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Heartbreak Thy Name is Wahoo

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September 14, 2012, Bottom of the 5th inning, Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Indians step up to the plate in a familiar place this season, losing. In this re-run it’s a 4-0 deficit to the Detroit Tigers. Leading off is the Indians best (read: only) free-agent pickup, slick-fielding first baseman Casey Kotchman who proceeds to single off of reigning Cy Young & American League MVP Justin Verlander; One on, no outs. Lonnie Chisenhall, hopeful third baseman of the future, steps in and rips a double into the left center gap; 2nd and 3rd, no outs.

Up to the plate strides one-time “can’t miss” prospect Matt LaPorta; the centerpiece in the deal that sent then-Cy Young Award winning CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers. Sadly, like so many “can’t miss” prospects in Cleveland’s history, LaPorta hasn’t lived up to the billing and is one more chance away from being released. The fan sitting directly behind me seems to speak for the majority of the thousands tens of people intermittently dispersed amongst the 43,429 forest green seats. As LaPorta approached the plate the fan yells: “Ohhhh No! Not LaPorta… here it comes… a swinging bunt to the pitcher.”

Two pitches later LaPorta takes a mighty hack… the ball glances off the end of the bat and lazily rolls towards Verlander, who picks it up, polishes it off, and fires to first; one out. As the ball is returned to him, Verlander glances over to our section and gives a wry smirk.

No big deal right? One out; we will still get at least one run in. Who’s up? Josh Willingham? Oh, that’s right, we didn’t sign a relevant free agent outfielder the offseason… instead, dedicated pinch-runner Ezequiel Carrera is currently handling the job. Unfortunately he doesn’t handle the job of actually making contact during this at-bat. 3 pitches, strikeout, 2 down.

The task of knocking in a run… or taking one for the team… lies squarely on the shoulders of Jason Donald. The once prospect, now utility player once acquired  for the 2nd of the back-to-back Cy Young award winning Indians, Cliff Lee . It takes approximately two pitches before Donald grounds out to first. Three straight outs without the ball leaving the infield.

If anything is a microcosm for this 2012 Cleveland Indians season, this is it. A year that started with promise, ended in abject failure. The Indians went on to lose this game by the same 4-0 deficit as they faced in the 5th inning. They never even threatened beyond the pseudo-rally mentioned above.

Fans stayed though, for the only reason they ever stay, the best fireworks show east of the Mississippi. I don’t know what Indians’ owner Larry Dolan spends on the pyrotechnic displays, but safe to say it’s much, much more than they spend on re-signing players let alone free agents. The fireworks last a good 20 minutes, have a full array of colors with different levels, shapes, sizes… heck, even lasers. Additionally, all shows are themed and synchronized to music. This particular theme was TV reality shows.

Song after song was eerily relatable to the season; from Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ (that ship sailed in July) to Chris Daughtry’s Home. One lyric in Home really stood out to me this night.

“I’m staring out into the night, trying to hide the pain.”

This hits home for so many reasons: 1) As a Clevelander most local sporting events end this way. In fact, the championship drought is now nearing 50 years; a half-century of disappointment, despair, and derogatory commentary. Stadiums with nicknames such as: “The Mistake by the Lake” and “The Factory of Sadness.” 2) Despite this clockwork-like pattern of losing, Cleveland fans still show up year after year and care as much as even the most successful of franchises. 3) The pain remains the same, even deepens, year after year.

For some reason I was in pain after this loss. Even with the fact that for the first time I can remember, there was actual debate as to whether or not we would go to the game and despite that this season drew to a close in July as my glasses hurdled towards the ground, flung with the depressed anger that comes when your season effectively ends two-thirds of the way through it.

Still, I found myself blankly staring into the outfield wondering what the future held for the Tribe. Will the Dolan’s sell? Is this the end for Manny Acta? It’s certainly the end for Grady Sizemore & Travis Hafner. Are we in full-blow rebuilding mode? Unless this ownership group changes course and targets higher profile free agents, the window, if not closed, may only have the slightest of cracks remaining.

At some point in my reflecting haze, the fireworks began. I didn’t realize it and was told by one of the people seated near me. As I looked over, I saw a group of what looked to be 3rd grade girls with their parents, faces aglow, mesmerized by the exploding flashes of color. I redirected my glance in the other direction and saw more excited grade-schoolers smiling, dancing, and having the time of their lives as the great balls of fire lit up the night sky.

Immediately a rush of questions came to mind: Is this what sports should be about? Is winning secondary to just enjoying the ride? Do these kids have the right idea? My answer probably isn’t the same as many of you, but my internal voice quickly answered no, no, and no. Don’t get me wrong, few things are as pure as the joy in a child’s face; so innocent, not jaded by the world, their biggest issue is whether or not they will get ice cream or not. However, for me, my favorite teams winning and losing are important, probably too important, although I don’t anticipate that changing at any time in the near or not-so-near future. I know and understand that my fanhood has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not someone gets a hit, catches a touchdown, or scores a goal. That said, I’m undeterred, it’s who I am. I refuse to wash my jersey during a winning streak. I find myself locked in a statuesque pose during a rally, refusing to move in the off chance that by some nonsensical butterfly effect, whether or not I get up to refill my glass has an effect on baseball players tens, hundreds, and thousands of miles away.  I’m sure at some point, I was just like one of those 7 year-olds, caught up in the fireworks, not caring that Brook Jacoby just struck out or Rich Yett gave up another bomb (maybe not, given that I know Brook Jacoby and Rich Yett). The funny part is that it won’t be long until some of them are in my position wondering the same things.

The scariest question that came to mind was this: Will any of these kids see a Cleveland championship? As a kid I laughed it off as a formality, but now, as I approach 30, it’s getting a little more real. Every city wins a championship at some point… don’t they? Cleveland is going on 50 years without one and there’s not a lot of hope on the immediate horizon. As of last week the combined ESPN power rankings for the 3 Cleveland professional sports teams was 87… Browns (32), Indians (27), Cavs (28). For reference, there are 92 total teams, meaning the worst possible combined ranking is 92. For that to happen, all teams would have to be dead last.  I’m still absolutely certain it will happen at some point and when it does the victory parade will last for months. Until then, my emotions will sink or swim with each pitch, each swing, and each outcome. Hopefully I don’t drown too many times in the meantime, but if history is any guide, I had better be pretty good at treading water.

Discussion

One Response to “Heartbreak Thy Name is Wahoo”

  1. looking for your thought on the new manager.(especially now that the Browns and Broncos both lost!)

    Posted by pops | October 7, 2012, 7:03 pm

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