Cleveland Indians searching for solution to gull problem

CLEVELAND (AP) — There were two sets of birds at Progressive Field on Friday — the St. Louis Cardinals and the Lake Erie gulls.

The Cardinals will leave on Sunday. No one knows when the gulls will.

Flocks of the seabirds have become a growing problem at Indians games this season. It culminated Thursday night when Shin-Soo Choo's single in the 10th inning struck one, allowing the winning run to score without a throw in a victory against the Kansas City Royals.

"Our people are all over it right now and looking for solutions," team president Paul Dolan said. "I'm not sure it's going to go away."

After spending Friday contacting a number of wildlife and animal organizations, the Indians concluded that increased nesting on flat rooftop buildings in Cleveland's Flats district has led to the ballpark's problems.

The Flats used to be a district full of bars, restaurants and nightclubs along the Cuyahoga River, but now sits mostly desolate. Except, of course for the gulls, long a common sight along the shore of the roughly Vermont-sized lake.

"Gulls are riding the wind currents up the valley to the ballpark in search for food scraps to feed their young," Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio said in a statement. "The Indians are continuing to research ways to control this issue under the guidance of gulls being federally protected."

Cleveland isn't the first city to deal with pesky gulls. The Detroit Tigers were inundated with them two years ago, thanks to a newly hatched population of moths. The team tried using plastic owls and dogs to scare them away, but the gulls didn't leave until the moths died out.

In 1983, Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield hit and killed a gull while warming up between innings in Toronto. The Blue Jays stadium was located near Lake Ontario.

The gull struck Thursday night was able to fly away after hobbling around the outfield for a few minutes, leaving some players irritated by the fowl ball.

"Something needs to be done," Cleveland's Ryan Garko said. "There's got to be a way to get rid of them. It's kind of embarrassing. We look like a bunch of kids playing on an abandoned field. It's kind of funny, but kind of not funny."

Royals outfielder Coco Crisp was charging Choo's hit for a potential play at the plate Thursday when ball met gull. Crisp could only throw his arms up in the air in disgust as Mark DeRosa scored the winning run. Crisp spent three seasons in Cleveland before getting traded to Boston following the 2005 season.

"I don't even remember the birds being here at all when I was here," Crisp said. "There were bugs. I guess that's what brought the birds — the whole nature thing. I'd rather have the birds than the bugs, as long as they don't get in the way."

This isn't the Indians' first encounter with wildlife. Midges made headlines two years ago during a playoff game with the New York Yankees. The bugs swarmed and distracted reliever Joba Chamberlain while he walked a batter and threw two wild pitches that enabled the Indians to tie — and ultimately win — the game.

When the Yankees returned to Cleveland this year at the end of May, the bugs and birds were in full force.

"There's what, 8,000 seagulls out there?" Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said. "This ain't even the beach. It's Cleveland."

Indians third-base coach Joel Skinner has been part of the organization dating back to his playing days at old Cleveland Stadium, which sat right on the lakefront, about a mile from where Progressive Field sits today. He's glad he doesn't have to try fielding a ball amid the flock, but is still wary.

"It's never been this bad here or at the old ballpark," Skinner said. "I just hope I don't get pooped on."