Winning is the most tangible piece of evidence of a successful team. Winning excites fans and brings them out to the ballpark. In recent years, Indians haven’t been able to talk about the winning ways of their favorite team, and the outlook for the 2012 season is a bit discouraging. The team’s 6-20 spring training record leaves a lot to be desired and undoubtedly has a lot of fans worried about the upcoming season.
Call me an optimist, but I think that there’s more to get excited about with this team than just winning. Maybe that’s how we have to look at things as Indians fans. We don’t have the luxury of looking forward to seeing a new multi-million dollar addition to the roster shine and carry our team to the playoffs. We have to take small victories, and though the future may seem bleak it’s actually about as far from that as it gets.
There are plenty of reasons why we Indians fans should be excited to watch the Tribe in 2012. Here are five of mine.
1. The Bullpen Mafia. They were exciting to watch last year, both on and off the mound. It was obvious that the group of relievers formed a special relationship off the field. Their performances built off each other’s and showed that the members of the group were comfortable in their roles. Closer Chris Perez is recovering from a left oblique injury, but once he is back the 2012 bullpen will be almost the same as it was in 2012 with the possibility of a few additions. The bullpen was one of the few parts of the roster that was consistent throughout last year, and it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off. Perez, along with Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and the rest of the Bullpen Mafia should offer some more exciting performances in 2012.
2. The Youth. On July 26, 2011, the Indians had yet another walk-off hit. This one was even more special than usual—it came off the bat of rookie Jason Kipnis. Fast forward a few days and the young second baseman hits a home run in four straight games. It is performances like those that make the youth of this team so exciting. The Indians had plenty of highly touted prospects in their organization in the recent past. Now those players are tasked with proving why they’ll be big parts of the Tribe’s future.
Looking beyond Kipnis: Lonnie Chisenhall hasn’t yet provided any spine-tingling memories quite like Kipnis’s, but it’s still exciting to think about his future. There’s a reason he was seen as the team’s top prospect: he has talent. He’ll start the year in Triple-A, but later this season we’ll get to see if that translates to the majors. Other players to look forward to watching develop include Carlos Santana, Jason Donald and Michael Brantley. These aren’t new names, but they’re still young. This team has been centered on youth for quite some time, and watching young players develop is an exciting pursuit.
3. The Rebound. There was a time when we could count on Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Fausto Carmona, and Grady Sizemore to come up big when it mattered most. Lately, that hasn’t been the case, as injuries and personal issues have derailed their careers. This season we will have the chance to see if the players have rebounded from their pitfalls. It will be exciting to see if Hafner can stay healthy for an entire season and produce consistently, if Roberto Hernandez (Carmona) can straighten out his legal issues and return to the rotation and find success, if Sizemore can put his numerous injuries behind him and return to his former capabilities, and if Choo can forget the woes of last season; if spring training is any indication, Choo and Hafner are already on on their way.
4. The Unknown. Detroit is the favorite to win the AL Central, that’s no secret. But it’s also just a prediction. Obviously Detroit has the talent to win the division, but we can’t know for sure that they will, just like we couldn’t have known that we’d see the Indians hold first place for a substantial amount of time last season. When I say that we should be excited for the unknown, I mean to say that we can’t see the future, and like we saw last season, there are things that you can’t predict.
There are outside forces that can’t be overlooked. Maybe things won’t pan out the way they were expected to for Detroit, or maybe the Indians 2012 roster will mesh perfectly and produce results that no one could foresee based solely on raw numbers and inclinations. The start of a new season brings a clean slate, and the story won’t be written in a day—the season is long, and there are many unpredictable factors that will influence the journey. As fans, we can take that in stride and know that the Indians are always one win away from being closer to the playoffs. It’s exciting to think that we don’t know what’s going to happen, as much as we think we do.
5. What if? I still get chills when I think about Carlos Santana’s walk-off grand slam last April, which I was lucky enough to witness in person. The memory of that night will stay with me forever. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t alter the outcome of the season; at the time, the victory was important and had meaning, but in the end it didn’t amount to anything in the standings. That’s not what’s special about that night or any of the other improbable wins or milestones that occurred last season.
What’s special is that the fans now have memories that they will keep forever. Those thrilling moments are what make a disappointing season just a little bit better. The Indians have the “What if?” campaign, which shows thrilling moments throughout the history of the team; not all of those moments came during playoff seasons, yet they all contributed to the history of the franchise. Spectacular moments give us something to be excited about, and after the way last season had so many thrilling moments, 2012 will undoubtedly be full of plenty more.
I know this is an optimistic view of 2012, and that maybe things won’t work out the way we’d hope, but this is the start of a new season, and that’s plenty of reason to be excited.