Maybe you’ve only heard about the Cleveland Guardians in passing. Maybe you caught a glimpse of Terry Francona whizzing down Carnegie Ave. on his bright red scooter. Or maybe you’ve only seen a picture of José Ramírez in reference to a goat and were left confused.
No matter how much you know or don’t know about the Guardians, I’m here to tell you that now is the time for you to become a fan of the baseball team that plays off of Lake Erie and whose name at least partially gets its inspiration from giant, 100-year-old statues of traffic gods, some of whom appear to be holding Tonka trucks.
As spring training games begin, let me help you hop on the Guardians bandwagon.
Reason #1: It is fun to win things
The great thing about rooting for a sports team is the chance that you will be a part of winning something. There are very few ways for you to pretend that Cleveland is superior to other areas of the country that may offer an ocean, or a mountain, winters that don’t last six months, a thriving nightlife, or populations that are greater than 54th among U.S. cities.
You could remind everyone that our traffic commutes are way less stressful — because of the aforementioned traffic guardians, no doubt — and we have a freshwater source to help us survive the coming climate crisis, but it’s so much more fun to say, “Hey, our scrappy, blue-collar Guardians just beat your Yankees/Padres/Dodgers, so take that, coastal elites!” Or, “You may have the Bean, White Sox fans, but we have the Guardians!”
The fun thing about sports teams is the development of a sense of community identity as people of a variety of political, economic, familial, racial, cultural, and educational backgrounds come together to root for the players who put “Cleveland” on the front of their uniforms.
I’ve been at several memorial services for huge Cleveland baseball fans over the years and I’m always moved by how going to and watching the games became a key point of an emotional connection for them and their friends and families. That dynamic of family and fellowship in sports is often a thing of beauty shining through the divided times in which we live.
Reason #2: The Guardians are so darn relatable
You may have missed Guardians manager, Terry Francona, talking this past week about the morning he had while preparing to speak to his team on the opening day of spring training. If so, take a moment to read the summary of Tito’s morning in a tweet from Zack Meisel, Guardians’ beat reporter for the Athletic (whose work is another good reason to root for the Guardians, by the way):
Terry Francona gave his annual team speech. He was so nervous he was drenched in sweat. He declined dinner w/ coaches last night so he could make edits. He made pasta, but it didn't fully cook and broke his tooth. He arrived at camp at 3:30am & spilled coffee all over the speech.— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) February 21, 2023
The Guardians play chess, Mario Kart, and cribbage before games. No other sport is full of more relatable people than baseball, as the body types range from the tall, spindly Triston McKenzie to the more squat owner of Popeye forearms José Ramírez. The personality types range from the emotionless Aaron Civale to the wildly demonstrative James Karinchak.
No matter what kind of person you are, inside and outside, you will find a player or coach on the Guardians to whom you can relate.
Reason #3: Guardians fans are going on an adventure
Some of you reading this article may, like me, enjoy science fiction and/or fantasy. These stories inevitably revolve around the hero’s quest — the story of the protagonist overcoming opposing forces to accomplish a goal or fulfill a mission. One of my favorite things about baseball is how, once the season starts, it is an almost daily installment of another new hero’s quest that is connected to the quests of the past.
It can either be a negative thing to think “The Guardians haven’t won a World Series title in 75 years” or you can get excited every year wondering if this might be the season the chosen one arises to break the curse and bring victory to the people of the land of Cleve.
I look at José Ramírez who chose to stay in Cleveland specifically because he wants to win a World Series here, likely turning down $50-100 million he could have gotten had he tested the open market, and I see echoes of all my favorite heroes of fiction: Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Lucy Pevensie, Katniss Everdeen, and so many more. Think of each baseball season as an epic story about to unfold before your eyes, take the pressure off of how it ends, and enjoy the unfolding of the narrative.
Sure, you could choose to root for a more historically successful franchise or a franchise whose owners make and spend more money. But, why not root, root, root for the home team and hitch your wagon to what many see as a lost cause? The thrill of eucatastrophic victory feels so much sweeter when it's preceded by years of suffering heartbreaking defeats.
A good story allows its heroes to experience hard times, because deep inside we all know that trials build character. I, for one, look forward to my children learning valuable life lessons through the pain of sports disappointments as Cleveland fans, just as I did as a child. Look at me, look how emotionally healthy I am! (I didn’t shed tears at the retirement video of a second baseman this week or anything like that — nope).
The hero’s journey players act out on the field can, thus, be accompanied by a journey toward a healthy appreciation of the richness of life — both its joys and disappointments, its strikeouts and its home runs — in your own soul.
Reason #4: The drama of a Cleveland baseball season.
Maybe sci-fi and fantasy aren’t your things. You prefer the drama of human relationships, maybe even soap operas or reality TV which is modern society's version of soap operas. Well, baseball has you covered there as well.
Every time you watch a baseball game, you’ll see personalities emerging in the team that takes the field. You’ll see the hustle and drive of Amed Rosario pushing his teammates to new heights even as he blocks all his critics on Twitter (I think I, for one, got blocked for saying he was a below-average defensive shortstop in 2021 and I approve of whatever social media strategy helped him make improvements defensively in 2022!)
You’ll see Myles Straw angrily confront boorish New York Yankees fans for mocking Steven Kwan for getting injured running into an outfield fence. You’ll see Josh Naylor lose his mind after game-tying and game-winning hits and trigger the entire New York metropolitan area by making a motion and screaming that Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole is his son after hitting a home run off him in a playoff game. White Sox and Yankees fans now despise Naylor and that is extremely entertaining to watch as a Guardians fan. You’ll see Andrés Giménez respond to a heckling Twins fan by making a go-to-sleep motion after hitting a walk-off home run. Not much in entertainment can compare to the petty drama of millionaires getting riled up while wearing glorified pajamas and playing a kids’ game.
Something dramatic and captivating could occur at any time and is guaranteed to occur throughout the season, whether good or bad for the Guardians, and it's why Bill Simmons always says that baseball is soap opera for sports fans.
Reason #5: The Guardians are lovable and fun
If you don’t believe me on this, just look at this picture of Guardians reliever and master of the changeup pitch, Eli Morgan:
Or this photo of Guardians outfielder and hitting savant, Steven Kwan:
Or this photo of our right-fielder with the irrepressible grin who chose the Spongebob Squarepants theme song as the music to play when he comes to bat because “baseball is for the kids.”
Or any photo of the Bat from Bani, the Little [redacted], Enriquito, the underdog whose hard-nosed style of play summarizes the spirit of Cleveland as well as any player has in the history of the franchise, José Ramírez:
No matter where you turn, this team is adorable and easy to love. So, if you’re considering becoming a casual or even intense fan of the Cleveland Guardians in 2023, I’m here to tell you that now is the time and you won’t regret it, no matter if the quest for ultimate triumph is fulfilled this season or not.
Hop on board!