Guardians Missing a Beat At The Home Opener

A look into the story of the heartbeat of Cleveland baseball

Huey Lewis had stated that the song “The Heart of Rock & Roll” was inspired by when the band played in Cleveland. When recorded, the song had a few versions, including “shout outs” to many different cities. Because of the inspiration, Cleveland earned a spot in each version. 

The song includes and ends with a bass drum mimicking the sound of a heartbeat. Unbeknownst to the band, the bass drum could have also drawn inspiration from Cleveland, and specifically Cleveland baseball fan John Adams.

John started attending baseball games at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Watching the games from the bleachers, he could not participate in “seat banging.” This practice involved using the many empty chairs throughout the stadium as drums by banging the swivel seat against the chair’s base. 


“Absolutely Not”


On August 24, 1973, the then 21-year-old attended a game with a 26-inch-wide bass drum he had purchased from a garage sale. Now, he could participate in “seat banging” from his perch in the bleachers. 

In 1973, Cleveland was on its way to a 71-91, last-place finish in the AL East. John Adams’s first game with the drum was an 11-5 victory over the Texas Rangers to bring the team to 53-75. The Rangers’ record dropped to 43-82. In a late-season game of such importance, Cleveland Press reporter Bob Sudyk had the opportunity to interview John Adams. With an attendance of 5,736, perhaps he was interviewing everybody at the game?

In the article, Adams claimed Bob Sudyk misquoted him about being able to see Adams and his drum in upcoming games. Adams claims he said his performance was a one-time event. Not to make Bob look like a liar, John started showing up more frequently with his drum. Soon, the Indians noticed. Jackie York, Cleveland’s promotions director, invited John to play at every home game. John replied, “Absolutely not.”

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011, he played his 3,000th game. 

On Saturday, April 30, 2011, the team celebrated John Adam. He used his bass drum to hit the ceremonial first pitch that former Cleveland player Joe Charboneau threw. Fans participated in a pre-game parade around the stadium where they could bang their bongos, snares, and toy drums. 


Oh The Things You’ll See


He was pounding his drum in 1981 when Lenny Barker threw his perfect game. In 1995, 1997, and 2016 he played while Cleveland was in the World Series. He had missed less than 50 games in 48 seasons leading up to 2020 with, as a former Cleveland radio announcer Herb Score nicknamed, “Big Chief Boom-Boom.” 

There are no set rules when he plays his drum, but in general:

  • When the Guardians take the field to start the game.
  • When the Guardians have a runner in scoring position.
  • When the Guardians are tied or trailing later in the game.
  • When the Guardians are winning in the top of the last inning of the game. 

Adams drumming is on heard radio and television broadcasts. His drumming from the cheap seats has gotten him profiled in the New York Times and allowed him to meet both US and foreign politicians. 


The Home Series in Milwaukee


In 2007, John drummed at three home games for Cleveland at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. 

Wait. What?

In 2007, some of Cleveland’s exciting weather wiped out a four-game opening against the Seattle Mariners. The storm had no intention of dying down, and Cleveland’s groundskeeping crew couldn’t move the snow off the field fast enough. Cleveland, and the MLB, moved the upcoming Angel’s three-game series to Milwaukee. Ironically, and a testament to the lack of unique architecture, in the movie “Major League,” Milwaukee’s County Stadium stood in for Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.

For this unique three-game series, Cleveland brought John and his drum along. 

John has always purchased two season tickets for himself and one for the drum. In recent years, the ballclub has been providing his seats, and Adams buys two other tickets. 

A typical season for Adams includes two replacements of the drum head. Well, for the side, he pounds on. The unused drum head is still the original. He also beats through three sets of mallets. 

In 1993 he played during the last game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He played at the home opener in the new Jacobs Field the following year. In 2006, Cleveland gave away a bobblehead in his honor. The Great Lakes Brewery Company honors John Adams with a Rally Drum Red Ale, first sold in 2012. In 2008 John received a Hilda Award from the Baseball Reliquary for his service to the game as a baseball fan. A plaque near his seat calls him the Guardians’ “#1 Fan.” There isn’t a statue of him yet, but there are calls for Cleveland to erect one for Adams periodically. 


Missing Time


He will not be at a home opener for the third straight year. In 2020, COVID restrictions kept fans from attending games. Cleveland used audio recordings to pump his beats into the stadium. In 2021 he was unable to participate in the home opener, replaced by Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, due to health issues. Those health issues kept him away from the entire 2021 season. Once again, health issues will keep John Adams away from the home opener in 2022. He is hopeful he’ll be back with his drum later this year.

When Mariano Rivera’s retirement tour came to Cleveland in 2013, one of the people he wished to meet was John Adams. They talked for a bit, Rivera appreciating John’s dedication to his team. John offered Mariano the mallets and a chance to bang on the drum. Mariano turned it down, “Nah, that is your thing.”

We certainly hope that John Adams is back to banging his drum in the bleachers soon in Cleveland. 

Photo by Erik Drost/Flickr| Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)

Mat Kovach

Despite being an Indians fan in the late 70's I grew to love baseball. I started throwing spitballs when I was 10 and have been fascinated with competitive shenanigans in baseball ever since.

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