I am a Cleveland sports fan. I cannot stand LeBron James. The Miami Heat winning the NBA Finals is the root of this blog.
“30 Days Without Sports” is my way to fill the mornings that I used to spend watching Mike and Mike and First Take on ESPN. I cannot watch ESPN for at least a month because I (admittedly pathetically) know it is bad for my health to see any images of the Miami Heat hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. I also know that anything that comes out of the MVP’s mouth will frustrate me to no end. I realize to many people it is “just sports” and “just a game,” but the truth is to me, and many of my friends, it is a lot more than that. I’m going to take at least the first few days of this blog getting into the psyche of a mid-20s Cleveland sports fan. Maybe it will help you understand our reaction to the decision and what we consider suffering in the world of sports since our birth, or maybe you will think we are even more crazy. Whatever you think, this is who we are.
Now that we got that out of the way, we can start. I grew up in a small town just south of Akron, OH called Uniontown (50 miles South of the heart of downtown Cleveland). My dad was a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder for the years leading up to my birth in 1986. I grew up watching the Indians, Browns and Cavs. I was told about the Browns’ painful history “The Fumble” and “The Drive.” I also read books about the great 1954 Cleveland Indians team and their historically great pitching staff, but the most famous image from the 1954 season is Willie mays making “The Catch” over his shoulder in a World Series where the Giants swept the Tribe. By the time I was in kindergarten, I was well aware that Indians last World Series championship was in 1948, that the Browns never made it to a Super Bowl, and that the Cavs, who had not been around for nearly as long as the other two franchises, didn’t have much in the sense of history besides Craig Ehlo being fist pumped into history by Michael Jordan.
Being a kid in an area with three major sports teams and the Indians AA affiliate, then they were the Canton-Akron Indians, wasn’t bad though. Despite the Indians being putrid, the Browns seeming to lose in the first round of the playoffs every season, and the NBA being just too tough with the Pistons and Bulls for the Cavs to be considered a real contender, I loved my teams. I loved Eric Metcalf and his ability to return punts for touchdowns, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, and Carlos Baerga were my baseball heroes, and I loved watching Brad Dougherty and Mark Price along with Larry Nance and “Hot Rod” Williams.
My dad made sure I got to go to games at the old Municipal Stadium and the Richfield Coliseum. He wanted to make sure I was able to experience those venues before our teams moved into new digs in the Center of downtown. Of course, with the sparkling new venues for the Indians and Cavs we lost the Browns. Talk about confusing for a 9 year-old kid. The Browns were a staple in my life. A constant on Sundays during the fall and winter. We’d wake up, go to church, and then my dad would take me along to hang out with him and his friends at a sports bar to watch the games (once I was about 6 or 7 I got to go, he didn’t tote me around as a toddler). I didn’t know what life was going to be like without the Cleveland Browns. It seemed like the end was coming.
Luckily, as soon as the Browns were leaving, the Indians started winning games like it was the 50’s again. Along with the players I already loved (Lofton, Belle, Baerga), the players I grew up watching as Canton-Akron Indians like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar and Bartolo Colon where now with the big league team. My uncle had season tickets 10 rows behind the visitors dugout in Cleveland and I got to go to a few games a year with him and my dad. My dad was also a territory sales manager, so he would have tickets to take clients to games. Sometimes, when a client couldn’t go, my dad could take me instead. I was lucky to have a way to get into “The Jake” during the record-setting sell-out streak. I got to be there for walk-off wins, Kenny Lofton robbing home runs, and Albert Belle having monster games. It seemed like they won every time I got to see them in person.
I never got to go to a postseason game during those glory years. I watched every game I could from home though. I remember some Saturday afternoons we would be in church during playoff games and my dad would actually let me go out to the car to check the score on the radio during mass! The Indians playing so well was awesome to experience growing up. However, the heartache of World Series losses were also a big part of growing up a Cleveland sports fan. 1995 against the Braves wasn’t that bad for me as a nine-year old. They had Maddux and Glavine. They had been there before. I wasn’t used to my team even being in the championship. It was exciting to be able to stay up late and watch the World Series.
1997 was a different story. As an 11-year old, I was emotionally vested in this World Series. We had been there in 1995 and it was exciting. This year we were going to win. The team was more experienced this time. We didn’t have Kenny Lofton, but we got David Justice and Marquis Grissom for him in a trade and Jaret Wright was an untouchable rookie phenom who was a spark to the pitching staff. The way the loss went down made it even more unbearable. A blown-save, a ground ball between the second baseman’s legs, and a walk-off loss in the bottom of the 11th. I remember feeling sick and not wanting to go to school the next day. How was I supposed to focus all day on fourth grade school work when my heart had just been ripped out by Edgar Renteria? The Indians had lost two World Series in the past three years. They haven’t been back to the Fall Classic since then.
Since October 26, 1997, a lot has happened in Cleveland sports. We got the new Browns who have provided an equal amount of misery as they have football while we watched the “Old Browns,” better known as the Baltimore Ravens, win a Super Bowl. We lost Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez to free-agency and traded away countless other stars before watching them walk away for more money elsewhere. (Note: I don’t hold a grudge against any of these athletes for going somewhere for more money. I put that 99% of that on management.) The Cavs made a bold move getting the electrifying Shawn Kemp, but when he showed up two tons overweight and underachieved the excitement of having a superstar dwindled quickly.
There wasn’t much to cheer about from 1997 until 2003 when the Cavs (with the help of the NBA’s lottery rigging system) won the number 1 pick in the draft and the ability to land the homegrown “Chosen One.”