Category Archives: Indians

The Draft, Love, Jinxes, and Cleveland’s Curse of Hope

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of men.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

A lot can happen in 50 years. 

I could go on and make a long list of amazing accomplishments or advancements in society like the rotary phone morphing into the iPhone and the price of gas and all of that stuff you see all the time. But there has been one thing that has certainly not happened in the last 50 years…

Cleveland has not won.

I cannot lay claim to having suffered as much as most Cleveland fans. My fandom extends only back as far as 1995 when my family moved from Connecticut to the suburbs on the east side of Cleveland. But my indoctrination into Cleveland’s sports futility did not take long to manifest. Within one month of my family taking up residence in the state of Ohio the Indians lost the World Series and the Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore. It was a weird thing for a ten-year-old kid who loved sports to get dropped into.

I don’t remember a specific instance, but someone back then probably (or at least should have) warned me about getting involved in this whole “being a Cleveland sports fan” thing. Because being a Cleveland fan is not for the weak of heart.

It’s a crazy thing sports. All we have as fans in the end is hope. Only one team can win any given sport championship each year. Odds are that it won’t be our team this year. But we can always hope that maybe “next year” will be the year. But for the Cleveland fan that hope is eternally unfounded. 

Hope must be built and founded upon something of substance. To do otherwise is just plain stupidity. And that’s what is most maddening about being a Cleveland sports fan…we tend to put our hope on something of substance only for it crumble into utter demise.

That feeling of hope is probably never more real and prescient than at the NFL Draft…which just so happens to start today.

Drafts are glorious things. We spend months upon months pouring over mock drafts, scouting reports, YouTube highlights, and every other bit of information we can get our hands on to inform ourselves about who our team should or should not take. And while there are certainly exceptions to the rule and it’s obviously important for every team to do their due dilligence, drafts often wind up being wild crap-shoots. First round picks flop and third-day selections become cogs of Super Bowl winning teams with regularity.

And yet that won’t stop us from plopping down on our couches and losing our minds over this stuff for the next three days. Because that’s what hope does to us when it’s all we have. We cling to it like a drowning man on a life preserver. 

And it certainly never hurts to inject this steaming bowl of hope with some added spices like “the Browns are going to package their two first round picks and trade up for the next savior quarterback.” Nothing gins up more hope than a quarterback, especially since we haven’t had one in decades.

Marcus Mariota might be a great NFL quarterback. He also might not. And while it would certainly be exciting to get a guy of his stature and accomplishments, we’re only a year removed from losing our minds over drafting Johnny Manziel. Which was only a year after everyone went nuts over hometown heart-throb Brian Hoyer. Which was only a year removed from drafting Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the first round. Which was only a year after we thought Colt McCoy was the answer after he looked great in preseason. You see how this goes? Do you see what hope does to us? We’re looking at a solid five straight years of believing the “new” guy is going to be “the” guy. But that’s hope for you. It’s delusional.

Granted, the people who are delusional enough to think that trading two first round picks (and maybe more) for a QB who clearly needs time to develop and dropping him onto a team that will probably start him on day one but is starved for talent and could really stand to benefit from using those two first rounders on several other spots of need are no more delusional than I am for thinking that Johnny Football can still be a star in the NFL and lead the Browns to a Super Bowl. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

Misplaced hope can also be spurred on by other things than media-driven hype. It can also come from a major sports magazine placing outsized expectations of winning the World Series on the local baseball team. Which, now that I think about it, is really just another form of media-driven hype.

We are exactly one month removed from Sports Illustrated declaring that the Indians would win the Fall Classic this season…a declaration that, at least to me, was utterly shocking considering that the team didn’t even make the postseason last year, only made the Wild Card game the year before, and hasn’t really added much besides another year’s experience. And yet, all it took was that cover of a jovial Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley to suck me and get me excited about the Tribe again! It gave me hope.

And as I sit here today the Indians sit in last place in the division with only the second fewest wins in all of baseball. It’s still early, is what everyone likes to say and it’s a long season, yada yada yada. Well even though it’s “still early” it won’t be very long before it’s not early anymore and it certainly doesn’t help things to already be back seven games in division this “early” in the season. It also doesn’t help when you don’t have a single qualified hitter with an average above .300 and only have one guy with an on base percentage above that number. And while the pitching hasn’t been terrible, it hasn’t exactly been lights out either.

The reality is that we never should have gotten our hopes up in the first place. This was a team that hadn’t accomplished anything of real value yet. Maybe we should have waited to see them win a postseason game first before planning a parade. But that’s what hope does to you, especially when you’re starved. It doesn’t matter if it seems too good to be true. I might as well dive in head first because if it is true then it’s gonna be awesome and don’t bother me with the details about what might happen if it’s not.

Of course, when it comes to placing hope in something Sports Illustrated has espoused only to have it bashed you can always blame “the Jinx” (or jixes).

But when it comes to placing your hope in a juggernaut of a basketball team that has been rolling everything in their way since the middle of January only to have one of their stars get his arm ripped off…who do we blame then?

This year’s Cavaliers team is almost certainly the solidest foundation that hope has been built on in this town in a long time. While they didn’t win as many games in the regular season as they did back in 2009 and 2010, this team was certainly built to do bigger and better things in the Playoffs. Cleveland fans had every reason in the world to believe that this team would win a championship. It wasn’t delusional at all.

And then that long haired dope on Boston had to “accidently” get his arm “tangled up” with Kevin Love while going for a lose ball and now the Cavs are without an integral cog of thier offensive attack and maybe more importantly their rotation for the rest of this postseason. And that’s the problem as always I think for Cleveland sports fans. We hope without ever considering that something could go wrong. (It’s not like it’s ever gone wrong before, right?)

The saying is “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” But we never seem to do that, though, do we?

And that goes back to the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of this piece. Hope, in reality, is just a dream. It isn’t a reality at all. And maybe that does make hope “the greatest evil of all” because it only furthers and deepens our pain when hope proves unfounded. Maybe we should accept that nothing good is ever going to work out for Cleveland sports. Maybe, as Bill Simmons likes to joke, God really does hate Cleveland. Maybe we should give up hope altogether.

This brings me back to Johnny Manziel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I don’t think there’s a player in Cleveland sports outside of LeBron James who has stirred more hope in me than Johnny Manziel. I watched almost every game of Manziel’s college career. The kid was electric on the field, and passionate on the sidelines. He played with a flare and enthusiasm that I hadn’t ever seen in a football player, particularly a QB. He was magic. He was the antithesis of everything that I had seen from the Browns since they came back in 1999. I wanted that fire on the Browns more than anything.

And then it happened. It was like a wonderful dream. I’ll never forget the buzz of that night from the disappointment of trading down and then taking a defensive back, only to trading back up to grab the Texas A&M quarterback. It was amazing and exhilerating. And in a world where LeBron was still in Miami and the Cavs were still in the lottery this was better than anything I could imagine.

Then it all cratered. And as seemingly everyone was jumping off the bandwagon in droves I was hanging in there…still hoping…still believing.

I refuse to give up on the belief that the amazing things that Johnny Football did in the vaunted SEC can be done in the NFL. I refuse to accept that a game and a half is enough to know what we have in a player. I refuse to accept that a 22-year-old kid can’t grow up. I refuse to accept that I got my hopes up for nothing.

And you know why? Because I don’t know if I can handle putting my hope in another college phenom quarterback to be the great savior of the Cleveland Browns. I don’t know if I can handle another dream being crushed. I don’t know if I can kling to another visage of hope. Because no matter how much I enoyed watching Marcus Mariota in college and no matter how much intellectually I understant what makes him a viable QB, he’ll never give me the hope that Manziel did.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
― Langston Hughes

Until the day that Johnny Manziel is either cut from the Browns or he raises the Lombardi Trophy wearing “CLEVELAND” in big, bold, gaudy lettering accross his chest, I will continue to hold onto this dream. I will continue to hope.

I choose to believe that Johnny Football can reclaim that magic in Cleveland.

I choose to believe that despite losing Kevin Love, having LeBron and Kyrie is still good enough to win a title.

I choose to believe that it is still early in the season for the Tribe…for just a little while longer.

I choose to believe that Cleveland will win a championship, and that that day isn’t far away.

You can mock me all you want. Call me delusional. Call me a dreamer.

It’s not gonna bother me at all. Without hopes and dreams we’ll never fly.

We don’t call it Believeland for nothing.

Top 13 “Happenings” in Cleveland Sports in 2013

So 2013 wasn’t the year. We could sit here and bemoan the fact that we’re flipping the calendar again without a Cleveland sports championship, but what fun is that? Instead, we thought it would be fun to look back at all the good times we had this past year. These aren’t necessarily “moments” per se…more like “happenings” I guess. They stem the tide from individual moments, to developing stories, to things that blew up Twitter. I hope you enjoy it more than this championship-less year. Without any more blabbing on, here are the top 13 “happenings” in Cleveland sports for 2013…

Shout-out to the following events that didn’t make the list:

Jimmy Haslam Pilot-Flying J FBI scandal–Too dark and too fluid a situation to be included in such a happy column. Also I didn’t want to write about it. And it’s my own column…so you can’t make me.
Tribe bench mob–The four principle characters (Ryan Rayburn, Mike Aviles, Jan Gomes, and Jason Giambi) had such a profound impact on the Indians season that it’s tough to exclude them from this list. The Indians wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near the success they did without a huge hand from this group that by season’s end weren’t even really bench guys.

13. Re-Hiring of Mike Brown

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It hasn’t been all champagne and roses in the second stint from Mike Brown as the head coach of the Cavaliers. He’s had to deal with locker room confrontations, constant trade rumors, lazy players, rebellious players, players playing out of position, bad players, good players playing like bad players, and much much more. (We’ll get to some of these more in a minute.)

More than anything it’s just wild that we’re to a place where Brown is back coaching the team. When he was fired three years ago I didn’t think there was any chance we’d ever see him again on the Cavs bench. I mean, that stuff never happens, right? But this is Cleveland, where “that stuff never happens, right?” doesn’t exist. If you’re upset that Mike’s utterly atrocious approach to offense is back in Cleveland then the person you should probably blame most is Byron Scott, who did such a poor job of bringing along a young team and teaching them simple defensive concepts that he just had to get canned. In hindsight it might not have been all Scott’s fault. This collection of players might just be kinda dumb and generally bad at defense as even the guru himself, Coach Brown, hasn’t gotten consistently good work out of the guys on that end.

We still need to see a lot more of this season to know exactly how it’s going to play out and whether bringing back Brown was a good idea. I’m still going to rest and hope on the premise that Brown has never coached a team that by season’s end you could call “bad”. When allowed to finish a full season he has always had a winning record. That trend will be put to the greatest test this season because he doesn’t have LeBron or Kobe on this team.

12. Cavaliers Locker Room “Confrontation”

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Rumors about what happened in the Cavaliers players-only meeting spread like wildfire that weekend in mid-November. It all started when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote that things got “contentious” during a Cavs players-only meeting following a blow-out in Minnesota. News started spiraling on the Twitterverse that had Dion Waiters punching Kyrie Irving in the face breaking his nose which was why Kyrie was wearing a mask the next game. People were saying that Dion wanted out of the team and had gone AWOL all weekend. This then led to loads of trade scenarios and people speculating that Dion may never suite up for the Cavs again and that the better question would be if the Cavs would be able to deal him or if they would end up cutting him.

After seemingly like the whole season was going down in a flaming ball of fire that weekend things settled down pretty quickly after that. Dion came back to the team and denied that there was an altercation and said that he was just really, really sick. The Cavs as a team started playing better eventually and both Kyrie and Dion are keys to the team’s success this season. We may never know exactly what happened in that meeting but it certainly caused quite a stir there for a few days.

11. Andrew Bynum Sweepstakes

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I’m not sure if you can really call it a “sweepstakes” because the Cavs may have been the only team seriously interested, but the signing of Andrew Bynum was an interesting and fun story to follow this summer. The rumbles about signing the banged-up big man began early on in the summer and were fairly dormant for a while. There were obviously pretty huge concerns about the former All-Star center after he missed the entire 2012-13 season with various knee issues. It didn’t help that there had been reports out of Philadelphia that Bynum didn’t work hard on his rehab and that he wasn’t interested in being part of the team. Safe to say that the Philly media painted such a bad picture of Bynum that he’s universally hated in City of Brotherly Love maybe more than any other athlete.

This happening though for me was more about almost like the crescendo that happened on Twitter when it was reported that he was signing. We all remember #BynumWatch! There had been talks, then murmurs, then reports about being near a deal, then it was really happening, then it officially happened. It was thrilling and exciting and probably way more so than it should have been considering that we weren’t exactly sure whether or not he would ever be able to play again. What was best about the deal though is the way that Chris Grant constructed it in such a way that the team held all the cards. Bynum would be getting paid as long as he performed, thus minimizing the potential risk involved for the club.

Writer’s note: I wrote the following paragraph prior to this past weekend’s events:

The jury’s still out about whether or not this was actually a meaningful move. Bynum has looked great at times and certainly has made his presence felt defending the rim. But I’m still not sure if running the offense through the post is necessarily a good thing for this team, especially in Bynum’s current state. Sometimes it feels like they’re forcing things by trying to get Bynum the ball and that he clogs things up a little on offense. I always enjoy watching the offense better when Anderson Varejao is in at center in place of Bynum. We’ll see as the season goes how this shakes out and what the Cavs decide about what kind of team they want to be.

The fact that this all changed so quickly is just so Cleveland. I’m sorry, I have to say it but it’s true. The great thing about it though is at least from the opinions I’ve seen, no one really seems too shaken up about losing Bynum. Maybe it’s because we weren’t sure coming in exactly what we would get out of him or maybe it’s because, like me, most people didn’t love watching the offense go through him in the post. Even if he never plays another minute for the Cavs and they have to cut him I still maintain that it was a worthy risk for the Cavs. There wasn’t a whole lot else they were going to do with that cap space anyways. The potential upside of adding even the shell of Bynum’s former All-Star self at a manageable cost for the team was a healthy risk. And who knows, maybe they’ll be able to work a deal for him like the one that Brian Windhorst reported this morning about a potential swap for Pau Gasol. Regardless of what 2014 holds for Bynum and the Cavs, it was still a fun ride even if it was short lived.

10. Chris Perez Weed Arrest

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This was so great. Beyond the fact that if you had to pick out a guy on the Indians team to get arrested for possession of marijuana you’d need only one guess to get the right answer, the details of the incident are downright hilarious. First of all, Chris Perez allegedly had a package of weed mailed to his house. Now I didn’t grow up on the streets and I’ve never smoked weed and I didn’t have many friends who did either. So I’m not super versed on how you go about getting weed and such. But even I thought it would probably not be a good idea to get illegal substances—especially ones with a distinct aroma—mailed to my own home. But the best part of the story BY FAR is that the package was addressed to one Brody Braum. Who is Brody Braum, you ask? It’s no one. Brody is the name of the family dog and Braum is Perez’s wife’s maiden name.

Simply brilliant.

9. Terry Francona Wins Manager of the Year

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With the way coaching has gone recently in this town it’s almost unconscionable that a guy as professional and skilled at this job of leading of a team is actually employed in this town. I can’t say enough, and will probably in the end say too little, about what a great job Terry Francona has done of managing the Cleveland Indians. I will probably always have issues with some of his in-game decisions and the way that he uses his bullpen sometimes, but that doesn’t detract from the real greatness that Francona brings to a ball club.

It’s great that the name of his position is “Manager” because that’s exactly what describes Tito best. He did a masterful job of managing the Indians in 2013. Maybe he looked even better because his predecessor was so terrible at it, but in a season where many teams would have and could have simply folded midway when times got tough, Tito got this team to ride out the tough times and come out on the other end even stronger. It is so impressive that he maximized the talent on this team and got them into the playoffs, especially when you consider how many “better on paper” teams missed out. Sure, it would have been nice if the season had lasted a little loner than the one-game playoff. But I didn’t even know if we’d make it that far honestly. And the credit for that goes in large part to Francona, whose Manager of the Year award was well-deserved. And at a time when everything on the other side of town with the Browns seems like such a mess, it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air to know that spring is around the corner and a competently led team is on its way again.

8. The Brian Hoyer Hype Job

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Ah yes, Mr. Adequately Mediocre himself.

If you’ve read me throughout the season you’ll know already that I’m not junior high girlishly in love with Brian Hoyer as many Browns fans are. I wasn’t blown away with his play in the two games. I thought he was fine. Good, not great. “Adequately mediocre” is the term I came up with to describe his play.

Look, everyone went nuts because he led a game-winning drive to get the victory in the Minnesota game. That’s wonderful, except that it got forgotten that it was Hoyer who turned the ball over three times which put the Browns in the situation where they needed a game-winning drive. Then in the Cincinnati win he didn’t really do much of anything because he didn’t have to as the defense dominated the game. Hoyer managed the game well and didn’t turn the ball over. Considering that the Bengals only put up six points he didn’t have to do much at all.

And then that was it for the local kid because he forgot how to slide and ended his season. And never mind that he did absolutely nothing in the Bills game but people are still crediting him with that win…championing him as going 3-0 as a starter. It’s possible that Hoyer, if given the chance, could wind up being something in the league. But there’s a reason he’s a career journeyman who was on four different teams in like a 13 month span. There’s also a reason he was No. 3 on the depth chart coming out of preseason, behind Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. If he was so good then why didn’t he look like it in camp and preseason? No one was clamoring for him to be the starter. But then after he came in and won a couple games that all of a sudden meant that the Browns coaches were idiots for having started Weeden over Hoyer in the first place. I kind of just got sick of the whole love-fest because I didn’t see a difference-maker. I saw just a guy who can win you a couple games if his defense plays dominant football—which they did in those two games by the way.

You can call me a hater, that’s fine. I don’t care. If he comes back next season and wins the starting job over whoever the team drafts and takes the Browns to the playoffs then I’ll gladly eat my bowl of crow. But that’s not going to happen. Hoyer was nothing more than a comet. He comes in for a little bit and it’s neat and cool to look at. Then he’s gone and you’re left wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

7. Cavaliers Win the Draft Lottery

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I almost hesitate to include this because the thought of going back to the lottery makes me sick to my stomach. But winning it for the second time in three years was undeniably fun in the moment (even if the prize wasn’t much in reality). The fact that the Cavs with Dan Gilbert rolled into that stuffy room of no-clapping and no-emotion allowed with an entourage of fans, local media personalities, and rap stars was just awesome. And having David Stern there with his snide disproving face on the whole time made it even more wonderful.

The moment of winning was one of unbridled brilliance that you couldn’t manufacture if you even tried as the card was flipped and Tony Rizzo went absolutely nuts shouting praise for Dan’s son as if he had actually done something to win the top pick. Again, what made it so great was that the whole reaction flew in the face of the the charade that the NBA wants that event to be. And while, yes, being at the lottery isn’t necessarily something that you should celebrate because it means you’re a loser, you might as well own it and have some fun while you’re there. I mean, what isn’t fun about winning the lottery after all?

6. The Shock of Drafting Anthony Bennett

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Any time a selection can elicit this kind of a reaction, you know it was a shocking move…

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This site was launched just before the Cavs won the lottery, so draft coverage dominated the early content of The GOAT. I spent a ton of time breaking down all the top prospects and weighing their respective places on the Cavs should they be the selection. I broke down the great debate between Nerlens Noel and Alex Len. We had seemingly covered every angle.

And then Chris Grant laughed as he pooped on all of our draft predictions. To say that almost no one had Anthony Bennett getting selected No. 1 overall would be an understatement. I was blown away and it cast me into such a fog for the whole night that I can hardly remember anything else that happened in that draft. I had broken down every one of the top players in depth except for Anthony Bennett. I just didn’t see how he fit on the Cavs.

Looks like I might have been right.

I understand why Grant decided on Bennett. If the criteria was “we’re going to take the most talented player and worry about fit later” then I understand how in a draft devoid of top-level talent that Bennett would qualify as “most talented”. Maybe the fit is just terrible and that’s why he’s looked so bad. Maybe he’s just out of shape. Or maybe he really is a tweener without a real position in the NBA. Whatever the reason it’s been about as rough a start for a No. 1 pick as there’s probably ever been for a top pick in any league ever. Bennett has shown some flashes of late that he might be starting to figure some things out so at least there’s hope. And if all else fails, and you really need some cheering up about the Cavs top pick, just go to YouTube and watch some his college highlights…

He really is a pretty talented player. Hopefully all he needs is for the calender to flip.

Speaking of flipping…

5.  The Weeden Flip

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It’s a moment that is forever etched in time, a statue that will commemorate everything that needs to be known about the Brandon Weeden era in Cleveland. There are quite a few things to like about Brandon Weeden as a quarterback. He led one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football before he made the jump to the NFL. He already knew about being a professional athlete having failed at played professional baseball before going to Oklahoma State to take up football. He’s always looking to make a big play and not settle for the check-down like previous disappointments Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy. But Weeden’s greatest attribute is undoubtedly that he has an absolute cannon for an arm.

When he chooses to use it that is. You see, Weeden’s greatest weakness is that he seemingly doesn’t know how to read a defense which causes him to hold onto the ball too long, which forces him to scramble, which isn’t something he’s capable of doing, which leads to him doing things like under-hand flipping the ball ten yards forward and about 15 yards laterally in an effort to, as he calls it, “make a play”.

The Weeden Flip has been deemed the dumbest play in the history of football by some. I don’t know if I’d go that far necessarily but it’s certainly in the running for Top 10. I still maintain that even good QBs make really dumb throws from time to time (like this one from the great Andrew Luck).

But the best thing might be that Weeden went on to make underhand flips throws like two or three more times during the season. It was almost as if he was just trolling Cleveland fans at that point. I really wanted to make this the top moment of the year, but I chickened out and went with some more “happy” things instead.

4. The Rise of Kyrie Irving and Taking over All-Star Weekend

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So this one probably actually started before the calendar flipped to 2013 but I don’t care, I’m running it anyways. Kyrie Irving’s stardom really took off last season as the nation began to finally to take notice of what a great player he truly is. The late game heroics, the dazzling dribbling, the clutch shots…people who follow the NBA began to really take notice of the unique skills that this kid possesses. Among the contingent of those who own NBA League Pass subscriptions the Cavaliers, despite their lousy record, became appointment viewing during the fourth quarter because it seemed like every night Kyrie was doing something that was so awesome that you just had to witness it live. As a means of reminiscing, allow yourself to enjoy some GIF’s of the dazzling Kyrie Irving…

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An integral element in the rise of young Kyrie was his presence at All-Star Weekend. With all the great players gathered together and so many things to talk about, only one player had everyone buzzing…Kyrie.

He started off in the Rising Stars Challenge putting on a display that was capstoned by this ankle-breaking move on Brandon Knight…

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He followed that up on Saturday night by “getting buckets” and winning the 3-Point competition.

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And then came the grand finale: The All-Star Game. Despite only being in his second season and not even voted in as a starter, it was undeniable that Kyrie belonged on that court with all those great players. He wasn’t the best player in the game or even the best point guard. But he found ways to shine nevertheless.

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By the end of the weekend there was no denying who had “won the weekend”…it was only Kyrie Irving. The nation as a whole was getting their first long extended look at the young star and they liked what they saw.

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He still has some growing to do as a player and especially as a leader. But just about every night when the Cavs take the floor, with very few exceptions, the team from Cleveland has the best player in the house.

And everyone knows it now.

3. Jason Giambi Walk-Off Homer to Save the Season

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This moment to me meant so much more than actually going to the playoffs, because it was the moment when that dream actually started to turn into a reality.

It was everything that lead up to the moment that made it as great as it was. It was September 24 and the Indians were clinging to a one-game lead in the Wild Card race over the Rangers who were playing the hapless Astros at the time. So the Indians needed to win to keep their hold on the race.  With a 3-2 lead in the ninth over the White Sox, Chris Perez in all his all fat, sloppy, unkempt glory came out and promptly gave up two home runs and the lead. This had been just the latest in a string of terrible appearances for the troubled closer and his untimely collapse led to fans going absolutely nuts on Twitter. It was so depressing. It felt like the season was slipping through our hands like they’d been greased by Perez’s hair.

Then Jason Giambi happened.

There was just something special about the oldest man of the team, someone who by all normal statistical evaluations was having a terrible year, coming through in the biggest moment. Giambi was mostly bad this past season with the amazing exception that he did have two walk-off homers. This one late in the season meant more than anything else and gave him a place on this team and in the hearts of Tribe fans that won’t soon be forgotten.

It was the home run that brought so much hope to a city that had endured nothing but sports misery for several years now. It meant that the dream of the playoffs would likely become a reality. If there’s ever been a  “Believeland moment”, this was certainly one of the best.

2a. Rob Chudzinski’s Firing after only One Season

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I had to add this one in here at the last moment. I don’t want to spend too much time on it because it’s still so fresh and I just ranted about it wrote about it yesterday.

My buddy Slim, a Raiders fan, asked me on Sunday afternoon what was up with the Chud rumors and noted that canning him after only one season was “Raider like behavior”…ouch. As crazy, terrible, and dysfunctional as the Browns have been since 1999, firing the coach after only one season was a new one.

Whether you fall on the side of being in favor of the move or not, what is undeniable is that the brunt of the blame for this latest failure of a season has to fall on the front office and Joe Banner in particular. You can’t come in claiming to be smarter than everyone that’s come before you, promise that things will be different and better, promise that “the same old Browns” are gone, hire a new head coach that no one else interviewed, fire him after just one season, and not expect to get lambasted for it. The fact is that if not for No. 2b on this list the 2013 Browns season was a complete waste of everyone’s time, money and energy. They came in without a real answer at the most important position in sports, had a lack of depth because they were saving cap space, and traded assets that would have improved the team now for future help. Every move they made pointed to gearing up for 2014. So how can you possibly be shocked that the players tailed off late in the season? And how do you expect to attract a good coach when you’ve established that you’ll get canned if you end the season a bad stretch?

Look, I realize that the firing is completely warranted given that the team lost ten of its last 11 games. You don’t get a pass even if you’re a first-year coach. But once it became clear that the team had no intention of developing Weeden the season was a wash for me. After that I was completely focused on the 2014 Draft and the hopes of getting a franchise quarterback. So the collapse of the season didn’t bother me one bit. Evidently Banner and Haslam have higher standards.

I didn’t love Chud but I didn’t really have any issues with him either. I didn’t see incompetence like I saw under Pat Shurmur. I’ll I saw was a guy coaching a team that didn’t have a real quarterback and after Weed 2 made a move that clearly said “we’re focused on next year already”. I don’t blame the guy for only winning four games is all I’m saying.

With the number of other, probably more appealing, head coach openings around the NFL, I sure hope that Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam know what they’re doing. I’m just going to leave the following tweet here without any further comment…

The reason I decided to keep the Chud firing out of the top spot is because we see coach firings in Cleveland all the time. These final two happenings, however, were/are especially unique.

2b. Josh Gordon Blowing Up the NFL

Josh Gordon, Aqib Talib

 

The fact that the closest thing that the Cleveland Browns have had to “star” player since their rebirth in ’99 is a left tackle and a kick returner really encapsulates the depths that this franchise has sunk to.

But not any more!!!

The Browns finally have a player that fantasy owners can get excited about. And even more importantly they finally someone that Browns fans can get excited about…as long as he stays off the drugs of course. It’s insane in retrospect that some people were willing to trade Josh Gordon for like a third round draft pick as if he was just some dude. Granted, not even his biggest supporters could have seen a record-breaking stretch that would catapult Gordon to become the NFL’s leading receiver (despite missing two games no less).

I could go on and on about how amazing it is to watch Flash Gordon play football. But let’s be honest, it’s New Year’s Eve and you’d rather watch GIF’s of amazing plays than read my prose. So here you have it…

Gordon 110

Gordon 101

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Gordon 109

1. The Release of the Draft Day Trailer

Just kidding…

1. The Trent Richardson Trade

Richardson 004

I don’t even know where to start, so let’s just look at some of the Twitter reaction after the trade was made…

Colts owner Jim Irsay was a little excited about it…

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report was especially feisty about the trade…

And my favorite…

Going into the final week of the season Richardson is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in Indy compared to 3.4 YPC that he had the first two games before the trade, which brings him to a cool 3.0 for the season. How about those “wide open running lanes”, Matt?

The best part was that even when it was clear that Richardson is shaping out to be a bust, there were still people defending him…like Peter King…

I haven’t heard anyone defend Richardson in a while, so it seems like everyone has finally come to their senses.

I’m wrong about a lot of things…like Brandon Weeden for instance. But I feel so thoroughly vindicated by the poor play of Richardson. I wasn’t a fan of him when the Browns drafted him. I was consistently critical of his poor running when he was in Cleveland. And I loved the trade. And I was RIGHT!!! So that’s why the Trent Richardson trade is the No. 1 happening in Cleveland sports for 2013!!!

Ok, that’s not really why I picked it. But there wasn’t a more polarizing moment for the sports fans in this city than that trade. And the best part is that no matter what side of the debate you fell on when it happened, we can all celebrate it now. And that’s what we should be doing going into the New Year: focusing on the positives…like how we made out like bandits in that Richardson deal!!!

So thank you, Trent, for giving us something to be excited about.

Only 128 days till the NFL Draft!!! Get excited, Cleveland!!!

2014 is going to be our year.

Believeland.

NFL Week 15 Picks: Plus quick takes on the Indians, Cavs, and Browns

Sorry for the general lack of content on the site lately. I have one week left in my grad class so it’s squeaky bum time if ya know what I mean. After Christmas though we should be back to normal and have plenty of stuff going up. In the mean time I wanted to give some quick takes on the current state of Cleveland’s three pro teams:

Indians

There have been some people who are complaining about the lack of action so far for the Tribe. While other teams are throwing around contracts the Indians are just sitting back watching. This actually doesn’t bother me. They don’t have the financial resources to compete for big contracts with many other clubs. Plus, if you remember back a year ago at this point they hadn’t done much of anything either. But Chris Antonetti was able to lock up both Swisher and Bourn after the winter meetings and what seemed like a dumpster-diving pick-up in Kazmir turned out to be a bargain. That’s how the Indians have to operate. It won’t always work out as well as last year but they aren’t going to win by throwing around pricey contracts and overpaying just to so they can say that they got someone.

Cavaliers

As bad and pathetic as the start of the season was, there’s a lot to be encouraged about the Cavs play of late. The rotation seems like it’s finally settled into a good spot. Kyrie and Dion are both starting to play really well which is probably the biggest key to their success. Bynum is rounding into a very productive player on both ends. Since going to the bench and returning to his natural power forward position it no longer appears that Earl Clark is completely worthless and has actually been pretty good off the bench. And speaking of “completely worthless” Anthony Bennett has had a few moments where he doesn’t look completely lost…so that’s encouraging. It’ll be interesting to see how the season develops but it sure seems like there’s at least a semi-big trade in this team. A lot will depend on how things are shaking down the stretch for other teams around the league and where they stand leading up to the trade deadline if Chris Grant is able to package some of these assets for an impact player. I think they make the playoffs as currently constituted, but a trade will determine if they’re in that bottom half or if they’re able to move all the up to that third seed. Sounds crazy, but the East is W I D E  O P E N this year.

Browns

I continue to not really care whether they win games or not. I can’t get excited about the adequately mediocre play of Jason Campbell if I don’t believe that he’s a championship-level QB. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this point about the Browns but it really does seem like that’s the final big hurdle: getting the QB figured out.

Case in point, I was doing a little Pro Bowl voting and what I generally do is only vote for Browns players but I only vote for the guys that I think are actually deserving on the Browns (Willis McGahee is getting a vote). I came up with the following players that I think have a real chance of getting the call:

Josh Gordon
Jordan Cameron
Joe Thomas
Alex Mack
Ahtyba Rubin
Phil Taylor
D’Qwell Jackson
Joe Haden
TJ Ward
Chris Ogbonnaya (on the ballot as a FB)[1]

I don’t think everyone from this list will get in but you’d be hard pressed to say that most of them don’t deserve very real consideration. Last season a two-win Chiefs team had six players go to the Pro Bowl and you see how this season shook out when they got a competent QB in there. Why can’t the Browns get eight or nine Pro Bowlers then? We’ll see what happens, but the point is that there is a lot of really good talent already on the roster that is the core of a championship-level team. All you need now is a QB.

We didn’t suck picking games last week so let’s hope that run of “not bad” continues this week. Here we go…

(Home team in CAPS. Lines from SportsBook.com. Gamble at your own risk.)

Bears (-1) over BROWNS

Not sure if this my head or my heart picking to be honest. The Browns certainly have a shot to win this game now that Jay Cutler is back starting for Chicago. Not sure they have anyone that can close to slowing down Josh Gordon either. But again, I’ve sold my soul on this one…I won’t be rooting for the Browns to lose, but I wouldn’t mind it if they didn’t win.

FALCONS (-6) over Redskins

49ers (-6) over Buccaneers

Seahawks (-7) over GIANTS

COLTS (-5.5) over Texans

JAGUARS (+2.5) over Bills

Patriots (-1) over DOLPHINS

Eagles (-6.5) over VIKINGS

PANTHERS (-10.5) over Jets

RAIDERS (+6) over Chiefs

TITANS (+3) over Cardinals

Saints (-6.5) over RAMS

COWBOYS (-6.5) over Packers

Bengals (-2.5) over STEELERS

Ravens (+6) over LIONS

LAST WEEK: 8-7

SEASON: 88-99

BROWNS PICKS: 3-10


[1] Ogbonnaya isn’t a traditional full back obviously. But it’s crazy when you look at the ballot and he’s the only one that actually has stats. So few teams use a FB in the NFL these days and the teams that do never give them the ball. I think Obbie has a real shot here.

What I’m Thankful For with Cleveland Sports in 2013

When it comes to Cleveland sports there’s always so much negativity that can weigh us down and get us all depressed. Things like “Brandon Weeden is starting on Sunday” and “LeBron came home to crush us again last night” are painful realities that we’re all too familiar with. But this is the holiday season, and seeing that today is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take a couple minutes to share some positivity about what in Cleveland sports I’m thankful for…

First of all, I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend one of the holidays back at home in northeast Ohio. Most people from here have an irrational love for this area that’s hard to quantify. But I’ve found that when you’ve moved away and been gone for a while you really get a profound appreciation for this area and you never stop calling it “home”. It’ll always be the place that I’m trying to get back to. I love the drive up here and seeing the Cleveland skyline on the horizon as I come in on I-90 and pass The Q and the Pro. I’m thankful that I can call Cleveland my home.

I’m thankful for the fantastic community of Cleveland sports bloggers who do just incredible work every day bringing original content about the teams in this city. I don’t know about the bloggers in other cities, but I can’t imagine them being better than what we have here.

I’m thankful that Mike Brown is back coaching in town. Let’s be honest, he’s going to give us stuff to talk about every day as long as he’s here. I may absolutely hate whatever those things he calls “offensive sets” but he sure as heck gives the best post-game pressers.

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I’m thankful for reigning Manager of the Year, Terry Francona. I was skeptical when he was hired because I thought he might just be coming here to hang with his buddies and just be part of a ball club again. I was worried that the friendly relationship with his front office would manifest itself in a lack of accountability and general laziness. Boy am I thankful that I was wrong. You can’t undersell what a fantastic job Tito did of “managing” this team and always keeping the guys believing. The 2013 Cleveland Indians were far-and-away the most over-achieving team in Major League baseball. I’m going to cherish having Francona manage my favorite baseball team for as long as it lasts and hope that he can work some magic and maybe get us a World Championship out of it. I don’t know if he can; but if anybody can, Tito can.

I’m thankful that we don’t already have overt reasons to hate Rob Chudzinski, which sets him apart from basically all the other head coaches the Cleveland Browns have had leading up until now. He’s made some bad coaching moves in games for sure and we were all disappointed in the effort that the team gave in the last two games. But somehow Chud has managed to skirt on the blame for any of the problems so far. It’s probably because by now we all realize that he doesn’t have a QB, so what can you expect from the guy? Whatever the case, I’m just thankful that we aren’t talking about firing him after his first season.

I’m thankful for the endless entertainment that is Brandon Weeden. I’ve run the full gamut of emotions with the old man. I started out as a believer, was forced to become a defender, then I reached the point where I realized there was no saving him, then I became embarrassed that I ever backed the guy, and now I’ve reached the point where I’m just embracing the fact that he’s a national punch line. We don’t have much at the QB spot in Cleveland in the way of actual good play, but at least we have some comedy.

Cleveland Browns v Green Bay Packers

I’m thankful that Weeden starting this Sunday won’t ruin my weekend, no matter what happens.

I’m thankful for the mythical hero Brian Hoyer, who burst upon the scene for two games and then was gone, leaving behind a legend that Paul Bunyan and Davey Crockett would be jealous of. The general Cleveland public has conveniently forgotten that in his first start he threw three picks which put the team in the situation where they needed him to deliver a game-winning drive. They also forget that he really didn’t do much of anything to beat the Bengals because the defense and special teams dominated. And despite that he played just two series against Buffalo and didn’t produce any points, that hasn’t stopped everyone from consistently running with the stat that the Browns are 3-0 when Hoyer starts and 1-7 with all other QBs, as if his mere presence starting that Thrusday night game spurred the team to victory. We haven’t had much in the way of QBs to get excited about in this town, so I’m at least thankful that I’ll always have “The Legend of Brian Hoyer” to tell my kids about.

I’m thankful for the Browns defense. Where would we be without them? We spend so much time agonizing over the QB position in this town that we don’t spend enough time really appreciating what a great group we have on defense this season. If they can ever get the offense figured out we know that we have a championship-level defense already to get us to the Super Bowl. And yes, you read that last sentence correctly.

Haden and Ward 001

I’m thankful that there’s no possible way that Joe Banner is enough of a penny-pinching egomaniac that he won’t resign TJ Ward and Alex Mack. I mean, he can’t possibly be that crazy, right?

I’m thankful for new funky-looking video boards and new escalators coming to First Energy Stadium. But I’m more thankful that if they are going to this much trouble to fix up the stadium that they MUST be going nuts to improve the actual product on the field. There’s no way they could be totally tone-deaf to the real desires of the fans.

I’m thankful for trick-shot quarterbacks…and YouTube.

I’m thankful that we haven’t been in a situation yet where letting Phil Dawson walk turns around and bites us in the butt.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to root for Trent Richardson and his 2.8 yards per carry anymore. And even more I’m thankful that somehow the Colts were dumb enough to give us a first round pick for him.

In hindsight I’m thankful that Tom Heckert is no longer the Browns GM. It’s hard to imagine anyone blowing two first round picks in the same season so spectacularly that neither guy will be on the roster after two seasons. It’s really unbelievable when you think about it.

I’m thankful for Jason Giambi walk-off homers.

I’m thankful for Ryan Rayburn, Jan Gomes, and the bench mob.

I’m thankful for all the highly-entertaining Chris Perez weed jokes.

I’m thankful that somehow, someway, even when it seemed impossible, Ubaldo Jimenez turned into the Ace of the Indians pitching rotation…just in time for his free agency, but still.

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians

I’m thankful for everything Jason Kipnis does on a baseball field and reminding me why I loved the sport so much as a child and why it’s all I ever dreamed of doing when I grew up. In an age of prima-donna sports “heroes” it’s a breath of fresh air to root for a guy like Kipnis who plays the game with an old school, dirt-bag passion.

I’m thankful for Dion Waiters…everything about him. More than anyone else on this Cavaliers team, I love Dion Waiters. He has glaring flaws in his game, takes bad shots, has mental lapses on defense, may or may not have feuded with one or more teammates…but you can’t deny that the guy loves to play basketball and that’s all the really matters to him. He doesn’t tweet out pictures of fancy new clothes he bought, or hocking his endorsements…he tweets about the work he’s putting in to be a better player…and pictures of his adorable son. How can you not love this guy??? I’m thankful for Waiters stepping up last night and playing like a man and a leader on the team and then backing up his play with words that you would hear from a true leader. I believe in Dion Waiters more than probably anybody. I hope he doesn’t go anywhere for a long time. I just love that guy.

After all that…I am, in fact, thankful for the Uncle Drew commercials. I mean, really…what’s not to love about those things?

Irving 001

I’m thankful that, for the losing we’ve endured, we at least got Kyrie Irving out of it. I wish we could have had better luck with the talent in the drafts, but you really can’t complain too much. I believe he’ll get things turned around here and be the superstar player that this Cavs team needs. So in spite of all the pain we’ve suffered and the rough start here we’ve endured, we can all be thankful that we have Kyrie.

I’m thankful for all the excitement of the offseason with the signing of Andrew Bynum that lead to that palpable intensity of him checking into the game on opening night and shocking everyone. I’m thankful for the Bynum experience for as long as it may last.

I’m thankful that Tristan Thompson finally figuring out that he’s right-handed.

I’m thankful that there’s no way that Anthony Bennett can possibly be this bad.

I’m thankful for Mike Brown…again…just because.

I’m thankful that someday “the process” will manifest itself in a championship.

I’m thankful that most of Cleveland truly believes that last sentence.

I’m thankful for Believeland.

I’m thankful for Cleveland sports. All of it.

Believeland Baseball: The end of a fun ride for the 2013 Indians

As we find out all too often in the city of Cleveland…All good things must come to an end.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians season started with a palpable excitement about the potential of a franchise that finally came around to spending some money in the offseason and was looking like a team on the rise. Despite only winning 68 games in 2012 there were elevated expectations for the 2013 squad because of the additions of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. But while we all were no doubt hoping that the team would make the postseason, I don’t think many people actually expected it to happen.

So when the Indians went on a hot streak to end the regular season and earned the right to host a Wild Card playoff game it shouldn’t have mattered what happened in that game because the team had already overachieved, right? Unfortunately sports don’t work that way and in this moment the Tribe’s loss on Wednesday night hurts.

It hurts because I fell in love with this team. It’s tough not to get attached when you ride with a team for 6+ months through all the ups and downs. You ride the emotions of the team and even as a fan you try not to get too high or too low during the streaks. So when you get to the end of a long, grinding season and it’s just one game and then it’s all over, it’s kind of a tough pill to swallow.

In a win or go home situation—against a really quality opponent—you can’t squander the few opportunities you get. And that’s just what the Indians did. The Rays are a great team, there’s no denying that. In a longer series I would not have been optimistic about the Tribe’s chances. But when it’s just one game anything can happen and it only takes one break to make the difference. The break never came on Wednesday night. The Indians had their fair number of chances but they could never capitalize. The team that always seemed to have the knack all season long for getting a clutch hit at the right moment suddenly came up bust. No moment hurt more than the Asdrubal Cabrera double play in the fourth with the bases loaded and one out.[1] It didn’t feel like we were going to get anything close to that kind of a golden opportunity again against a stud like Cobb. The chance was there for a moment…then gone. And with it, the season.

For 162 games we witnessed the Tribe pitching staff be steady and solid while the bats were extremely streaky. When they were hot it seemed like there wasn’t a pitcher alive who cool them down. They seemed to feed off of the energy of one another. But when they were cold it felt like a January swim in the waters of Lake Erie. They rode a hot streak to a ten-game winning streak and home field in the Wild Card game only to have a cold wave roll in when they got there. Ultimately that was the difference obviously. The top three hitters in the Indians lineup—a group that was made up of those two exciting new additions and the team’s only positional All-Star—went a combined 0-12.

It feels unhealthy to focus on the sour ending when the totality of the season was so sweet. It truly was a great and memorable ride. I’ve already waxed eloquently about this ball club so I’ll spare you all doing it again. All I’ll say is that I really did love this team and I hope that next year’s group is just as much fun. There’s always going to be some turnover from year to year but with Terry Francona at the helm and the daily doses of energy from Swisher it should be a good one next year. And if guys like Kipnis, Brantley, and Santana continue to improve like they have then the team will only be better on the field.

It’s impossible to say right now what the future holds for this team. It sure feels like they’re on the way up but you never know in baseball. Sometimes it goes away in the blink of an eye.[2] So I’m glad that we (at least I) had this 2013 team to enjoy because you never know when another one like it will come around again. You have to savor the good moments as those are what helps you get through the tough times. So in the wake of the end of the season and an impossibly short playoff “run” I choose not to dwell on the loss but to think about Jason Kipnis’ dirty jersey, Jan Gomes gunning down base stealers, Nick Swisher’s “bro” smile, Michael Brantley’s smooth stroke, Tom Hamilton on the call, Ubaldo Jimenez’s quirky delivery baffling hitters, Chris Perez’s beer gut, the Goon Squad, Danny Salazar’s youthful confidence, and a .183 hitting old man Jason Giambi saving the season with a majestic blast to save the season.

It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Thank you, 2013 Cleveland Indians. It was a fun ride. Till next year…

Believeland.


[1] I’m not the only one to make this point, but that double play sure felt like a microcosm for Asdrubal’s season. A guy who not too long ago looked like a truly great up-and-coming player is now a guy who seemingly is incapable of coming through in the moment. With Francisco Lindor working his way up the system you have to wonder how much longer A-Cab will be in Cleveland.

[2] Cut to Grady Sizemore nodding.

Believeland Baseball: The Cleveland Indians are in the Playoffs!!!

Team.

That’s the word that best describes the 2013 Cleveland Indians. They are a collection of players that is largely devoid of stars from a national perspective. They are a talented group of individuals for sure but there is no ace of staff, no dominant closer, and no big slugger in the middle of the lineup. No, the Tribe is made up of a group of strong willed players who believe, above else, that together they can accomplish the task at hand.

I’ve been saying all year how much I love following this team. They’re just a fun team to root for. They don’t have Manny, Belle, and Thome in the middle of the lineup like in the 90’s and actually when you look at this team on paper they look more like a team that should finish around .500 and not one that won 92 games and is headed to the playoffs. That’s why I love sports and that’s why I love this team. Because in sports it’s not just about putting a team together on paper and adding up all those player’s collective WAR numbers and coming up with a win total. (Just ask the Angels.) They have to coalesce as a team and act as one unit. The truly great teams are more than just the sum of their individual parts. They become stronger and greater as a single unit than they could ever be on their own.

If you’re just jumping on the Tribe bandwagon now, I’m glad that you’re here but you’ve missed a really fun ride. Baseball is a grind to play but it’s also a grind to follow. The Indians teams over the previous several seasons had tailed off in the second half of the season and I’ll be honest and say that I lost interest in August and September. But this team had me from the start and never let me drift. Not even preseason NFL was enough to draw me away!

The story of the 2013 Indians is a fun one because it really typifies baseball with its ebbs and flows and ups and downs. The down was in late July when they suffered a four-game sweep at the hand of the Tigers and the playoffs looked out of reach. The up is right now: riding a ten-game win streak into the playoffs. But the way that the Indians got to this point was so much fun and that’s why I feel bad for you if you’re just jumping on right now. In order to get to the playoffs in baseball you have to struggle through those ups and downs and that’s exactly what these Indians did.

Many teams are able to get through it with superstar players who are just steady and great all the time like the Tigers have with Miguel Cabrera. But what’s been so fun to watch with the Tribe is how it’s literally a different guy every night. One night it might be the outstanding defensive outfield trio of Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, and Drew Stubbs who turn doubles into outs. Another night it’s Yan Gomes gunning down potential base-stealers. Many times it’s Brantley getting the clutch hit and looking smooth and confident as he does it. Sometimes it’s Jason Kipnis hustling in the field and on the base paths making plays happen. In some games it’s the energy, passion, and love for the game emanating from Nick Swisher that drives the team. Many times it’s been a starting rotation that is largely devoid of household names or anything you’d consider an ace that comes through with a masterful seven inning, two run performance when the team needed it most. In the second half of the season it’s been Ubaldo Jimenez looking every five nights like the best pitcher in baseball. Some games it’s the “Goon Squad” that comes in with their energy to fuel a win. A couple times it’s been old man Jason Giambi with a pinch-hit walk-off home run. And some days it’s Terry Francona pulling the right strings.

And that’s why I love this team so much. Sure it was a blast to root for those 90’s teams with their seven All-Stars or whatever it was, but there’s something almost more fulfilling about being a fan of this year’s team. They’ve really embraced the city and play like representatives of Cleveland. They aren’t special in special in the eyes of most people from the outside who don’t understand what there is to like about this team and city. But when you’re in it and invested in it, you see the true potential and you get wrapped up in the passion of this team and city that is coalescing into one heartbeat. The 2013 Indians are Cleveland.

I never thought that a baseball team could replace a 2-2 Browns team in the forefront of my consciousness but they’ve done it. There’s nothing like playoff baseball and we’ve got a game coming to Cleveland on Wednesday. That’s something to get excited about.

Now it’s only one game so this fun, magical ride could all be over Wednesday night. They could also continue their hot run and ride that momentum all the way to the World Series. Neither is implausible. That’s baseball. And even if this team only gets one playoff game it won’t change how much fun I’ve had with the 2013 Cleveland Indians. They’ve been a blast to root for from the first game of the season all the way into the playoffs. I can’t wait for Wednesday night. Playoff baseball in Cleveland, people!!!

Believeland.

Believeland Baseball: Jason Giambi and the Never-Say-Die Indians come through again

My dad wasn’t always an Indians fan or even much of a sports fan as I was growing up. But when we moved to the Cleveland area when I was ten-year-old in the fall of 1995 he (along with the rest of us) really got himself wrapped up in Indians Fever. Now he’s one of the biggest Tribe fans I know. He used to really embarrass me and my brothers with how overly excited he got about big plays in the field and big hits in clutch situations. Maybe it’s because he grew up on a farm and didn’t watch sports growing up like we all did, but baseball really brings out the inner child in my dad.

So when the oldest player on the Indians roster turned on a hanging slider and sent a game-winning homer sailing into the night, my dad was the first person I thought of. Yesterday was his 60th birthday and I’m sure he’s thrilled that I’m sharing that information with the ten people who will read this. It seemed poetic that Jason Giambi—while 42 isn’t quite 60—as the “old man” on the team, was the hero on my dad’s birthday. Late last night after he got off work my dad went to facebook to thank Giambi saying “He made my day have a happy ending.”

And I think that’s how all Cleveland fans felt last night. We’re at that intense, pivotal time of a baseball season that you don’t get with other sports where every day and every game is so important. With the Indians clinging to a one-game wild card lead over the Rangers who are playing the hapless Astros, we all knew that the Tribe couldn’t afford a loss. The game was close the whole way and definitely had the feel of a playoff contest. Then with a 3-2 lead in the ninth Chris Perez in all his all fat, sloppy, unkempt glory came out and promptly gave up two home runs and the lead.

How Perez keeps his job, as Terry Francona affirmed he would last night, is beyond me. I don’t know how you can possibly trust this guy in big situations anymore when he continues to let the team down. Check out his numbers from his last 20 appearances that Jordan Bastian shared last night:

In my opinion the Indians have far too many other reliable arms available to keep throwing Perez out there to save games. If they make the playoffs I’d seriously consider either Danny Salazar or even Justin Masterson in that role over Perez. I get that there’s a different mentality that comes with being a closer and that’s why a guy who was great in a set-up role won’t necessarily be a great closer. But right now it doesn’t seem like Perez is in the right frame of mind be closing games either. I get sick to my stomach when he comes in to close and the Indians have anything less than a three run lead. It just feels like it’s going to end badly. Which is what I felt last night, and it’s what happened.

Over the span of about 15 minutes Twitter didn’t cease to tear into Perez with many lamenting that he may have blown not just one save but the whole season. It was such a crappy feeling. A gut-punch to all Cleveland fans. It just sucked really.

Then the “happy ending” happened.

If you don’t think there’s something special going on with this Indians team then you’re either not paying attention or you have no pulse. When it seems lost and things are down, they keep rallying and coming up with these walk-off victories. It might not be quite ’95 and “Wahoo What a Finish” (I probably watched that movie a hundred times) but it’s getting pretty close. You’ve probably already seen the stat but Tuesday night was the Tribe’s 11th walk-off win of the season and those wins have come at the hand of nine different players with only Giambi and Jason Kipnis doubling up. Everyone contributes and seemingly everyone has come through in a big spot this season. Even Mark Reynolds and Matt Carson have had walk-offs. And it’s actually a little weird that one of the guys without a walk-off has also been probably the Indians most clutch hitter: Michael Brantley, who had three huge hits last night again including one in the ninth that ended up being the tying score on the Giambi winner.

This is what makes baseball so much fun and it’s so great to have it back. Giambi said last night “All this team really needs is that little heartbeat. That little, ‘We’ve got a chance.’ That’s what we’ve done so well this year.” He also said of the 2013 Indians “This is the ultimate team I’ve ever played on. It’s unbelievable how many people have helped us win games this season.”

After the game the man who might be the life-blood of this team, Nick Swisher, sent out the following tweet:

Maybe a little over the top for a dude who’s won a World Series but who’s gonna blame the guy for getting caught up in the moment?

I could go on and on with more tweets and comments like these ones but they all pretty much say the same thing. And that’s that this team really believes and is playing fantastic baseball down the stretch. They might have to win out to get in all the same but with how things are going of late they might just do that anyways.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the pitching, which has been spectacular—outside of Perez, of course. Ubaldo Jimenez had another great performance last night and continues to pitch like the Ace of the staff. Bastian last night also shared the following stats in his blog: “Jimenez has a 1.04 ERA in September (34.2 IP), 1.86 ERA in the second half (77.1 IP), 2.47 ERA since May 27 (131.1 IP) and 2.66 ERA since April 29 (159 IP).” Simply put, there might not be a pitcher in all of baseball who’s throwing better right now.

A year ago you would be crazy to think this, but right now I don’t think there’s an Indians fan out there who wouldn’t love to have Ubaldo on the hump for a must-win game.

As I sit at my computer right now it’s been almost ten hours since the Giambi blast and I’m still buzzing about it. Meaningful fall baseball…there ain’t nothing like it.

Believeland baby!