If you live in Northeast Ohio, you know that the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series…the first time since 1997.
My love for the Cleveland Indians stems from my childhood. Cleveland Indians baseball playing in the background was the soundtrack of my childhood summers. My mom would sit on the back picnic table listening to the game on the radio, drink Pepsi, chain smoke while keeping box scores of EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. Every year she would say, “This is the year the Indians win the pennant.” And she believed it.
The names Herb Score, Andre Thornton, Joe Charboneau (remember the song, “Go, go Charboneau…he’s Cleveland’s rookie of the year”), Mike Hargrove (the human rain delay), Len Barker, Joe Carter, Julio Franco, Toby Harrah, Brook Jacoby, Duane Kuiper, Rick Manning, Pat Tabler just to name a few were common names heard in my house. Buddy Bell was her all-time favorite player.
She passed away the summer of 1987.
I fell more in love with Cleveland baseball in the 90s. This was the era of Sandy Alomar Jr., Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez (he made me laugh with his antics), Carlos Baerga , Jose Mesa, Charles Nagy, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray and my all-time favorite play, Omar Vizquel. I was able to go to spring training with my sister and brother-in-law when the Indians were in Winter Haven, Florida. So fun.
In 1995, the Indians made it to the World Series for the first time since 1948. I was a junior in college in Virginia. My sister, Nancy, called me at school and said she had an extra ticket to game 3 of the World Series. My brother-in-law could not go. Did I want to go? DID I WANT TO GO? The game was Tuesday, October 24, 1995. I got up early that Tuesday morning drove 450 miles to my sister’s house. My dad came to her house so I could see him for a couple of hours before we went to the game.
I thought of my mom as they raised the American League pennant at the game. I remember feeling overwhelmed by emotion, wishing she could actually see it happen. The Indians won that night in 11 innings by a score of 7 to 6. When they scored the winning run, I remember the Jake going crazy. The place was electric. Strangers were hugging. It was incredible.
We got back late to my sister’s house. I got up early again the next morning and drove 450 miles back to school. It. Was. Worth. It.
The Indians did not win the World Series that year. The Atlanta Braves did.
Two years later, the Indians returned to the World Series against the Florida Marlins. I had only been in ministry six months. I remember for game 7 I had strep throat but my boss made me go to an appreciation banquet the church was having for us because no one would believe I was really sick. He thought everyone would think I was faking it to stay home and watch the game. I wasn’t. The antibiotics I received the next day were proof. He recently apologized to me for that. Ha! I am still bitter about that series. It went to game 7. The Indians lost in the 11th inning. I cried. I was mad, as well. What frustrated me most about this series was the Marlins assembled a team for a year to simply win a championship. They dismantled the team the following year whereas the Indians had systematically built a strong team through time and their farm system. I am still really bitter. 😉 I have really strong opinions about loyalty and the purity of baseball. That’s what I love about this year’s Cleveland Indians. There are no real superstars. It is a team working together to get the job done.
The Cleveland Indians are the underdogs this year. That’s okay. The Cleveland Cavs came back when they were down 3 – 1 to win the world championship. The Cavs winning did something for Northeast Ohio’s psyche. It broke something. Some people say a curse…I don’t know what it is but it’s tangible and real.
This is our year. There is a pride and solidarity that comes with being from Northeast Ohio. I have not seen it in other parts of the country. A feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood that comes from going through battle together through the leanest of years. Watching Cleveland rebuild itself and rise from the ashes from the time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire and was called the Mistake on the Lake, through our tough sports years (the Drive, the Fumble, the Shot, Art Model taking the Browns out of Cleveland to Baltimore in the cloak of night) until now is inspiring and something we all should be proud of. Downtown is bustling. When the Republican National Convention came to town this summer, Cleveland shined brightly. The friendliness and unity were a beacon. After a few days, the professional protestors from both sides realized they could not get anything started so they moved on to Philadelphia, leaving our city the way they found it…full of pride and peace.
I guess after watching the Indians win game 1 of the World Series, I am feeling nostalgic. A family friend from childhood said to me tonight through Facebook, “your mom is keeping score”. I miss my mom. I am grateful for the love of baseball she instilled in me. And the optimism. She really did believe every year was THE year. I am also grateful for where I grew up. I love where I live (harsh winters and all). I especially love the people. Northeast Ohioans are gritty, tough, outspoken, fun, and optimistic. This is our year, Believeland.