Don’t rip on Cleveland or Clevelanders!

Mars Girl with the Mars Dad during the first ALDS game
in Cleveland, when the hope and promise of a World Series was ripe.

It’s been a rough week.

It all started with the Indians’ nose-dive into oblivion somewhere in the seventh inning of the last ALCS game. I, unlike my father, was still holding out hope that the Indians would manage to beat Boston in the seventh game. My father gave up on our team when they did not defeat Boston on the last night of our home stand. I still believed they could do it. I never give up hope. (I’m pretty stupid.)

At the start of the game, we looked like a team of minor league players. I had to check my channel guide to make sure I wasnt watching a re-run of Major League. Who were these guys? What was wrong with Westbrook? Did anyone know how to hit anymore? What happened to our pitchers? Sabathia? Carmona? Hello, guys, we’re in the playoffs. No joking around now!

It was miserable. Yet, somewhere in the middle of the game, there was a glimmer of hope when Cleveland managed to bring in two runs. You actually thought for a moment — and you could see the same hope in the eyes of the watching players in the Cleveland dugout — that we could pull ourselves out of the deficit.

I think the beginning of the end happened in the top of the seventh inning when the third base coach held Kenny Lofton, preventing him from scoring the tying run. Casey Blake (usually my hero for his game-winning home runs at the bottom of extra innings in the regular season) batted a weak hit that earned Boston a double-play and the inning was over.

I fell asleep for a little bit (hey, these games were starting at 8:21pm and I’m a working girl!) and when I woke up the score was 7-2. I turned off the TV and went to bed. For once, this Tribe fan could not stick it out to the oh-so-bitter end.

I was in and out of sleep all night. When I woke up next morning, I could barely drag myself out of bed. I must say that I was depressed. No, I mean it — I was Depressed with the capital “D” and all.

I swore off baseball. This year alone, I’ve sworn off a lot of unhealthy habits I’ve taken up over the years (excessive drinking, smoking, negative attitudes) in order to thwart my tendence towards depression. It seems my brain decided that it had to find something to be depressed about. And so there I was, Monday morning, just feeling miserable. I drove to work in a dreary haze. When I got into work, the first thing I did was bark at my co-worker. You see, they had been carpeting the office all weekend, but the contractors had not returned our furniture to the desks. A few f-bombs words slipped out of my mouth as I demanded to know where my chair was.

My co-worker, ever cheerful and undaunted by my moodiness, stated, “I know this is a bad day for you. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Had someone died? It sure felt like someone had… The rest of the day, everyone around me seemed kind of deflated. I felt like some people were tip-toeing around me because they’d seen me there all summer in my Tribe regalia, as I had gone to multiple week night games this year. I thought more people would bring up the game and talk about it, but I was really thankful when they didn’t. The pain was still too fresh. I didn’t want to talk about it. Each word stabbed my gentle heart.

At the end of the day, a project manager for about 2/3rds of the projects I’m working on came by. He was as he always is — jovial. He asked me a work question and I answered him quietly and without additional comment.

“What? Are you depressed about the game?” he asked. When I admitted that I was, he replied, “C’mon! We have a great team. If you’d have asked me in July if we’d make it to the playoffs, I’d have said no way. I’m just happy that they got there this year. And, look, they beat New York. That’s all that matters.”

I let his words sink in. He was right. The taste of victory against the Yankees was ever-so delightfully sweet. When it happened, I remember thinking that even if we didn’t make it all the way to the World Series (even though I desperately hoped we would), the season was worth seeing the Yanks get smacked around by us, especially after our pathetic record against them in the regular season.

I decided to suck it up in true Clevelander fashion and chant our Clevelander matra, “Maybe next year.”

Just one year, though, I’d like a professional Cleveland sports team — especially a sports team I care about (ie, BASEBALL) — win a championship. I am tired of being the butt of all regional jokes in the US. When I lived in Colorado and told people where I was from, not a second delay ever went by before I heard one or all of the following phrases:

– Mistake by/on the Lake!
– Cleveland, where the river burned!
– Oh, Cleveland. *make rude face*
– Cleveland Indians? Didn’t they make a movie with them?

– Drew Carey, right?
– Cleveland Rocks, Dude! *sarcastically said* (Okay, that’s the least insulting of all the snide Cleveland remarks.)

Might I remind everyone that the “burning river” and “mistake by the lake” occurred in 1969 — long before I was even born. I’m sure we no longer have enough industry in Cleveland (thanks to all the plant shut downs and our “booming” economy) to pollute the river enough to burn now. But what ticks me off the most about this comment is that I could stand on a ridge near my house that overlooked downtown Denver and I could see a cloud of smog surrounding the city, trapped by the mountains. You accuse my hometown of being polluted; your city ain’t looking all that pristine itself! He who lives in glass houses… well, you know the rest.

Now, it is true that I spent most of my college years swearing up and down that I was going to get the hell out of Ohio when I graduated. I used to want to live in Arizona (because it looks like Mars). But when Mike took me out to Denver for the first time to meet his dad and step-mom, I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains. And ever since then, it’s been an unrequited and impossible love affair.

I have plenty of complaints about Cleveland. Although, when you boil them all down, it pretty much comes down to two things: the prevailing red-winds of the political climate and the climate itself. I can deal with red states and red attitudes (Colorado was a red state in the last election). I can’t stand the lack of sun — that cloud that smothers the Cleveland sky from November until May. It’s oppressive and pulls me into the undertow of lethargic depression (they call that seasonal affective disorder, but I think everyone in Cleveland has it).

The general lack of healthiness with Clevelanders is a little frustrating. The health food section in Colorado was half a store (it also wasn’t hard to find entire health food stores) whereas in Cleveland, it’s one shelf, if that, unless you’re on the east side of town. Exercise is not as fervent a past-time to Clevelanders. For example, a Coloradoan will brave snow and cold to take a hike up some trail in the middle of January; Ohioans, and particularly Clevelanders, just go outside to get to the car where they drive to another warm building and stay there until they are forced to brave the weather again and leave.

I kind of liked the intrepid nature of Coloradoans. But then, they have sun even when it’s cold. I never saw clouds settle on the sky for longer than a week, if that. It’s funny the things you’ll do in the cold if the sun is shining. Even if the temperature is a chill 20 degrees, you’ll still go out if it looks warm out.

Still, I lived in my Promised Land. And I came home.

Cleveland is home to me, no matter what I think of it. I’m allowed to criticize, though. I was born here. When people from elsewhere comment about my home, I have found myself reacting strangely defensive. I never knew I cared so much.

“Hey,” I would say, somewhat angrily, “Cleveland is not a bad place!”

People always scoffed about it as though it were a third world country, some foreign land where the people were less intelligent and savage. Need I remind my fellow Americans that Cleveland has a nationally renown research hospital — The Cleveland Clinc — to which people from other states send their most hopeless cases. We also have several upstanding universities — Case Western Reserve, John Carroll, Ohio State, just to name a few. We have liberal arts colleges everywhere (Hiram, Oberlin, Baldwin-Wallace, Miami U). A friend from out-of-state who attended Dennison in Ohio once remarked, “Ohio sure has a lot little liberal arts colleges.”
We have a great performing arts facility, as my friend, Colleen, who moved to Colorado herself, has commented to me more than once in the last few days. We get a lot of off-Broadway shows. While living in Denver, I remember thinking that the performing arts selection left a little to be desired. It was all right, but the program was still quite infant.

Of course, someone from New York City would tell me that Cleveland’s performing arts programs were pathetic. I guess it’s all perspective.

Clevelanders are in the habit of complaining. As I’ve stated in other posts, all summer you hear, “It’s too hot!”; all winter, “It’s too cold!” It’s a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction.

We’re good at self-recrimination too. The whole, “Oh… Cleveland sports teams never get anywhere” remark that overtakes us as another one of our teams teases us almost to climax, and then stops short of completion.

But we have passion and heart, as my friend, Diane, pointed out to me in an e-mail on Monday. We are devoted to our sports teams and we really care. When our team is up, Cleveland is up in ways I can’t even describe to an outsider. The city awakens when one of our teams is in a winning streak. It’s a beautiful thing.

While waiting at a bus stop for the ALDS game we went to, people in passing cars honked their horns for us. We were all dressed in Indians regalia; I had my foam finger, and Jeff, Diane’s husband, had his face painted.

As you walk around the city, everyone is ever-eager to talk about the Indians. People who wouldn’t normally even be in the same social circle will exchange conversation about the game. The city seems to breathe with excitement. For that one moment in time, our political affiliations, our agendas, and our social constraints don’t bar us from seeing one another. For that moment in time, all Clevelanders recognize the one thing we all share: the love of and pride for our sports teams.

It may sound hokey and superficial to the outside world. It may sound like the typical American experience that causes half the world to become disgusted with us (though, I beg to differ as the World Cup causes a lot of ruckus with its fans). But this is how it is. I’m not sure big money teams such as Boston or the Yankees really know the kind of love we have for our teams. It’s easy to be a Yankees fan and, this year, a Boston fan. It’s always easy to back a winner. Especially a winner with a lot of money.

Anyway, I’m just writing to stick up for my town and its downtrodden folk. We walk around feeling a little self-conscious about where we are from. I’ve felt it when in Denver I would reluctantly tell people where I was from. My pathetic, apologetic response always carried the subtext “Forgive me, I’m from Cleveland.”

It shouldn’t be that way. Cleveland is a good place to live. I have good, loyal, and trustworthy friends here (part of the reason I chose to come back). June through October here is absolutely beautiful. Housing prices are fair. I can still find some nasty and challenging hills to climb (though none of them quite as long as those I enjoyed in Colorado).

It’s not so bad. We’ll be okay. The Indians will come back again next year. For better or for worse, I have sworn my loyalty to Cleveland. Like an unfaithful spouse, I left looking for better only to realize what I had was good. Cleveland took me back with open arms, apology accepted. Cleveland forgives (even most of my friends have stopped joking with me about being a traitor).

Clevelanders have heart. I’m proud to be a Clevelander, born of Clevelanders. So make fun of us all you like, but remember that you can always call a Clevelander at 2am when you need someone to drive your drunken butt home from a bar because we’re as loyal to our friends as we are to our sports teams.

I found this great blog that says it all — God Hates Cleveland Sports — about the toils and frustrations of being a Cleveland sports fan. (I did say that if the Indians won the World Series, it would be unequivocal proof to me that there is a god. But maybe them NOT even making it to the World Series is more convincing proof.)

2 thoughts on “Don’t rip on Cleveland or Clevelanders!

  1. Whew! That’s gonna be cold!! But… I’m even in for a six pack near year… As a Clevelander, I enjoy punishing myself!

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