The end of Cleveland sports fatalism?

Amish boys, celebration
A local pizza shop in Fredericksburg, Ohio stayed open late so young Amish boys could watch the deciding game seven of the NBA playoffs. This photo posted on social media shows the boys cheering as the Cavs beat the Warriors.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Maybe this is the end of the strangling fatalism that sports fans of Cleveland’s three professional teams have endured for far too long.

“This” references the recent, glorious victory by the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Golden State Warriors that made the Cavs the National Basketball Association (NBA) Champions for 2016.

I know. In today’s fast-paced era of instant information, this fact is old news. But without that introduction, the rest of what I have to say wouldn’t make much sense.

First of all, I couldn’t bear to watch the game. I don’t follow the NBA much anyhow. I wasn’t about to jinx the Cavs by watching the deciding game.

However, when the alert on my wife’s smartphone reported that the Cavs had won, we bolted out of bed and turned on the TV to watch the post-game celebration. It was worth the missed minutes of sleep.

I was impressed with the genuine tears of joy and relief shed by all the players and the head coach. They clearly understood what that precious moment meant to all Cleveland sports fans everywhere. I teared up, too.

miracles
MiraCLEs do happen.

It meant the world to us. It said that after 52 years of hope, frustration, disappointment, and despair that Cleveland had finally broken the infamous, self-induced curse of losing. Of course, such a thing never existed. It just seemed so.

The Cleveland Browns were the last of the three professional sports teams to win a world championship. That was in January 1964. I remember it well because I was at that game as an excited 16-year-old, having had my name drawn in a lottery to purchase tickets.

The Browns won the National Football League Championship with a 27 – 0 win over the Baltimore Colts. They played the game in old, cavernous Municipal Stadium in sub-zero conditions. It was pro football’s super bowl before pro football officially had a Super Bowl.

I couldn’t have imagined then that that victory would be the last championship for a Cleveland sports team until the Cavs’ Father’s Day win. Since 1964, followers of Cleveland’s pro sports have had to endure a lot of disappointments to the point of being fatalistic.

No matter how good any of the three teams were, something silly, even unimaginable, was sure to happen as if the sports Gods had it in for the poor city whose river once caught on fire. I was there for that, too.

During that depressing stretch, fans of the Cavs, the Browns, and the Indians had seen it all. For the Cavs, it was Michael Jordan on far too many occasions.

For the Browns, it was The Drive, The Fumble, and The Move, when Art Model secretly transported the team to Baltimore. The Colts had previously shuffled off to Indianapolis.

For the Indians, it was Jose Mesa in the ninth inning of game seven of the 1997 World Series. They haven’t been close to a championship since.

But the Cavs have permanently corked that bottle of bad luck. Since I froze my nose in 1964, Cleveland finally has another world champion. Thanks to fatalism’s firm grip, I still can’t believe it.

Has this great victory killed the Cleveland sports jinx? Will folks simply get on with life without this fatalistic outlook about never being able to win? I sure hope so.

I do know this. When the Cleveland Indians defeat the Chicago Cubs for the World Series win this fall, I’ll be entirely, positively, wonderfully convinced.

fireworks, baseball, Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
Someday fireworks will explode in celebration of an Indians World Series championship. Someday, maybe this year. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

For this baseball lover, it’s wait until next year again

Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians,
Michael Brantley strokes his 200th hit of the 2014 season. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve loved baseball since I was a kid. That’s a long time, never mind how long.

Baseball was in my DNA. I suppose my father’s love of the game, and that of my grandfather highly influenced me. Dad played baseball in high school. Grandpa Merle played in high school, college, and in summer leagues.

My big brother played sandlot baseball, too. Of course, I wanted to be just like him.

Rocky Colavito, Cleveland Indians, Bruce Stambaugh
Indians great Rocky Colavito threw out the first pitch of the August 10th game last year. © Bruce Stambaugh
Keep in mind that I grew up in the post World War II decade when the top two teams in the American League were the dreaded New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. Yes, the Indians had consistently winning teams with memorable players like Rocky Colavito, Herb Score, Bob Feller, Minnie Minoso and so many more.

Youth was my golden era for baseball. I was young, innocent, impressionable, enthusiastic, looking for any diversion from either work or school. Baseball was it.

I started playing baseball when I was seven. The coaches put me at second base for very practical reasons. I was small and it was the shortest throw to first base.

As I grew, I played every position on the field. Catcher was my favorite. I could see the entire game unfold before me. Plus, it was the shortest walk to the bench after the inning was over.

Indians fans, Cleveland Indians, Bruce Stambaugh
Indians fans will travel the extra mile to support their team. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Did I mention that I wasn’t a very good player? Still, baseball was the sports marrow in my bones. Still is.

When I wasn’t playing, I listened to games. I was in my glory when transistor radios came out. I could listen to the Indians late at night, when we were supposed to be sleeping. And I listened to them when grandpa took us fishing. I liked that kind of leisurely multitasking.

I enjoyed how Jimmy Dudley, then the Indians play-by-play announcer, called the game. He drew me in like I was really there, and several fish happily escaped my baseball daydreaming.

I always wanted to play third base for Cleveland. Ken Keltner, Al Rosen, and Bubba Phillips were my heroes. Max Alvis not so much. My all-time favorite Indian, Lou Klimchock, also played third on occasion, but his main position was second. Mostly, I just liked his name.

I knew baseball statistics. I collected baseball cards. I even chewed that stiff, hard, usually stale, flat piece of bubblegum inside every pack of Topps cards.

Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians, Bruce Stambaugh
Michael Brantley and Tampa Bay’s James Loney both smiled broadly after Brantley’s 200th hit this year. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014
I collected hundreds of baseball cards, and a few cavities. My dentist took care of them, and my mother the cards.

I watched what few games were broadcast on television, at first in black and white, and only later in color. Mostly I relied on the alluring voice of Dudley to keep me informed of every pitch.

Our family attended a game or two each year. They were too expensive and too far away. Expressways hadn’t been invented yet.

As I grew from adolescence into adulthood, I continued my love affair with the Indians. I tried to pass that on to my own children, but times have changed, and so have they, for the better of course.

My wife also knows the game well. We attend a few games each year. We hope against hope that the Indians will someday win the World Series.

With the San Francisco Giants recently winning the game’s championship, Major League Baseball is over for 2014. Like any good Cleveland Indians fan will tell you, there’s always next year.

fireworks, baseball, Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
Someday fireworks will explode in celebration of an Indians World Series championship. Someday, maybe next year. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.