It is truly 'Tribe Time Now'

It is truly 'Tribe Time Now'

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians are not a big "slogan" team. They don't come out with a new catchphrase every year to promote ticket sales. The big script "Indians" sign on the Jacobs Field scoreboard is generally sufficient to get the message across, and they sure never intended for an Asian elephant to wear a red blanket with the words "It's Tribe Time Now!" when the circus came to town Thursday.

But four little words just kind of took over.

They are everywhere. They are on all of the red shirts that Indians fans are buying this month and wearing to games like the one Thursday night at the American League Championship Series. They are in the windows of a college across the street. They are on Slider the mascot, on the human hot dogs that run around the field to fans' delight, on the giant Bob Feller statue out front at The Jake.

Sanaa Julien even saw one at her 14-year-old daughter's high school, when she went there for an open house. And after one of the victories over the Yankees in the AL Division Series, Julien was with a group of people at an Applebee's restaurant, and "people said, 'Hey, what time is it?' It's Tribe Time Now!'" Pretty amazing for something that was never intended to be this way, not in the slightest.

An hour before Game 5 of this series, Julien was in a stadium control room discussing the phenomenon, which she pretty much started. She is the director of marketing for the Indians, and the first person to give total credit to people with names like Grady Sizemore, Kenny Lofton, Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia.

"It's united everybody," said Julien, who has a pumpkin in her office with the four words carved in it, a gift from a scoreboard audio producer's mother. "People have embraced it. They're celebrating the team. We just turned it on."

It all began innocently enough, more than a year ago.

"I wasn't looking for genius at the time," Julien said, explaining how a phenomenon began. "I was just looking to update our music. We had been using the same music since the mid-'80s. That's a long time. There had been different renditions of it along the way, but it was really time to give it a fresh feel."

Julien turned to a Nashville music production house called 615 Music. She called the company and "brought them here last September for a game." At the time, the Indians were about 20 games behind eventual AL Central champion Detroit. The atmosphere at The Jake then wasn't electric, nothing like today, but a plan was in place, the club was following it, and it was still a great place to watch a game.

"We started working with them on lyrics and composition of the music," Julien remembered. "We wanted to make the song pleasing to all demographics. With that in mind, we worked on several versions.

"It had to have a life into the postseason, and it had to have a potential to be used at any point in the game, whether during a rally or a non-rally. It had to have a positive message."

Last April 2, the day the Tribe opened its season, the club introduced the song in all of its radio advertising. They provided the new music to SportsTime Ohio, its regional network, and to WKYC. "We introduced it into our phone tree, so that fans who called the Indians would hear it if they were on hold," Julien said. "It was everywhere. And we introduced it in the park."

At a time in the season when everything is possible and imagination runs wild, fans quickly grew accustomed to the song. They became familiar with the lyrics, 'It's Tribe Time Now!' And the drumbeat ... they heard that, too.

"We wanted to replicate the drumbeat of John Adams' drum," Julien said.

Boston had its own John Adams, and a John Quincy Adams. Even a Sam Adams. Cleveland has John Adams, who marches to his own drumbeat. He is a fan who dates back to the old Municipal Stadium. He sits at the top of the bleachers, where he owns a season ticket for himself, his wife and ... his drum. Adams beats the drum incessantly during a game, and the typical Indians fan is well aware of that.

"Because he represents the fans and the beat of the drum, we wanted that included in the song," Julien said.

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The Indians put together an incredible summer, and it was in concert with a new-and-improved team song that fans heard often. The drumbeat went on all summer until the club found itself trying to hold off the reigning AL Central champs in the final month of the regular season. On Sept. 18, the Indians opened a huge three-game series with Detroit by winning, 6-5, on Casey Blake's walk-off homer in the 11th. The Tribe put out a press release asking all fans to wear red for the next night's game, on a Tuesday.

"We wanted the red to resonate with the entire front office and our fans," Julien said. "We purchased about 2,500 red shirts with the slogan 'It's Tribe Time Now' on it, for every employee. Every person wore it that night, from the president on down.

"Fans were offering to pay us $100 for the shirt."

Bob DiBiasio, the Indians' longtime vice president of public relations, saw plenty of this excitement level back in the '90s, when the club was on an MLB-record 455 consecutive sellouts streak and reaching the World Series in 1995 and '97. But nothing like this over a unification phrase and one of the hottest T-shirts on Earth.

The red shirt with the white block letters is everywhere you look. One souvenir-stand cashier said that and the official Indians vs. Red Sox ALCS T-shirt are the big sellers this week.

"We're not big slogan people," DiBiasio said. "We don't put one out every year. We do it when it's appropriate. And in this case, it was simply modernizing an old song that led to it. When you start to win like we did, it takes a life of its own."

DiBiasio is seeing signs everywhere, and they go beyond four simple words.

"Our town is so passionate that way, that when they embrace something they give 100 percent," DiBiasio said. "They abso-LUTE-ly go crazy.

"This morning I saw people walking around the building, starting at 9 a.m. You saw businessmen talking on their cell phones waiting for the team shop to open [outside the ballpark] because they've got to bring something home to the kids. In Chagrin Falls, a suburb here, I was driving and saw that a guy recreated the script 'Indians' sign on his garage. I should have stopped and said hello but I didn't.

"That's the thing that makes you say, 'Wow.'"

People have been saying that word a lot this year around Cleveland.

And those other four little words. Fans have had a blast this week at the ALCS watching the video played on the world's largest free-standing stadium scoreboard, showing famous people with the omnipresent shirts "doctored" onto them. Everyone laughed when it showed Larry Bird (Boston legend) wearing one. Everyone laughed when it showed the former "Cheers" cast (Boston legend) wearing one. And, yes, there was even one on Cavs star LeBron James, the local icon who wore the Yankees cap when Cleveland's baseball team was trying to make something special happen.

The four little words were even on the red blanket worn by the Asian elephant during the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus that has come to town during these playoffs. It's Tribe Time Now. That's how big this is. If this team keeps on winning and brings home its first world championship since 1948, then they will officially become famous last words, the kind no one will forget.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.