Thursday, December 2, 2010

What it means to be a Clevelander...

"Believeland."  That's what Wright Thompson is calling us in his ESPN story - BELIEVELAND: A proud city forgets "The Player Who Left" and remembers what it used to be.

I saw a link to this story from like 30 of my FB friends (all in a row on my news feed this afternoon), and my first impression was it was going to be another one of those articles that makes Cleveland and Clevelanders out to be whiny, jersey-burning, lunatics.  However, I got hooked.

This is probably one of the greatest sports-related articles I've ever read, and Thompson truly did his research.  Yes, it was about LeBron.  But it was also about this city and those of us who call the North Coast home.  Thompson traveled throughout the city and suburbs of Cleveland, talking with natives about our city, its history, and our never-ending devotion to our teams.    It's nostalgia.  It's our past, our present.  But most importantly, it's our future.

No matter what happens when "he who must not be named" returns tonight, we must remember that he does not stand for Cleveland, and we will stand long after he is gone.

CLEVELAND -- There is a burly, angry man with a Chief Wahoo tattoo on the inside of his left forearm, and he knows I work for ESPN. That makes me the devil. We are standing inside the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room not long after their first game without LeBron James. The guy's name is Scott Raab, and besides being a native Clevelander, he's also one of America's best writers. His current project? A book that is part recount of James' breakup with the town and part meditation on the misery that comes with loving this place and its teams. Except he doesn't call him James. He calls him The Whore of Akron. You obviously see what's coming next.

He accosts me for my company's role in "The Decision" -- I actually understand his anger, though I won't say that to his face -- and I tell him what he can do to himself. He likes this answer, which is as Cleveland as his rage at the four letters on my press pass. Raab motions me over to the side of the locker room and digs around in his backpack until he finds it, safe in a plastic bag: a ticket stub. It's from the 1964 NFL Championship Game -- the last title the city won. He passes it to me carefully. Section 7, Row Z, Seat 19. Carrying this stub doesn't make him strange. It makes him a Cleveland sports fan.

Later that night, we head to a downtown bar. There, he begins telling a story. It was the day of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. The Cleveland Indians were favored to finally end the Curse of Rocky Colavito, to bring a title back to northeast Ohio. Raab's friend wanted to make sure all the forces of the universe were aligned with them, so he formulated a plan. A crazy, unhinged plan. Only in Cleveland could one demented citizen come up with something so desperate and strange. He'd visit the grave of Ray Chapman -- the only major league player ever killed by a pitched ball and, naturally, a Cleveland Indian -- and on the tombstone, he'd place a coin.

This is where Raab begins sobbing, wiping his eyes with a red bandanna, embarrassed, trying to get himself under control so he can finish the story. He changes the subject, composes himself and, 15 or so minutes later, continues.

When his friend got to Chapman's grave, he found it covered in coins.

That is Cleveland.

Then the Indians lost in the bottom of the 11th.

That is Cleveland, too.

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