Just moments before the start of the Cleveland Indians' game on this July night at Jacobs Field, John Adams arrives at his second home: section 181, row Y, seat 29. He always spends another six bucks so his drum can sit next to him, in seat 28. Without much prodding, Adams explains his musical philosophy as it relates to baseball, "I go with the flow of the ball game," he says. "When the Indians get a runner on first, I'll do an open-stroke roll, like boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. Then when one of our guys gets in scoring position, it's more of a rhythmic beat, like boom-boom-BOOM, boom-boom-BOOM."
Anyone who subscribes to Bill Veeck's old credo, which holds that the baseball knowledge of the fan is inversely proportional to the price of his ticket, can appreciate Adams. He is the Everyfan you see in ballparks throughout the country, one of those folks who, with the players about to strike, go to a major league game fearing it may be one of the last they'll see this season.
Richard Ravitch, the baseball owners' representative in the current negotiations with the players, should have to look John Adams square in the snout and tell him why the owners' demand for a salary cap is worth having the Indians—Adams's pennant-contending Indians—collect their toys and go home.
When Adams launched the longest percussion solo in sports on Aug. 24, 1973, at old Cleveland Stadium, the drum was admitted free to the game. After all, with a crowd of only 5,736 on hand, there were 68,747 empty scats available that night. Adams had purchased the bass drum for $25 earlier in the day through an ad in a swap-and-shop publication. A former high school inarching band percussionist and trained in every musical genre from jazz to polka, Adams found his niche that night—in the top row of the rightfield bleachers.
July 31, 1994
And perhaps inspired by Adams's backbeat, normally punchless Indian shortstop Frank Duffy hit the first two home runs of his major league career that night in an 11-5 comeback win over the Texas Rangers. The victory allowed the Indians to stand firm—21 games out of first place and dead last in the American League East. A few days later a local paper ran a letter to the editor from a shell-shocked woman in Parma Heights under the headline SILENCE THE DRUMMER.
That has all changed. Now when Adams tunes up in the new leftfield bleachers at Jacobs Field, he receives a modest ovation. He even signs an occasional autograph: "John J. Adams Boom Boom." The adulation is not for his precise sense of rhythm but for his dogged endurance, as well as his faith in the Indians. Adams has attended nearly every Cleveland home game for the last 20 years, banging out a bass line for thousands of Indian rallies, most of which never came to fruition. "People have come up to me for two decades now and said, 'Thank you for being here, because when I'm not at a game, I know you're here for me,' " says Adams, who, as the Indians bat in the fourth against the Minnesota Twins, switches to a rhythmic beat. "I don't understand it, but maybe it's better that I don't."
Don Fehr, the executive director of the players' union, should have to sit in section 181, row Y, seat 30 and tell John Adams why the players' insistence on retaining salary arbitration may preclude Adams from watching Cleveland outfielder Albert Belle bid for the Triple Crown.
Despite having presidential namesakes, John Adams is not a politician. He is a data systems analyst for a phone company. When he is queried in the top of the seventh—with the Indians and the Twins tied—about the approaching strike, it sets him off, a cappella. "If there is a strike, I'm not going to throw myself in front of a moving train or jump off a building," he says. "But baseball is my Fantasy Island, it is my escape. Some guys party, I go to watch baseball. It's a great place for a community to gather on a daily basis where we can all agree on something: 'O God, please let the Indians win. Amen.' It's the same prayer for all denominations."
Acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig should have to hunk with John Adams and his bass drum until the owners and players come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Adams loves to talk about going to his first Indian game, when he was almost three. That was 40 years ago, which is also how long it has been since Cleveland last won the American League pennant. But now, just when Adams has found the rhythm of a title race, he may be robbed of the end to the postseason drought. "I like to believe that the man upstairs looks out for drunks and crazy people," says Adams as Cleveland goes to the bottom of the 10th still tied with Minnesota. "And I don't drink."
Just then Indian centerfielder Kenny Lofton cracks a base hit, and the capacity crowd at Jacobs Field goes wild. Adams picks up his drumsticks and goes back to work. He and his beloved Indians—the entire national pastime, for that matter—are on an open-stroke roll.
Don't silence the drummer.