In hard-luck Homestead, Indian givers are despised
MIAMI - There's a town south of Miami where no one speaks the name of the American League champions. "They are referred to as the other team here," said Herb Yamamura, owner of the Sports Page Pub and Restaurant. "No one mentions Cleveland." The people of Homestead, a town of about 30,000 some 45 minutes south of Pro Player Stadium, had some very personal reasons to root against the Indians in Game 1 last night of the World Series, other than the obvious one of pulling for their home team, the Florida Marlins. Homestead hates the Indians because in the city's worst hour, the Indians betrayed them. When this community was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Andrew five years ago, the Indians added to the pain by abandoning plans to come there for spring training. "They kicked us when we were down," said Homestead vice mayor Steve Bateman. "It was a cruel thing to do." That was the final insult to the terrible injury that Homestead suffered at the hands of Hurricane Andrew, which blew through on Aug. 24, 1992, and nearly leveled the town - including the $12 million Homestead Sports Complex into which the Indians were scheduled to move the following spring after leaving their longtime Tucson, Ariz., spring home. City officials made rebuilding the stadium a priority because now, more than ever, they believed it was important to the economic recovery of the community. "Within 48 hours of the storm, we went to work to rebuild the stadium," Bateman said. "We worked hard to have it ready for them." The complex had become a symbol of hope for a city trying to rise from the rubble. They managed to have it ready in time for two exhibition games the following spring between the Indians and the Marlins, but in April 1993, the Indians said forget it. Reneging on their deal, they moved instead to Winter Haven, Fla. "We were very hurt," Bateman said. "And those feelings still run deep here. We embraced them with open arms. We built this stadium for them, even using their team colors [red, white and blue]." But it turned out that the Indians' true colors were yellow. Millionaire developer and club owner Dick Jacobs looked at the bottom line, and that bottom line said it would be a long time before Homestead would be back on its feet. At a time when cities in Florida were falling over themselves to get teams to train in their communities, why should the Indians suffer along with Homestead? So they threw salt in the wounds and informed city officials that the stadium they had built and rebuilt had been an exercise in futility because the Indians had no intention of playing there. "That wasn't right," Yamamura said. "It really hurt everyone here, and it came at the worst time possible." Bob DiBiasio, Indians vice president of public relations, disputes the claim that the baseball complex was developed with the Indians in mind. "Actually, it was built for the Orioles in mind," DiBiasio said. "But when they left Miami and went to Sarasota, Homestead was looking to get anyone to go down there." But DiBiasio did not argue that the Indians pulled out when things were at their worst. "We had a deal, but when the hurricane hit, we had no choice," he said. "We had to do something." They did something lousy. They used the misfortune that had befallen this city to back out of a deal that was a poor baseball move to begin with. The club's business side pushed for the move to Homestead because the city made it such a great deal, offering numerous financial incentives - including paying the expenses of traveling teams. But it would have been difficult to get teams to visit because of Homestead's distant location, especially minor league clubs to play the Indians minor leaguers at the complex, and the club's baseball people wanted out. So it was Cleveland's good fortune that the worst natural disaster in the history of South Florida came along when it did. Homestead has been unable to get another team to move to the complex since and has struggled to come up with ways to utilize it. Most recently it was used for a college baseball tournament. "We haven't had much luck with it," Bateman said. So there is no doubt where everyone in Homestead stands in this World Series. "This is a Marlins town," Yamamura said. It's a heartbroken town as well, one looking for a small measure of revenge. For the people of Homestead, it's payback time.