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German fan finds solace in Cleveland

German fan finds solace in Cleveland

MEDINA, Ohio -- Who was that crazy fellow?

That's the question one downtown Cleveland bar asked during Game 6 of 1995 World Series as Michael Fluss, in his first trip to the United States, "sweated blood and water" with every pitch. Jumping, dancing, thrashing and screaming for three straight hours, the 45-year-old German nearly upstaged the game.

"The whole bar is watching me. I'm like an entertainer," Fluss said, laughing. "Germans are crazy about their sports. Hey, I didn't know any better."

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Consider that this scene took place during the nascent stages of his Tribe obsession. Today, his love given 12 years to grow, Fluss just may be Deutschland's biggest Indians fan.

Well, former biggest fan. A long-distance relationship between Fluss and Cleveland simply wasn't cutting it anymore. And in April, Fluss and his wife, Sabrina, bid farewell to their homeland and moved to Northeast Ohio.

The couple's family and friends thought they were crazy. And "nobody actually believes that we're really staying here," Fluss said.

But they apparently don't know the man well enough. As he sat recently in the living room of his one-bedroom Medina apartment, donning a dark blue 1995 World Series T-shirt, shorts and sandals, and surrounded by Tribe posters, coasters, pictures, bobbleheads, baseballs, figurines and even his tickets from the 1995 Fall Classic, Fluss was a man content.

"I love the Indians and I love the USA," said Fluss. "What can I say?"

Asked if he wants to visit his homeland again, he laughed and said, "If possible, yeah, but, ah, it's not necessary. I like it here."

So how exactly did this affair begin?

The tale starts in 1989 with Fluss seeing the film "Die Indianer von Cleveland" (Major League). A struggling salesman at the time, Fluss took a liking to the underdog nature of the hapless Indians.

"When you see a movie about a team with bad luck, kind of like me, you get interested," Fluss said.

He then did a little investigative work.

"I look them up, thinking, 'Who are the Indians? Is this really a real team? Or is this a fake for the movies?'" Fluss said. "And then I see they are [real] and that their last World Series win was in '48 and their last postseason was in '54. They're always on a losing streak like I see on the movie."

Fluss was not much of a sports fan at the time, but he started keeping an eye on the Tribe. At first, this was simply by reading days-old box scores and articles from USA Today. And then, in 1995, he finally saw the Indians on German TV during the American League Championship Series.

This new game and the playoff excitement all fascinated him.

"It was love at first sight," Fluss said.

If the Indians made the World Series, Fluss then vowed, he would be there.

He kept his promise. And after begging one of his clothing shop's massive suppliers to apply for corporate tickets, Fluss and a buddy found themselves at the heart of baseball heaven. A giant Chief Wahoo sign greeted Fluss at the airport. Massive "Go Tribe" signs hung from downtown buildings. And a sea of red enveloped downtown.

It was, Fluss said, just like his favorite movie.

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At the park, Braves pitcher John Smoltz tossed Fluss a ball during batting practice. And newly decked out in every piece of Tribe garb he could find, he watched from section 121 down the right-field line at Jacobs Field as the Indians took two out of three home games from Atlanta.

"I was hooked," Fluss said.

Heading back home was a bit disappointing, but he took the game with him. Fluss began proselytizing the gospel of baseball and soon took over a German baseball club in Leverkusen.

The first order of business was suiting his Beavers club with uniforms that matched those of the Indians. Few, of course, knew who the Indians were. Heck, few even knew anything about baseball.

"Half of our junior team didn't even understand what baseball is," he said.

But Fluss poured more than $40,000 into the local club -- making a field, building a backstop and batting cage, buying equipment -- and the club soon grew to four teams and 100 people.

He even molded a few Indians fans along the way. During the 1997 World Series, Fluss was the only club member with a satellite television that allowed him to see the games. So for a week straight, several of Fluss' players crammed into his little one bedroom city apartment for the 1 a.m. (local time) starts between the Indians and Marlins.

"Seven nights of no sleep," Fluss said. "Wow, but we had fun."

And each year, Fluss's passion grew. He gorged himself on every bit of news online, visited the States a couple more times and subscribed to an online package that allowed him to watch every Tribe game on his computer.

The only problem was that each time he flipped on a game and saw Cleveland, it reminded him how much he missed America.

"In Germany, it was always so stressful," Fluss said. "Look in the faces of the people. Look at their mouths. Maybe it's temperatures in the low-80s. Sunshine. Everything is fine, and people are running around frowning. I don't know why, but they always are."

So earlier this year, after shuffling between jobs for a while, Fluss picked up shop and moved to Northeast Ohio with his wife.

The move hasn't been seamless. He has yet to find steady work and he still feels like a stranger here. But hey, Fluss said, "Life is good."

"It's happy and relaxed here," he said, smiling. "And there's the Indians."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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