I remember it like it happened yesterday. Sometimes I still see the baseball flying deep into the night.
It was Oct. 5, 1997, and I was just over a month into my freshman year at John Carroll. The Cleveland Indians were hosting the Yankees in game four of the American League Championship Series. Trailing the series, 2-1, the Tribe was down a run in the eighth inning with the game’s greatest closer, Mariano Rivera, on the mound.
But that’s when Sandy Alomar, Jr., gave birth to his postseason legacy. The Tribe catcher homered to tie the game at 2-2. I can still hear Joe Buck’s call, “Into right field… well hit… track… wall… TIED!!” The Indians rode that momentum to the game-winning run in the ninth and the following night, used a three-run-third to defeat the Yankees, 4-3. The Indians would then advance to the World Series for the second time in three years after disposing of the Orioles four games to two.
It was a big deal for a Cleveland team to be playing for a championship. After all, there had not (and still hasn’t) been a title in Cleveland since the 1964 Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts in the NFL Championship.
But I digress.
As was the norm throughout the Indians run in 1997, I gathered in Murphy Hall with a group of friends to watch every playoff game. We thought this was going to be the year a championship and parade down Euclid Avenue was finally going to happen. Just two years earlier, the Tribe lost the World Series to the Atlanta Braves. But 1997 felt different.
The roster was loaded with perennial all-stars and role players who had accomplished careers. A few are Hall of Fame candidates, including Alomar, Jr., Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez. And we can’t forget the numerous unlikely stars like rookie pitcher Jaret Wright, Chad Ogea and Tony Fernandez.
Alas, Cleveland had to “wait until next year” once again as the Tribe lost game seven at Florida in 11 gut-wrenching innings. I can still remember how devastated I felt watching Edgar Renteria’s line drive sail over the out-stretched glove of Charles Nagy to score the winning run.
Painful as it was, the run in 1997 allowed me to quickly meet friends at John Carroll. The atmosphere around the playoff games was amazing for the city, and for the students at Carroll. You could hear people cheering from the next residence hall over with every big hit or out. And following a big win, students would spill out of their rooms for high five’s up and down the floor.
College is about the friendships that you form and the moments that help form you. It’s been almost 15 years since that magical run by the Indians and I often find myself looking back thinking how lucky I was to experience one of the most exciting months of my collegiate life thanks to the Cleveland Indians.