Brit discovers a passion for Tribe
English fan finds an unlikely love of baseball in Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- A strange face shadowed Paul Kray. The 33-year-old railroad conductor from England, in Cleveland three years ago on his first trip to the U.S., could not escape a cartoonish red mug with the toothy smile.
He saw it at the airport, on people's clothing, in stores, and then plastered across the window of a downtown bar. Finally, Kray asked the bartender to clue him in.
"Who is this fellow?" he said, pointing to the glass. "Because I'm seeing him all over."
"Wahoo," the bartender said.
"Wa-him," responded the confused Kray, motioning again toward the window.
"No, no, it's Chief Wahoo," came the reply. "The mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. The ballpark's right around the corner."
Kray didn't care much for sports, but decided to check out a game before heading home. So he bought tickets to a mid-April contest against the Royals and a funny thing happened.
"It was just so much more enjoyable that I ever thought it would be," Kray said. "The atmosphere. The game. I had never found such a great package. It was really great."
With this Abbot and Costello saloon exchange, a passion was born. What began as a trip to take pictures of American railroads ended with Kray having been introduced to a team that would change his life.
Today, Kray visits Cleveland three times a year and watches nearly every Indians game online, a habit that often sends him to work on no sleep. His Cornwall home brims with all things Tribe, the name tag he wears at work reads "Bob Feller," and a Chief Wahoo tattoo adorns his right arm.
Show Kray the Wahoo emblem these days and "he's worse than a kid in a candy store," said Paul Strock, a friend he met on his first trip. "Anything Indians, he goes crazy for."
"Yes, I'm absolutely hooked," Kray said.
And to think, only a stroke of providence made it happen. Like most other foreign Tribe fans with no original connections to Cleveland, Kray's evolution as an Indians fan was an utterly random process.
Three years ago, Kray simply wanted to see America's massive trains.
But where to go? Kray had no idea. All he needed was an area home to heavy railroad traffic, preferably not a tourist hot spot.
"I just wanted to see everyday downtown America," Kray said. "It was kind of a 'close your eyes and put a thumbtack in the map' thing."
So Cleveland it was. Kray found a couple of online Northeast Ohio rail groups and put out a call for help, asking about Cleveland's best train-watching locales. An area couple, Bill and Dee Weinbroer, offered to serve as tour guides.
All was well. Bill, an engineer who shares Kray's enthusiasm for trains, took his new friend to a few different railroad tracks. Dee took Kray's fiancée, Lynn, shopping. The couple loved the city, they picked up a few new friends, and the massive trains thrilled Paul. It was a pleasant and peaceful journey into America's Midwest.
And then, well, Paul discovered baseball.
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Kray can't say precisely what made him fall in love that April 2004 day at The Jake. But a blend of the park's atmosphere, the fans and a game so much more complex and graceful than he ever imagined captivated him like nothing had before.
"The image of baseball in England is that everybody just tries to slap the ball out of the park," Kray said. "But the thing that I love about it is that it's so much more involved than what I thought. I didn't understand double plays and stuff like that, but when I did and the game became tactical, it just completely drew me in."
So drawn in is Kray that he often heads off to work on no sleep following his late-night trysts with the Tribe. With England five hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, it's not rare for Kray to be watching the Indians at 4 a.m. The only problem? His railroad shifts start as early as 4:30.
"I'll be sitting, watching the game and it's the bottom of the ninth inning," Kray said. "Then I see the clock and, shoot, it's time to go to work."
Once there, he transforms into Mr. Bob Feller.
Or at least, "that's who the customers think I am," Kray said with a laugh.
The nametag means little to most Englanders, of course. But for those who find it amusing that their conductor shares his name with the Indians' Hall of Fame pitcher, he must come clean.
"Nah, just a pseudonym," he'll say.
Now as for that other question he's often asked these days -- if you love the Indians so much, why not just move to Cleveland? -- the answer's a bit more complicated.
First of all, he'd love to.
"Heck yeah," Kray said.
But alas, there are hurdles. He enjoys his job on the railroad, his family has its roots in England and the money conversion rate is problematic.
Still, the dream endures.
"One day, the opportunity will come," Kray said. "Of that, I'm certain."
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.