CLEVELAND -- John Adams begins the steep ascent to his baseball home, lugging his 26-inch wide companion by his side.
The two are quickly approaching 39 years together -- filled with ups and downs, joy and heartbreak and two World Series near-misses.
But this is Cleveland, a Midwestern rust belt city known for its gritty toughness. And for better or for worse, Adams and his sidekick have stuck it out.
Several times along the climb to his perch in Row Y of Section 183 overlooking Progressive Field, Adams is greeted by his fellow Indians fans who wave or offer a thumbs up -- a sign he and his weathered old bass drum are still welcome.
After the climb upward, Adams reaches his long-time destination, earmarked by the sign posted above one of his four seats. It marks the territory of the only Indians season-ticket holder with his own personalized landmark.
No. 1 Tribe Fan – John Adams - 3,000 & Counting.
Adams, for one, never expected the bond among a man, his drum and his beloved Indians to last this long.
The journey together was never planned, never mapped out, even after an Indians front office official reached out to Adams in 1973, asking if he planned on attending all the games with the drum used to stir up excitement in the stadium's general admission seating.
He said no.
"I don't want it to be an obligation," Adams says now, more with more than 3,100 games under his drum-beating belt. "If I give my word to do something, then I have to do it. I have enough obligations in life – I don't need to pile on any more.
"So I just show up and then it's my prerogative," he says.
In the nearly 39 years since Adams and the bass drum he plucked from a $25 garage sale drum kit have been together, the Brecksville, Ohio, resident has missed 38 games.
Otherwise, he and the drum have been inseparable, together becoming local legends that have inspired a John Adams bobble-arm giveaway and a Rally Drum Red Ale that was unveiled this year by Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewery.
He has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch in the 2007 American League Divisional Series and used his drum to make contact with a pitch thrown by former Indians Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau when Adams was honored last season on the occasion of his 3,000th game.
Adams has been portrayed by Hollywood actors in the "Major League" motion pictures that cast the Indians as baseball's loveable losers. He is routinely greeted during home games by a line of young fans either seeking an autograph or wanting to pound the drum that have long been a part of Cleveland's summer soundtrack.
His visitors have included both total strangers and dignitaries. There have been baseball, football and basketball Hall of Famers -- all of whom Adams is too modest to mention -- that have climbed their way to Adams' seats, all whom arrived with the same simple request.
"That just fascinates me," Adams says. "Here they are -- in the Hall of Fame -- and they just want to hit the drum."
Most of Adams' requests come in between innings -- allowing the 60-year-old who works as a systems analyst for AT&T and who is a volunteer professor at Cleveland State -- to focus on the game he loves so much.
Parents who first encountered Adams as youngsters bring their own kids up to the top of the bleachers, asking for a photo and for a chance to bang the drum.
Adams has one rule.
Hit it only once or don't hit it at all.
On this particular night, a stranger wearing a Hawaiian styled flowered shirt and a San Francisco Giants cap makes his way to Row Y.
"Your name John Adams?" he asks.
"It is," the drummer responds with a warm smile, interrupting his game-day ritual of loosening or tightening the drumhead he replaces at least twice a year.
"Oakland, California," the man continues. "I was there."
Adams has taken the drum on the road on occasion, including traveling to the West Coast, where he spent three days cheering for the Indians in Oakland.
The hometown A's announced that Adams and his drum would be in attendance for the series -- news that boosted ticket sales for the series by an extra 35,000 tickets.
Over the years, visitors from every state and every continent except for Antarctica have made the trek to Adams, who routinely donates the two extra season tickets next to him and his drum to charity or school groups.
Every summer, a small group travels to Cleveland from Japan – just to sit in the bleachers within earshot of Adams and his drum.
On this July night, Adams and his Northern California visitor talk like they're old friends, swapping stories, talking baseball and joking about how Adams is too cheap to buy a new drum to replace his old companion.
After a few minutes, they shake hands and part ways -- both looking forward to the next time they'll meet. Once again, the drum and its owner have worked their magic.
"Only at a ballgame," Adams says. "It's baseball -- I just sit here and the world comes to me."
Despite the attention and honors that have been bestowed on him, Adams isn't overly comfortable with being a local legend.
He'll tell you he doesn't consider himself a celebrity, but instead, just a guy who loves his hometown and the baseball team that calls Cleveland home.
But ask around -- even among those who haven't been in town all that long -- and they'll tell you different.
"As you come here more and more, you start to realize it's part of the Indians," says veteran outfielder Johnny Damon, who visited Cleveland with six other American League teams before signing with the Indians this season. "He's there, he's going to root for us and he wants us to do well, but he wants to see the Tribe win a World Series.
"Hopefully, we can give him a reason to bang the drum louder."
Twice, in 1995 and 1997, the Indians reached the Fall Classic -- only to lose, including most recently, in an extra-inning Game 7 heartbreaker to the Florida Marlins.
But just to see his Indians reach baseball's Holy Grail was memorable for Adams, who counts pounding the drum in the post-season and Len Barker's 1981 perfect game as the two highlights of his 39-year cheap seats love affair.
Along the way, there has been plenty of disappointment, too. In 2007 – still looking for its first championship since 1948 – the Indians held a 3-1 series lead in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox before losing three straight games.
The Indians -- who sit in second place in the American League Central Division at the All-Star break -- haven't made the playoffs since. Still, Adams comes, drum in hand, just to support his team.
His loyalty -- both to his city and to its baseball team -- never wavers. He loves Cleveland for its small-town values and the fact that the working man can still afford a ticket to a ballgame or to the symphony.
Adams' love for the city sounds like its straight from Chamber of Commerce central casting, but in reality, comes straight from the heart.
To him, the Indians -- who trail only the Chicago Cubs for the longest drought without a World Series championship -- are Cleveland.
Tough. Blue-collar. The every-man's baseball team.
Despite what others -- including Damon and Indians manager Manny Acta and other team officials say -- Adams doesn't consider himself part of Cleveland lore.
Acta said in an MLB.com video profile on Adams that not only do his players in the dugout and on the field hear the drum, but they feed off of it.
Adams, president of the Cleveland Blues Society, is strategic in his drum-banging, using the rhythmic pounding to drum up fan support, especially in dramatic, late-inning situations when players like Indians' reliever Chris Perez tend to hear him most.
"John Adams is like the flagpole in this ballpark," Acta says. "I don't know how this ballpark is going to feel the day we don't hear that drum."
Adams has no intention of quitting anytime soon. He will celebrate his 39th anniversary in the stands on Aug. 24, a journey that has taken him from the bleachers in old Municipal Stadium to Progressive Field, which originally opened as Jacobs Field in 1994.
After buying four season tickets when the team moved to its new home, Adams had his tickets covered by the Indians starting this season -- a reward for his loyalty to the team.
"They're mine -- it says Cleveland on that uniform -- they're the Cleveland Indians and that's my team," Adams says. "Guys come and go over the years, owners come and go, but the fans are here.
"I get to hear and share memories and that's the beauty of baseball. You meet people from all walks of life -- interesting folks -- and everyone has a story."
Adams jokes that he'll keep drumming for another 39 years before even thinking about calling it quits. The ballpark has become a second home -- one he'll often come after working or volunteering.
He'll park the car, walk through the turnstiles with his faithful sidekick, shake hands with the Cleveland cop that patrols Gate A and again makes the steep climb to Row Y, Section 183.
"I'll keep coming and I'll get my heart broken just like everyone else," Adams says. "I'll see the game, go back to the car and call it a day and come back the next day. That's what baseball is all about."
Adams stands for the national anthem, his Indians cap over his heart. He'll survey his home from his seats sheltered from the evening sun by the towering scoreboard that sits above him.
And just as the home team dashes onto the field on the kind of sweltering summer nights broken up only by the breeze blowing off nearby Lake Erie, Adams begins to pound his drum with one of the three sets of mallets he will go through this season.
And just like that, all is right with the world in Cleveland.
Nearby fans turn and look, smiling that Adams and a drum once christened Big Chief Boom-Boom by former Indians broadcaster Herb Score are in their rightful place.
Adams sits content at home still amazed by the notoriety that his almost 39-year relationship with a beat up old drum have brought.
And almost 40 years after he told the Indians he wouldn't come to every game -- there haven't been many Adams and the drum have missed.
"This is my escape from reality," Adams says. "I guess what it comes down it is if your presence is known by your absence, it means something.
"If I don't show up here, I get all kinds of complaints -- they moan, they groan and they holler, 'I want to hear the drum.' I'm here, I should hear it."
If Adams has anything to say about it, they will.
At least for the next 39 years or so.