It was June 5, 2008.
The Cleveland Indians were 27-33 and third in the AL Central, well on their way to a disappointing season after claiming the division crown and coming oh-so-close to the World Series the previous year. But after enduring the losing seasons of the early 2000s — otherwise known as the formative years of my fandom — I was reinvigorated by that run to the American League Championship Series.
So much so that I decided to tune into the airing of the MLB Draft on ESPN to see who the Tribe would take in the first round. I wanted to see the future of the franchise.
And with the 29th pick of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, the Indians selected Pitt Community College third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall.
I don’t know who I was expecting them to pick — I doubt I could’ve named a single prospect — but it certainly wasn’t Pitt Community College third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall.
I was watching with my brother, who was very much amused by this development and took great pleasure in my perplexity, as older brothers are wont to do (The baseball team he claims as his own is best left unsaid on this website). Over the next three years, as Chisenhall made his way through the Indians’ minor league system, my brother would often poke fun and make insincere requests for an update on how “Lonnie” was progressing.
For whatever reason, Chisenhall and I became inextricably linked. I haven’t watched an MLB Draft since, so perhaps that distinction was enough to establish that connection. And there’s something to be said about being able to follow someone’s career from draft prospect to major league ballplayer, especially in a sport where the future is uncertain no matter what round you’re drafted.
But I can remember texting my brother when Chisenhall made his Tribe debut on June 27, 2011. And before long, Lonnie — to whom we are, of course, on a first-name basis — became less an inside joke and more of a shared treasure. When I last attended a game at Progressive Field, I even promised to return with a Lonnie Chisenhall bobblehead for him, but alas, the team shop had no such item available (I may never forgive them).
Sandwiched between two trips back to Triple-A Columbus — the latter of which would lead to his permanent transition to right field, where he now resides — was the Lonnie Chisenhall game to end all Lonnie Chisenhall games. His final line against the Rangers on June 9, 2014: 5 hits, 3 home runs, and 9 RBI in 5 plate appearances.
I’ll certainly never forget his three-run homer against David Price in Game 2 of the 2016 ALDS (“Lonnie Chisenhall was the difference tonight. What a time to be alive,” I texted my brother after the game) or when he recorded the final out in Game 3 to close out the series (“Lonnie Baseball with the putout to put the nail in David Ortiz’s coffin!”).
All memories I can recall without a moment’s hesitation, and all courtesy of Lonnie Chisenhall, that third baseman from Pitt Community College with the ridiculous name.
Some fans choose their favorite players. Others find themselves drawn to certain players for reasons they can’t quite explain. There are no shortage of reasons to love players like Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, and Jose Ramirez, and while I certainly have a great affinity for all three of those Tribe members, I’ve never been one to make the obvious choice. And maybe that’s another reason why I’ve come to appreciate Lonnie so much.
I’m writing this now because Lonnie has been activated from the disabled list this week, in what could be his final season as a member of the Cleveland Indians. I’m not quite ready to come to terms with that possibility yet, but I will tell you what I’m ready for: Five more months of Lonnie Baseball.
I don’t expect you to understand why, but I hope you know the feeling.