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Remembering John Adams, the drumbeat of Cleveland baseball

John Adams beat on a bass drum in the bleachers at Cleveland baseball games for nearly 50 years. He died this week at age 71.
Cleveland Guardians
John Adams beat on a bass drum in the bleachers at Cleveland baseball games for nearly 50 years. He died this week at age 71.

The Cleveland Guardians and fans are remembering the drumbeat of the team. John Adams, who sat at the top row of the bleachers banging on a bass drum for nearly 50 years. He died this week at age 71.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto spent time with Adams at his nursing care facility in the fall and reminisced about his time with Adams .

Pluto said he knew Adams for about 40 years, but never had the chance to sit down and talk with him at length. In October, the team’s vice president, Curtis Danburg, told Pluto that Adams’ health was declining.

“I visited him twice for a story. Another time I took him copies of the story. And then on the bottom (of the story) I had, you know, 'If you want to send John a card, go ahead,'" said Pluto. "Well, he already had been getting, maybe, a hundred or more cards just before that, people just heard about it. Well, now he got inundated, but he was just so happy … just such a normal guy.”

Adams had been drumming since he was nine years old. Back at the old Municipal Stadium, fans would bang on the seats as a rally call. In 1973, Adams thought it would be fun to bang on a drum instead of the seats. Cleveland Press baseball writer Bob Sudyk wrote that Adams would be at the next game. So, Adams just kept showing up with his drum at every game.

Pluto said that was Adams’ appeal – he was a fan first.

“The first number of years, he bought his own ticket. As time went on, the team gave him a couple of season tickets to games and he was going for free," Pluto said. "Then they built him kind of a little perch there at the top of the Progressive Field bleachers.”

Pluto has received hundreds of emails from fans who all had positive things to say about Adams.

“Some of these people who become super fans, their egos get way out of control and that causes a problem for the team and everything else. That never happened with John,” Pluto said.

Adams became a Cleveland legend.

“I got an email from a guy and he said he and his friend were at the old Paninis in downtown. There's a guy sitting at the bar and they just started talking and it turned out the guy was a business man from St. Louis. He was going to go to the game too, by himself. So, they walk through there and he goes, ‘Where’s the drummer?’ I mean, you would think he was in the Hall of Fame or something,” Pluto said.

And Pluto believe Adams is irreplaceable at Progressive Field.

“You could maybe try to have somebody else drum, but I just don't think it would be the same because it started on its own," he said. "You could put all these marketing gurus into a room and they could spend millions of dollars and not come up with anything close to John Adams because it just happened. And then on top of it, it happened with a guy who knew how to handle this strange fame that grew up around him.”

Adams went to nearly every game while he worked at AT&T through 2019. The pandemic kept fans away in 2020, but the team offered to let Adams attend, with his drum. Pluto said Adams felt if fans couldn’t be there, he shouldn’t be either. He declined the team's offer.

“Most people would want to – ‘I'm with the team,’ you know, all that. ‘No, I'm a fan who cares about the team.’ And John stayed over there and I just think that was part of his magic also," Pluto said.

The drummer's appeal spanned generations, Pluto said.

“The little kids liked it and the older fans liked it because they identify him with maybe when they first started going to the game,” he said.

Pluto said it’s bittersweet to think back on his conversation with Adams in October.

“John still talked about, ‘I got to get better and go to the game.’ But he knew in October the time was short,' Pluto said. "The Guardians did a really nice thing. They put him in their, kind of, their hall of honor for non-players. They did that last year, as he said, ‘It all happened because one day I just decided I took a drum to a game.’”

Pluto says he will be a pallbearer at John Adams' funeral, which is Saturday, Feb. 4 at 10 a.m. at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland. The team says donations can be made to the John J. Adams Scholarship Fund.

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