on the eve of the 2013 season, just as Terry Francona began his enormously successful tenure as manager. I don’t feel he receives enough appreciation for the job he’s done. The 2020 season has shown just how much influence he has, and how much it’s been missed.

As the years progressed, baseball soon became my priority. As I’ve grown older my attention span for the NBA and NFL has steadily waned but my love for the national pastime continued to grow. 

I thought the love for my team would follow suit. How could it not, when this talented and very likeable Indians group found themselves in contention for the World Series every year? But in the back of my mind, despite the success, despite every hat I bought, every hoodie and jersey I purchased, a nagging doubt still lingered.

I chose the Indians. They didn’t choose me.

I have never been to Cleveland. I’ve not had the opportunity to sample the sights and sounds of The Land. I’ve not experienced that love and adoration the fans have for their sports teams firsthand. Through my writing and social media I’ve been fortunate to connect with some genuinely lovely people who worship their Indians. I have always tried to match my affection but it hasn’t been as simple as that. Being separated by an ocean and numerous time zones doesn’t help. It’s the deal we settle for as baseball fans in Britain.

And yet, when I landed in San Francisco in April of 2019, it felt like coming home. Please forgive my hyperbole, but when I stepped onto the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport I instantly felt like I belonged. It’s hard to describe but when you experience that feeling, you just know.

The following night I took my seat along the first base line at Oracle Park to watch the Giants play the Rockies. I was wearing my Indians cap, repping my chosen team, but subconsciously the Giants had already established a foothold in my baseball fandom. It was one of the most memorable and enjoyable days I’ve ever experienced

I had long been an admirer of the Giants, watching from afar as they enjoyed those incredible title runs in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Players like Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum all resonated with me. In 2015 my brother returned from a west coast trip with a Giants cap and a pennant to hang on my wall. I’d picked up some Giants merchandise here and there whenever I stumbled upon them. Over time I would tell friends the Giants were “my NL team,” if such a thing existed. I couldn’t make the leap to call myself a proper fan (whatever that means.) The Indians were supposed to be my team, after all. 

But I can’t deny it any longer. Everything about the Giants feels right. I’ve found the connection I always wanted. It’s a shame I never truly found it in Cleveland but that’s just how it’s worked out.

Since returning from San Francisco, my adoration and enthusiasm for the city and it’s baseball team hasn’t diminished. It’s only grown stronger.

I made great friends during my time there. I could listen to Jon Miller, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow read the phonebook. Metallica are one of my all-time favourite bands. Grant Brisbee is my favourite baseball writer. Oracle Park is the finest ballpark in the country. McCovey Cove is gorgeous. Garlic Fries are undoubtedly the best. The home uniforms are cream, not white. Alyssa Nakken. The fog. Mission District burritos. Emmy’s Spaghetti. Claude the albino alligator. The sea lions by the Wharf. The Golden Gate Bridge. Coit Tower. The Castro. The Rock. The Ferry Building. Lombard Street. Willie freakin’ Mays

I could go on. 

The current group of Indians have some supremely gifted individuals and all-around good guys, like Francisco Lindor, Shane Bieber, Jose Ramirez, and Carlos Santana. I’m not a heartless monster, I’ll still root for those guys and watch out for the Tribe’s box scores. I wish them every success. But make no mistake, I’m making this switch permanent; I’m moving on from those MVP-calibre players and the club they represent for a young and exciting Giants roster in the midst of a rebuild. I know one thing for sure; I can kiss goodbye to sleep. Those west coast start times will be brutal. 

The Indians and I have a lot of history but I don’t regret my decision. Tony Bennett famously sang that he left his heart in San Francisco.

So did I, Tony. So did I.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Blog Status Update

England Tribe is set to be a bit quieter than usual this season, but for good reason. 

I have been fortunate to take a writing position with Bat Flips and Nerds this year, the leading British baseball website. I will be writing and reporting about the Cleveland Indians every week, exclusively for them.

You can find my first piece in the link below, an introduction to the 2020 Tribe:


I have written a few pieces for BF&N in the past but this is the first time I'll be writing full time for them, and I'm really excited about this opportunity.

Join me on this journey, and you can follow all my Indians writing in 2020 by clicking the link below:

Friday, February 7, 2020

Spring Training 2020: The Rotation

Spring training is almost upon us and with it comes speculation. For the Cleveland Indians, they appear settled with what they have, as dull as that may be. However, there's a handful of position battles to monitor once pitchers and catchers report again, providing us with some meaningful talking points.

The Rotation

With Corey Kluber now with the Rangers, the Indians will rely on Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber and a healthy Carlos Carrasco to front the rotation. Which leaves two open spots, likely to be contested by Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Adam Plutko.

Plesac started 21 games for the Tribe in 2019 and impressed in his rookie season. The 2016 draft pick recorded a 3.81 ERA over 115.2 innings and was a mainstay for Cleveland down the stretch. Considering the 6'3 right hander wasn't expected to feature for the Indians last year, he did remarkably well. The highlight of his year came in mid-September when he dominated the Angels in a four-hit, complete game shutout. Plesac was the first Indians rookie to throw a shutout since 2006 (recorded by the infamous Jeremy Sowers of all people).

Plesac's 4.94 FIP was a cause for concern though, and he recorded a below average 6.85 K/9 too. His propensity for walks was also a little worrying, his 3.11 BB/9 and 8.4% walk rate both above league average. Despite that, Plesac showed enough potential to be considered a rotation favorite ahead of 2020 and he'll be given the spring to cement his place, but he's far from a sure thing to keep his spot.

Civale also impressed as a rookie, joining Plesac in the rotation to make 10 superb starts over August and September (with a cameo in June too). The 24-year-old finished 2019 with a 2.34 ERA and 3.40 FIP, for an astounding 202 ERA+. Civale loved pitching against the lowly Tigers in particular, excelling in each of his three starts with a 1.31 ERA and an Indians victory each time.

Given the small sample size, questions about Civale sustaining this level will linger until the season gets underway and like Plesac, Civale isn't guaranteed his position either. However, his resumé of work at the big league level so far has been overwhelmingly positive and he's favored to retain his place, provided he avoids disaster in the spring.

Plutko is the final contender and is out of minor league options. He has to make it stick or he could be headed out of Cleveland for good. The 28-year-old Californian pitched 109.1 innings over 21 appearances in 2019, and recorded a 4.86 ERA. Plutko's overall numbers are typical for a number five guy and he was often solid when called upon. His 5.23 FIP and 97 ERA+ are unremarkable but Plutko was an important contributor when the Indians needed him most: his maturity, ability to eat innings, and overall reliability were invaluable when the Tribe lost Kluber, Clevinger and Carrasco to injuries.

Among his fellow contenders, Plutko is the more experienced pitcher, throwing more MLB innings than both Plesac and Civale combined. Of course, those innings by Plutko were ultimately less spectacular and effective than those thrown by his younger teammates, which may give them the advantage. The veteran certainly feels like the outsider looking in but an impressive spring could be enough to secure his place in the rotation. As the underdog, you can't help but root for him.

The fringe challengers invited to spring training consist of Logan Allen, Triston McKenzie, Scott Moss and Jefry Rodriguez. Nobody from this group is expected to seriously upset the established order, and would only be in the running if injury struck. Perhaps Rodriguez could feature for spot starts or a relief role, but the others may benefit from more seasoning in the upper minor leagues.

With spring training on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out, and who management will opt for.

Friday, January 31, 2020

James Karinchak - Relight The Fire

It's been another quiet winter for fans of the Cleveland Indians. With very little roster activity to discuss, the recent focus has been on ownership and their unwillingness to invest in the club. With regards to the players, the majority of discussion this offseason has revolved around who's leaving the city, not who's coming in.

It's fair to say that optimism has been hard to find at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario this fall.

With that said, and baseball season nearing ever closer, it's led me to start looking at the Indians roster and who is on the team to get excited about.

Step forward James Karinchak.

The young pitcher with the arm of pure fire had an impressive 2019 season and really caught the eye in his brief cameo with the Indians last September. Who knew that 100mph bullets out of the bullpen really turns heads?

Drafted by Cleveland in the 9th round of the 2017 draft, Karinchak has risen through the minors at an incredible pace, especially since converting into a reliever in 2018. Last season he split the majority of his time between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus and struck out nearly every person he encountered. Between the two levels, Karinchak combined to record 66 strikeouts over 27.1 innings.

He hasn't looked back. All evidence points to his time in the minor leagues being over: what does he have left to prove there? Karinchak's penchant for strikeouts makes for exhilarating viewing, and the Tribe will be expecting him to feature prominently out of the bullpen in 2020.

Karinchak will enter spring training with serious ambitions of breaking camp with the team. In fact, it should be an expectation. Fans are already looking forward to the prospect of him teaming up with fellow flamethrower Emmanuel Clase, forming a potentially dominant partnership in high leverage situations for years to come.

The 6'3 right-handed hurler is definitely one to watch in the coming months and beyond.

Why can't it be the spring already?