Family fun and baseball seem to go hand in hand.
Despite the blustery conditions, the two linked together at the epicenter of an emerging sports town on Saturday.
For the first time in 2017, a large portion of the Indians roster reunited with the Cleveland fan base as part of the fifth annual Tribe Fest at the Intercontinental Hotel in Cleveland, OH.
The sold out crowd congregated with players, coaches and alumni at interactive stations including an MLB video game demo, radar gun, autograph sessions and a multitude of on-stage interviews.
President Chris Antonetti was front and center to commence the morning.
“We’ll take short off-seasons every year,” said Antonetti in regards to the quick turnaround after playing into the month of November in 2016. “We recognize we have great opportunity. We try to build on that.”
At the forefront of Antonetti’s conversation with broadcaster Tom Hamilton was the signing of Edwin Encarnacion and his value to the franchise.
“Thankfully, because of an incredible leap of faith by our ownership group, we were able to get a guy who’s perfect for our team,” Antonetti said of Encarnacion. “We think he’ll help us out on the field and in the clubhouse as well.”
Hamilton voiced his thoughts on the renovated roster with an emphasis on Austin Jackson, the club’s newest acquisition.
“We’ve seen him (Jackson) take enough extra-base hits away from the Indians at Comerica Park,” said Hamilton who believes the signing has flown under the radar. “This guy can really play center field.”
Antonetti concurred and added that Jackson has a legitimate shot of making the roster depending on his recovering left knee and performance this spring.
“When he’s healthy, he’s been really good,” Antonetti said. “He’s rehabbing now and we think he has a chance to compete for a spot on our team and hopefully he’ll help us."
With an American League championship pennant under their belt, Antonetti and staff will continue to pursue other free agent options while keeping the core of their roster intact.
“We’ll continue to look,” said Antonetti on another potential free agent signing. “There’s still places where we think we can improve. There are a number of guys out there that may help our team and we’ll continue to do that.”
From the perspective of a player like Andrew Miller, the anticipation continues to mount due to the organization’s unfinished business.
“I think this team has the character to go out there and back it up and take last year as a building experience,” Miller said. “We have to go out there and we have to play well. We have to stay healthy and have a lot of things go right.”
“I’m ready to go, I’m excited. I think being here and seeing my teammates and seeing the fans is the last straw in getting ready. The off-season flew by and it’s a good thing.”
Aside from Miller, Encarnacion announced he would officially arrive at the Indians spring training complex on Feb. 15 in preparation for the upcoming season.
“I try to do the best I can do to continue to know more of my teammates,” said Encarnacion about his new ball club. “I can’t wait to start a season and come back to Cleveland and play some baseball.”
An interesting side note raised in Encarnacion’s interview pertained to his connection with Francisco Lindor’s family.
“He (Lindor) got an older brother,” Encarnacion said. The slugging first baseman opposed Lindor's sibling in a non-professional league in either 1998 or 1999. “That’s why we know each other.”
In the afternoon session, Tyler Naquin found the spotlight and beat Francona and Carlos Santana in a fun, think on your feet type of trivia game. The Tribe skipper jokingly mentioned that Naquin was going back to Triple-A Columbus for beating his manager.
The feverish atmosphere and never-ending lines for autographs made the fifth rendition of the festival an enjoyable experience for all attendees. At the busiest hour of the day, there was an unprecedented sense of excitement from the fan base, even larger than that of the prosperous mid-90s.
“I don’t know that I can remember any time in Indians history where people were much more excited,” said Hamilton. “That includes the ‘90s based on what this club did last year and this off-season.”
“It’s noticeable,” Francona said of the energy surrounding the city of Cleveland. “It’s enthusiasm we haven’t seen since I’ve been here and it’s exciting.”
Between a star-studded pitching staff, Francona, Encarnacion and the return of a superb infield core consisting of Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, this limitless potential could come to fruition and turn into something special in 2017.
“We have so many reasons for being optimistic,” Francona said. “This is going to be fun and we’re so excited.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.