CLEVELAND — It was almost 50 years ago and the World Series was a thing that was played during the day, under the sun, as baseball should be. Irving
(Sonny) Dwosh, now a retired carpet layer, was just a few years out of school. On game days, he and his father went to Peterson Nut Company and picked up 25 pounds of peanuts. Sonny carried one bag, his father carried the other. They set up on Third Street, near the bridge that straddles the freeway.
“Good spot,” his father said. “People have to walk past to get to the game.”
They didn’t need a license, they didn’t worry about cops, they didn’t have a tag that said “Official World Series Food,” they just filled the plastic bags with peanuts and sold them, four bags for 25 cents, which was twice as good as what they sold for inside Municipal Stadium. And then, around the seventh inning, father and son packed up and walked inside to see the rest of the World Series. Nobody asked for tickets. The guards were all gone by then, so they sat wherever they could find a seat — “those games weren’t even sellouts,” Sonny recalls — and under early October skies, they watched the final innings of the 1948 Fall Classic, and they cheered when the Indians won the title, never knowing that would be the last time Cleveland had something big to cheer about in October.
The Indians beat the Braves that year. It was 1948. And here they were, Tuesday night, nearly five decades later, playing the Braves again for the championship of baseball. The city was nervous. The Indians had lost the first two games, and the fear was that, after all this time, after this wonderful comeback story of a season, the clock had struck twelve, and they were back to being the pumpkin of baseball.
But wait. Man with hoop dreams
There is a guy on the Cleveland roster who doesn’t remember any of the bad old days. He was born during the Vietnam War, he grew up in East Chicago, Ind., and all he needed to know was that he owned a rare athletic genius that blessed him in any sport he tried. He played baseball in high school, then gave it up to play major college basketball. He went to a Final Four one year with the Arizona Wildcats. Kenny Lofton wasn’t thinking about the Indians’ curse back then — heck he wasn’t even thinking about pro baseball! He was thinking about dunks — and at 6 feet, 180 pounds, he had little business dunking. He did it anyhow. He has that kind of brashness. It is what let him pick up a bat again, already in his 20s, and decide “let’s see where this baseball thing can take me.”
Kenny Lofton is now more than a baseball player, he is a force. He makes pitchers sweat when he’s in the box, and makes them sweat even more when he reaches base. He is probably the fastest man in the game, and he plays as if he knows it. There was another guy who used to do this. His name was Rickey Henderson. In 1989, Henderson shook up the World Series almost as much as the earthquake.
Lofton did this Tuesday night, right from the moment all the flashbulbs exploded in this beautiful stadium, Jacobs Field. He opened the Indians’ offense with a single up the middle. The crowd roared. Then Lofton began to work the pitcher, John Smoltz, and Smoltz, thinking about Lofton stealing, came down the pipe with a fastball to Omar Vizquel, and Vizquel drilled it down the rightfield line, and look out, Lofton was running, like a fast break, like a track lap, his hat went flying off as he rounded third and he never once thought of stopping, not until he crossed the plate.
Safe. Lofton was the first Indian to get a Series hit in this city in 41 years and the first to score a run.
And he wasn’t done. The real hero
In the third inning, he smacked a double to the centerfield gap. Once again, he raced home, this time on a hit from Carlos Baerga. In his next at-bat, he a poked a single. And in the seventh, he walked, raced to second on a hit-and-run, stole third and came home on a deep grounder by Baerga. It was as close to making something out of nothing as you can get. Lofton now had scored three runs, had three hits and had assured himself a place in the nightmares of Atlanta pitchers. And as much as anyone, he is the reason Cleveland still has a chance in this Series.
Oh sure, this morning fans are buzzing about Eddie Murray’s game-winning hit in this Game 3 that came in the bottom of the 11th. But that’s because people remember endings more than beginnings and middles. The fact is there is no 11th inning if Lofton doesn’t do what he did in the first, third, fifth and seventh.
Make no mistake. What people are watching with Lofton is what they watched when Streisand first did Broadway, when Bill Gates came up with his first microchip — namely, the opening stage of a star career. Already in this World Series he hitting .417 with five hits and six runs scored. He is the best weapon that works against the amazing Atlanta pitchers; he can hit them and shake them up.
The Fall Classic is played at night now. Peanuts cost $1.49 a bag. But the bridge over the freeway is still here. The Peterson Nut Company is still here. And this morning, so are the Cleveland Indians, alive and kicking. They have Lofton to thank for that.