The nickname Cleveland Guardians is difficult for some fans

CLEVELAND – Bill Boldin, a supporter of the Cleveland Premier League baseball team for most of his 52 years, conducted an informal poll on Friday while awaiting meetings with friends at the Cleveland Guardians’ first home game of the season.

Boldin counted the team names on the T-shirts of his fellow Cleveland fans as they wandered downtown. He counted 38 T-shirts that had the word “Indians” for the team’s old nickname before he even saw one with the team’s new name, the Guardians. It was a strongly unbalanced ratio and unscientific data set, but not unexpected.

“And I hope it stays that way forever,” Boldin said.

Boldin’s views represent a large number of Cleveland fans, many of whom strongly opposed the team’s decision in 2020 to change the name in 107 years. The decision came after decades of protests by Indian groups and others who claim the old name was racist.

Friday was the first home game to rebrand the Cleveland Guardians, a new name chosen, in part, to reflect the historic, Cleveland-focused theme depicted by the Guardians of Traffic statues at the Hope Memorial Bridge near Progressive Field, where the team plays. This season the team has already played six games for the Guardians, but they have all been away. Friday gave the first opportunity for home fans to gather en masse and express their feelings and loyalty.

Bob Hostutler, owner of a computer store in Wilabi, Ohio, wore a bright white T-shirt with the old team name and a hat with the image of Chief Wahu, the infamous old logo of the cartoon, smiling Indian. This cartoon, loved by many but considered very offensive by others, was removed from the team uniform in 2019 when the franchise began a gradual departure from old images and nicknames.

“I love Chief Wah,” Hostutler said.

A few days after the team announced it would give up its age-old name, Hostutler promised he would never pay to see Worthy, so much so that he was angry at the decision. But when his brother offered him a ticket to Friday’s game, he decided to go. Then at a party before the game on Friday afternoon he was presented with a Guardians T-shirt as part of a promotional gift. He took the shirt, but planned to donate it again.

“I will never wear it,” he said.

For decades, protests against the team’s name have been as much a part of Cleveland’s opening day as flyovers and ceremonial first innings. Protesters gathered in the streets adjacent to the stadium, with plaques asking to change the name; many times they faced harsh bullying from fans entering the stadium. But on Friday, for the first time in recent times, there were no protests other than a man with an American flag advocating for world peace and another man a few blocks away promoting religious piety.

The new form of protest is shirts and jackets with the inscription “Indians”, as well as hats with the image of the leader Wahu. In some cases, it’s the only team outfit owned by fans who wear it, and many T-shirts have the names of former players who have never worn a Guardians shirt. Even for fans who support the new title, asking them to buy all new equipment will require significant costs.

But in other cases the main thing was to wear old clothes.

“I don’t like it,” said Bill Marshall, 64, a Cleveland heating and air conditioning engineer. He said he opposes the name change, a decision that was ultimately made by Guardians Director General Paul Dolan. “They succumbed to pressure,” Marshall said.

Marshall demonstrated his devotion and his opinion in bright colors by wearing a blue jacket and a hat with the name and logo of the Indians.

It will take many dedicated fans time to adjust to the new name, but the name changes are actually part of the Cleveland franchise. In the early years of the 20th century, the Cleveland team was known as the Blues, Bronx and Naps before it finally settled on the Indians in 1915.

This year, The Guardians became the fourth MLB team in 90 years to change names without moving cities, and only the second to adopt a completely different name. In 2008, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the Rays. The Houston Colt 45s changed their name to Astros in 1965, and the Cincinnati Reds were called Redlegs from 1954 to 1958. The Brooklyn Dodgers, who had many nicknames in the early years, were known as Superbas for 12 years before they became Dodgers in 1932.

But for Cleveland, the name change comes amid an unstable global struggle for labels and terminology that is occasionally found in the world of sports. And it came at a time when teams from the Washington NFL franchise to dozens of colleges and high schools have moved on to abandoning nicknames that have been criticized as insensitive or racist.

“The whole culture of abolition has gone too far,” Boldin said.

A civil servant from neighboring Solon, Ohio, Boldin is not as inflexible as some of his fellow fans. He welcomes the decision of the Washington football team to give up its insulting name and acknowledged that the Wahu boss probably also needs to go. When there were many hats with such a resemblance on Friday, Boldin did not wear them.

Many people associated with the team, including fans and longtime players, sometimes inadvertently used the old name not out of anger but simply out of habit. Carlos Baerga, a former all-star from second base and now a special assistant in the team, accidentally named the team under the old name.

“It’s hard for a lot of people after all these years,” Baerga said. “But that’s what the team wants and what the host wants, so you go with that. We played for the city, anyway, not for the title. That’s the most important thing. “

“People are sometimes not very keen on change,” said Terry Francona, manager of the Guardians. “But I think if you ask some people maybe colored, the status quo isn’t always that good.”

And not all Cleveland fans hold on so tightly to the team’s past. Alex and Jean Ann Renne, a married couple from Oppland, India, celebrated a new era of the Guardians on Friday by tattooing the ankles of one of Cleveland’s new logos, curved in cartoon style C.

“Times are changing,” Gene Ann said as the couple showcased their new body art.

On Thursday, she and her husband drove four hours to Cleveland and went straight to the team store, where they bought all the new Guardians gear they wore on Friday. Alex said they got a “ton of tin” from other fans for wearing it.

He learned to love the Cleveland team from his father, who was a native of Toledo, Ohio, and loved the team. He took Alex to his first game at the municipal stadium in 1985, when Alex was five months old, and the old name of the team went deep into family legends.

“I didn’t like it when they changed him,” Alex said, “but it’s still my team.”

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