Walking out of the dugout with 38,000 fans watching was not a new feeling to Travis Hafner. But Wednesday night was noticeably different.
Those in attendance for Game 7 of the World Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland weren’t just hungry for something to cheer about. They were starving for a championship that was well within grasp. Fans on both sides weren’t just wild. They were restless for a long-awaited celebration. And Hafner could feel it. This was not just another game.
“I was pretty plugged in,” Hafner, who is from Sykeston, N.D., said Friday. “I don’t remember being this nervous when I was playing.”
Hafner helped deliver the game ball to the mound prior to Wednesday night’s Game 7, a winner-take-all game between the Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a championship since 1908, and the Cleveland Indians, who have been waiting for a title since 1948.
The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings, completing a 3-1 series comeback against the Indians, who Hafner played 10 of his 12 big league years for before retiring after the 2013 season.
The game drew 40 million viewers, which was the most for a World Series game in 25 years.
Many are considering it to be the greatest World Series Game 7 in baseball history. It saw the Cubs grab a 5-1 lead early, then squander it. Rajai Davis’ two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning tied the game for Cleveland.
“When Rajai Davis hit that home run, the place just went nuts,” Hafner said. “It was one of the greatest sporting events I have ever been a part of.”
However, the Cubs responded, scoring two runs in the 10th inning and staving off another Cleveland comeback attempt. Despite the Indians’ loss, Hafner — who works as a special assistant for the organization — said it was a great run.
“It was one of the best World Series of all time and one of the best games of all time,” Hafner said.
Hafner has returned to Tampa, Fla., where he and his family spend their winters. Their summers are still in Cleveland. He keeps busy in his role with the Indians, scouting hitters who are potential draft picks and free-agent signings.
“I’ve been able to see how hard the front office works and the long hours they work,” he said.
Cleveland has lost a key front-office member already in assistant general manager Derek Falvey, who is headed to Minnesota to lead the Twins’ baseball operations.
Hafner said that Falvey deserves a lot of credit for Cleveland’s pitching staff, which, despite injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, still reached the World Series.
“I think he’ll do a great job,” Hafner said. “Not an easy guy to lose.”
As for his North Dakota roots, Hafner said he was in his home state as recently as June.
“We usually come up in the summer. We’re not fans of coming up in the winter,” he said with a laugh.