Newton Falls fan Rod Zeck has been a Cleveland sports fan for the last 50 years. Zeck certainly brings lots of emotion when talking about his years of wonder, frustration and hope in following the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians.
Zeck, a divorced 36-year independent insurance agent, would certainly qualify as one of the Tribe's Last Fans Standing. He began following the Cleveland baseball team back in the summer of 1963 when John F. Kennedy still occupied the White House.
"As my elementary classmates, neighbors and I played ball, I learned the game as each one of us played the part of a different Tribesmen," Zeck said. "That grew into listening to them on the radio each evening with Bob Neal and Jimmy Dudley, and watching them on Channel 8 with Harry Jones and Herb Score the 40 or so times a year they would broadcast them."
As a sidelight, young Rod would pedal up to the local grocer and buy a pack or two of baseball cards at a time and memorize each and every stat on them all.
"Unknowingly at the time I was becoming a Tribe fan for life," Zeck said.
He said he repeated that same process that fall as he got to know what football and the Browns were all about.
Zeck's love affair with the Indians was consummated in July of 1965, when his aunt, uncle and cousin Jeff took him to his first live Tribe game at "Old Muni."
"I walked in having never seen anything so big in my life," Zeck said. "We had box seats that cost $4 behind first base. My favorite pitcher Sam McDowell was going for his 10th win that Friday night against the Red Sox. Reliever Don McMahon won it in the 10th, 4-3 on a Larry Brown homer. Fred Whitfield and Daddy Wags had homered earlier in the game and huge horns folded out from the scoreboard and trumpeted as they'd round the bases. How cool was that?"
Zeck said he still has the ticket and program from that night, in pristine condition, of course.
Even though the Tribe would have years of playing below .500 ball, Rod said he would listen to or watch every game he could.
"Oh well, they were my team no matter what," Zeck said. "Same with the Browns."
The 1990s for the Tribe signaled Zeck's rebirth of love for baseball. But would he and every other long-suffering Tribe fan be rewarded?
"I watched as Jacobs Field was being built," he said. "Pretty sweet. All the pieces seem to be in place. I sent in 110 requests for 1995 World Series tickets - sent them from different post offices at different times. Lo and behold, I was picked."
He got four tickets to Game 3, the first game back in Cleveland after the Indians lost the first two in Atlanta.
"I still have the ticket, of course. Eddie Murray wins it with a hit in the 10th. Here we go. Then, thud. Oh well, next year. Next year and the years after are teases. Rumble through the regular season and go flat at playoff time."
Once again, Zeck keeps thinking about the tragic boating death of top Tribe reliever Steve Olin and how things might have been different in the bottom of the ninth in Miami during Game 7 in 1997.
As for the Tribe, Zeck keeps his loyalty.
"The Jake is now Progressive Field, is home to the major league team with the worst attendance in all of baseball," Zeck said. "I still go every year to opening day with the best of hope. I get there six to eight times in the summer as well. I see player moves being made that confound me, or ones that aren't made that astound me."
"It's been 50 years now that I have been following them - 50 years. Whew. The game is now big business, and I realize that. But still, even a blind squirrel ... you know the rest."
Zeck even reminisced about the last Tribe game of the dismal 2012 season. By the way, Zeck said he is keeping the ticket from that game which ended with a 9-0 Tribe loss.
"Call me crazy, but this will always be my team," he said.