Tag Archives: Cleveland Indians

Love & Baseball

vic-banner-1-jpegumpireMy wife is a Cubs fan.

I’m rooting for the Indians.

There can be no greater test of our marital bonds.

Can love overcome battling baseball allegiances?

Alas, there’s no umpire than can make this call.

My darling, treasured wife, Victoria, is a Chicago girl born and raised. Vic’s a South Sider by birth – and should really be a White Sox fan by regional rights – but she headed to the North Side for college, which is where we first met.

vic-post-1-5After her years at Northwestern University in Evanston on Chicago’s northern border, Victoria moved to Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood (also on the North Side), where loyalty to the Cubs was very strong. Shortly after I moved in with her in the mid-1980s, we took an apartment in the Wrigleyville neighborhood. It was a short walk to hallowed, historic Wrigley Field — the very epicenter of Cubs fandom.

vic-post-1-3As I discussed in a previous post, the Cubs became my favorite team in the National League during my years in Chicago, and Victoria and I went to many games at Wrigley Field, snuggling under a blanket during the chill of home openers in the spring and enjoying the thrill of pennant races in late summer.

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Together we experienced the exhilarating highs and inevitable lows endemic to Cubbie love – especially the bittersweet 1989 season in which Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe and Mitch Williams all made the All-Star game and Jerome Walton was the NL Rookie of the Year. Of course, that team broke our hearts again by losing to the hated San Francisco Giants four games to one in the National League Championship Series.

Love of the Cubs has always been something that Victoria and I have shared – from the time we began dating in 1985, to when we were married on the North Side in 1990, and throughout our long sojourn in Southern California. We suffered together through losing seasons and the horrors of The Bartman Game.

vic-post-2-4Meanwhile, my wonderful wife viewed my continued support of the Indians in the America League. She paid scant attention to American League baseball anyway. In fact, she’d never been to Comiskey Park to see the White Sox play until I took her to that venerable South Side ballpark during its final season of existence.

She happily supported my trip to Jacobs Field in Cleveland to watch the Indians win Game 4 of the 1997 World Series. In fact, losing Game 7 of that Series in a particularly heartbreaking fashion only strengthened our baseball bonds of mutual misery.

Now comes this moment. A moment I never imagined could happen in our lifetimes.

The Cubs we have loved together are finally, blessedly, in their first World Series since 1945. Yet, as cruel fate would have it, they are playing against my boyhood team, The Cleveland Indians.

And so, this time I must root for my Tribe.

img_8028I’ve explained why this must be – but especially with the Cubs down 3 games to 1 at this moment – Victoria is looking daggers at me.

I know love conquers all. But, why oh why, must the baseball gods test our marriage by pitting the Indians versus the Cubs? Why not Red Sox versus Cubs — or Tribe versus Dodgers? Those matchups would not have challenged our three-decade love match.

Tonight, we’ll watch Game 5 together. There is a possibility that The Indians will celebrate their first World Series championship since 1948 amid the history and ivy of Wrigley Field. There is also the chance the Cubs will send this Series back to Cleveland for Game 6.

And if the Tribe wins tonight – Vic might just send me back to Cleveland anyway.

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Friends & Family gather for Game 4 at Tinhorn Flats in Burbank. It’s early — and the Cubs are leading 1-0. I’m the only one rooting for the Tribe in the entire building.

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Later in the game. Indians are now leading — and I’ve been exiled from the table.

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A second generation Cubs Fan

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A third generation Cubs fan. It’s all fine in that family now — but let’s see what happens (and what cap the little man’s wearing) when the Cubs face the Red Sox in a World Series.

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A final peace offering.

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Filed under History, Sports, Uncategorized

Balancing My Baseball Loyalties.

bb-banner-jpegThere’s no doubt that the 2016 World Series is laden with historic significance.

1948-cleveland-indians-world-series-champions-patchThis year’s Fall Classic pits two of baseball’s legendary hard luck franchises: The Cleveland Indians and The Chicago Cubs. When you consider how long it’s been since the Indians and Cubs have won a World Series, it’s 1948 against 1908 – with the Cubs suffering the longest title drought.

The 2016 World Series will put an end to one of baseball’s two most notorious curses: the Curse of Colavito and the Curse of the Billy Goat.

And, for me, it will be an exquisitely personal experience.

cubs-goat-logoI was born and raised on the West Side of Cleveland — but I went to college and lived and worked on Chicago’s North Side for 15 years. I married my wife, a Chicagoan and lifelong Cubs fan, in Chicago. One of our daughters was born there.

For years, I’ve been able to root for my American League heroes, The Indians – while also cheering for my favorite National League team, The Cubs. The likelihood that my dual baseball loyalties would be tested in World Series was remote. Like worrying about getting hit by lightning.

But now, the baseball gods have flung their bolts – and lightning has struck.

images-washingtonpost-comSo, I must make my choice.

Baseball and boyhood are inextricable. Some of my earliest memories involve the Cleveland Indians. I remember when I was 3-5 years old, looking at the front page of The Cleveland Plain Dealer to see if the Tribe had won or lost.

cw2My dad, who was a fine cartoonist himself, enjoyed showing me the small cartoon Indian that appeared on The Plain Dealer’s front page the day after each game.

If the Indians won, that tiny cartoon Indian brave looked upbeat – with a feather in his headdress. (Two feathers for two victories in a doubleheader.)

cw-3If they lost, the little Indian would have a black eye – or, in this case, a sore bottom from getting his butt kicked.

620x686xphoto-8-montage-927x1024-png-pagespeed-ic-sjzucr-yqiAnd in the case of a split doubleheader, he might sport one black eye for the loss – while triumphantly holding a scalp to indicate the win.

Little boys – and The Plain Dealer — had no clue about political correctness in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

95dd7d0bb910ca4fb7b02e83d49fc367I have vivid memories of frequent trips with my father and brother to the cavernous Municipal Stadium to cheer on those 1960’s Indians teams, starring my favorite player, Rocky Colavito. (Who should be in the Hall of Fame.) I was only two years old in 1960 when Rocky was sent to Detroit in a trade that many fans believed cursed the team – but I sure remember Rocky’s glorious return to Cleveland in 1965.

It didn’t hurt that Rocco “Rocky” Colavito was Italian. My mom is Italian – and as a member of St. Rocco’s Church and school – my world was decidedly Italian-centric.

davalilloHeck, I also took pride in the fact that Rocky’s teammate Vic Davalillo was also Italian. (He wasn’t. Vic was Venezuelan.)

In all the seasons that I followed The Indians before I went off to college in Chicago, there were more lowlights than highlights. But I saw young Craig Nettles, Dennis Eckersley, Luis Tiant, Sudden Sam McDowell, Buddy Bell, Gaylord Perry and so many others compete in a Tribe uniform.

bat-dayThe Indians has a Straight A Tickets program – and boy, did I make sure to score those straight A’s. On Bat Day, they gave you a real bat. Can you imagine handing 40,000 kids a real bat in downtown Cleveland – or any city – today?

So, the Indians are in my DNA. They’re my hometown team. My boyhood idols.

big-cubbieBut I love The Cubs, too.

Soon after arriving at Northwestern University in 1976, I started watching Cubs games on WGN – with Jack Brickhouse calling the games. We didn’t get every Indians game on TV in Cleveland, and I got hooked on watching the Cubs every day.

600f51b17cdc6a926d68e07a04b60144In 1984, I started going to Wrigley Field on a regular basis. After all those years of watching baseball in the drafty vastness of Municipal Stadium, I was charmed by the intimacy of The Friendly Confines. And I fell in love with the team, led by the bat and glove of the glorious Ryne Sandberg.

Of course, those 1984 Cubs broke my heart when they blew a two-game lead to lose the NL pennant to Steve Garvey and the San Diego Padres. Having my heart broken by the Cubs only intensified a growing bond with my fellow Cubs fans and the people of the Windy City’s North Side. I knew from birth what it was to support a lovable baseball loser. Now I supported two of them.

Since then, I enjoyed the Indians’ resurgence in the late 1990’s – and endured their losses in the 1995 and ‘97 World Series. (But at least we got there, right?)

And, as a Cubs fan, I anguished along with everybody else in Chicago when Steve Bartman got in the way of that fateful pop foul.

artbble-pos-16tbb2-1154-gold-sThese highs and lows only reinforced the needlessness of worrying about divided loyalties in an Indians vs. Cubs World Series. Such an incredible thing was never going to happen.

But now, it has happened.

And, as I said, baseball and boyhood are inextricable.

So, I’m rooting for my Cleveland Indians in this Series.

kris_bryant-topps-061015As for the Cubbies, they have so much youth, talent, pitching, managerial wisdom and front office brilliance that I expect them to be World Series favorites for the next decade.

I’ll say what we Cubs fans have said since 1908.

Wait ‘til next year.

I’ll be rooting for a Cubs victory then.

Now, let’s play ball!

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Salute to Opening Day!

WorldSeriesClevelandIndians1948-85081With opening day for The Los Angeles Dodgers today, the Chicago Cubs playing their first game of the season tomorrow, and my hometown Cleveland Indians opening their 2015 campaign tonight — baseball prognosticators are saying great things about the potential of all three of these clubs. My fellow Cubs and Indians fans know not to get too excited too early (or ever) — but opening day is all about possibilities, optimism and renewal. So, here’s to an Indians vs. Cubs World Series.

And in celebration of Opening Day, here’s a re-post of a piece from 5 years ago, featuring a bit of satiric verse.

——

I’d like to celebrate the first flowering of the MLB baseball season with a re-print of a poem I wrote many years ago. Full credit must be given to my wife Victoria (who was not yet my wife at the time) who managed in 1988 to get my satiric take on Ernest Lawrence Thayer’sCasey At The Bat” published in the Baseball Bible, The Sporting News.

I still remember being at the wheel of our car when Victoria told me that some sports publication called “the sporting something” was going to publish my poem. “Is it The Sporting News?” I screamed at her, pounding the steering wheel! “Are you talking about the Baseball Bible? The Sporting News??” Victoria was a cool, impossibly groovy girl — but she had no idea how absolutely perfect a publication she’d landed. And, as a relatively good South Side Chicago girl, she could not fully appreciate how I felt when I saw that the legendary Mad Magazine artist, Jack Davis, illustrated my poem.

UPDATE: Before I published this article, I wrote to The Sporting News to confirm the identity of the artist.  In September 2010, I finally heard from Sporting News archivist Bill Wilson that is was he — and not Jack Davis — who illustrated my poem. “I hate to disappoint you,” writes Wilson, “but the ‘prominent artist’ who illustrated this piece was none other than me. I’ll take the compliment, however, as well as the comparison to Jack Davis—it is an apt one, as he was one of the biggest influences on my style. I was with TSN as everything from a staff artist and cartoonist to creative director between 1981 and 2008.” Ultimately, I’m not disappointed. The very talented Bill Wilson did a great job.

Here then, in honor of Spring Training 2010, is my poem — first published in The Sporting News on January 5, 1988.

CASEY GOES TO ARBITRATION

Written by Paul Barrosse

With apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer, a tongue-in-cheek look at baseball today…

It looked extremely hopeful for the Mudville nine that year,
The Spring was full of promise, and the fans were full of cheer.
Then came the news by UPI that hit home with such clout,

The star would not report that Spring — Mighty Casey would hold out!

 
Casey was the MVP on last year’s Series Champ,
And all the writers in the land pitched tents in Casey’s camp.
 ‘Twas “Casey this!” and “Casey that!” and features on TV,

Now when they came to interview, no Casey did they see.

 
The Mudville General Manager, his Stetson hat askew,
Bellowed “I’ll make Casey hold his breath until he turns bright blue!”
 Casey’s agent, Morton Zucker, raised a challenge in the press,

“No Pay — No Play,” read headlines, “We Want Millions — Nothing Less!”

  
The season ticket holders soon stopped calling to renew,
As Casey held out six long weeks, and then another two!
Spring training almost over, and the lineup nearly set,

The name of Mighty Casey was not written on it yet.

 
 On Op’ning Day the Mayor threw the first ball out with shame,
Not a fan inside the ballpark dared to whisper Casey’s name.
The players took the field and paused to hear the Anthem played,

A little boy sat crying, Mighty Casey was delayed.

 
The fans were growing restless, Mudville started 0 and 10,
And rumor was that Mudville would not see Casey again.
But when Casey’s agent Zucker sought an arbitration hearing,

Every Mudville heart believed a blessed settlement was nearing.

 
The Mudville G.M. cried with rage, “This business reeks of greed!
If Zucker wants to arbitrate, then we’ll make Casey bleed!
Ev’ry error he’s committed, every drunk post-curfew spree,

Will be laid before the arbitrator — bare for all to see!”

 
The hearing lasted five long days, as both sides thrashed it out,
Some devoted fans of Casey’s were no longer so devout.
“He has problems with his back,” his trainer testified to all,

“He’s drunk so often, sometimes he can’t even see the ball!”

 
“Casey never hits for average,” Mudville’s G.M. pointed out,
“And let’s not forget the day that ‘Mighty Casey had struck out!'”
The arbitrator ruled that Mudville pay nine hundred grand,

But Mudville brass weren’t buying and they made their own demand.

 
“If Casey wants his money, we demand he do his best,
And since he can’t be trusted, he must pass a urine test.”
Casey’s test results were positive; all Mudville was in pain,

When Casey was suspended for dependence on cocaine.

 
Casey rehabilitated while the season passed him by,
Mudville fell into the cellar while he hung out to dry.
There were stories in the paper, graphic photos told the tale,

Of how Casey got into a fight and spent the night in jail.

  
This was not the season for which Mudville hearts had hope,
The greatness overcome by greed, the dream done in by dope.
By All-Star break, with Mudville’s pennant promise all but faded,

It was announced that Mighty Casey would be reinstated.

 
Casey soon was reassigned to Triple A Des Moines,
First time up he hit a triple, ran too hard, and pulled his groin.
On a minor league Disabled List, laid low by wear and tear,

Mighty Casey waited for his body to repair.

 
July was nearly over, Casey wasn’t yet in shape,
If Mudville had a chance in hell, they could no longer wait.
The day at last arrived when Casey showed up, bat in hand,

And was penciled in the lineup for the final pennant stand.

 
Casey stepped into the box, a hush was heard to fall,
With Mudville on its feet, he tore the cover off the ball.
It smashed against the outfield fence, a triple in the gap,

And Casey, charging hard for third, paused just to tip his cap.

 
The throw from left was right on line, and Casey had to slide,
But Casey’s legs did not react, he could not find his stride.
The baseman put the tag down from the fielder’s perfect peg,

Before the dust had settled, Mighty Casey broke his leg.

 
A silence gripped the faithful when they heard that fateful crack,
And realized that Casey was not ever coming back.
They bundled him with air-splints and they trundled him away,

No Mudville man nor boy alive will e’er forget that day.

 
Somewhere children sing and laugh and play with simply joy,
Somewhere in ev’ry Baseball Play’r still lives the little boy,
Somewhere there’s a place where Baseball’s just a joyous game,
But there is no joy in Mudville — Mighty Casey pulled up lame.

Author’s Note: Of course, if this had been written in the last decade, cocaine would have been replaced by HGH and steroids — and Tiger Wood’s peccadillos would have loomed large. In many ways, my 1988 Casey got off easy.

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Sports

Poor Sports

Loser bannerAPR_Oct_1_2013I am thrilled that my hometown Major League baseball team, The Cleveland Indians, have staged an impressive and determined late season rally to earn a spot in the Wild Card playoff game – and a shot to advance in their improbable quest for the Tribe’s first World Series crown since 1948.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland IndiansMy Indians will play the Tampa Bay Rays in a single game tomorrow, Wednesday October 2 in Cleveland, to determine which team advances to face the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

There will be a lot riding on that one game tomorrow: the hopes and dreams of both teams and the millions of fans that follow them in Northern Ohio and the Florida Gulf Coast. For the players and fans, there will be a lot of pride, prestige and money at stake. A great deal will be on the line when the two teams face off between the lines.

-48a9714f75dcb39dWhen the Wild Card game is over, there will be a winner and a loser. The winning team will advance and the losing team will not.

The team that loses may claim a moral victory. The Indians and their manager, Terry Francona, certainly could console themselves with a moral victory as nobody expected this young team of no-name players to get anywhere near the playoffs this season. But, more likely, they won’t. Instead, like all good and honorable athletes and sportsmen, they will look to the future and rededicate themselves to earning playoff victories next season.

bildeAnd you won’t hear a lot of gripes from the players on the losing team about the umpires being unfair or how they really won but the media, or the opposing team, or their opponent’s fans are Un-American  liars and cheaters. They will behave like professionals. They’ll have measured, respectful, even complimentary words to say about the team that defeated them. They’ll thank their fans and they’ll take their lumps in the press and the court of public opinion depending upon the merits of their performance on the field.

And that’s why I love sports. Because, in the end, if you play the game the right way – sports builds character. In life, you must learn how to win with grace and humility – and how to lose with dignity and an optimistic resolve to improve and persevere.

2aea3a55c6047b68_enhanced-buzz-25400-1380636798-10.preview_tallWhich is also why I can’t stand the GOP majority in the House of Representatives and their poor sport tactics that have led to this unfortunate, self-inflicted government shutdown. Driven by the right wing ideological anarchists of their rabidly anti-government Tea Party caucus, the GOP has steered itself – and the nation – into an easily avoidable ditch. And why?

Because the GOP refused to behave like professionals when they lost the big game.

0929-romneycare-obamacare.jpg_full_380Last year, President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, played a long, marathon playoff series called the Presidential Election of 2012. At stake in that contest was a public referendum on the key legislative accomplishments of Obama’s first term, especially the Affordable Care Act. Romney made it clear that he would abolish “Obamacare” (as though he actually could do such a thing on his own, which he couldn’t) and President Obama defended the new health care law as a fundamental step in restoring out nation’s economic and physical health.

After all the games were played, The Democrats outscored the Republicans to take the championship.

763fc0aaf484d5203e0f6a706700c3e6President Obama won the election 51% to 47%. He won by 5 million votes. It wasn’t even close. Democrats also increased their majority in the Senate and won additional seats in the House. In fact, half a million more Americans cast their votes for Democrats in the House than they did for Republicans. So, the GOP could claim no mandate (no moral victory) coming out of the big game.

So what did the poor sport Republicans do?

Did they endure their loss with dignity and look forward with optimism and a resolve to improve and persevere?

130820231059-ted-cruz-obamacare-story-topNo, that’s not the way these sore losers play. Instead, the GOP refused to accept the final score and have tried over and over to re-play the game all by themselves. They voted dozens of times to overturn Obamacare — despite the fact they could not possibly prevail because the President and the Democrats in the Senate had already won that crucial game and had no reason to re-play it. The same was true of the GOP House majority’s constant votes to degrade a woman’s right to choose, weaken voting rights laws, and re-play other critical games they lost in the Presidential Championship Series of 2012.

rAnd now these poor GOP-Tea Party losers have decided that, rather than compete in a new season with new ideas, more popular policy positions and a rededication to making progress through the small-D democratic process – they have forced themselves and the nation into the damaging, self-defeating equivalent of the 1994 Major League Baseball strike.

That baseball strike wiped out the second half of the season, the playoffs and the World Series. It was devastating to the Great American Pastime – and to Cleveland in particular. When the strike began on August 12, 1994, the Indians were just one game back from the division-leading Chicago White Sox and were leading the AL Wildcard Race over the Baltimore Orioles by 2.5 games.

Barack ObamaNow, these whining Conservative House Republican losers have shut down the political season because they couldn’t compete on the playing field in last year’s championship playoffs. And their manager, John Boehner, has proved himself a wimp of a leader: a man who knows how the game should be played but is too weak and venal to lead his unruly players in a manner that respects their opponents and the great American game they all play: democracy.

I wish my Cleveland Indians good luck tomorrow and I dearly hope they win.

john_boehner_begs_gop_congressmen_to_stop_partying_with_pretty_lady_lobbyists-1280x899And I hope John Boehner and his Tea Party-GOP children are watching. It will be good for them to see how adult professional sportsmen compete.

Play ball, GOP.

In the adult world, you can’t just take your ball and go home when you’re on the wrong end of the score.

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Filed under History, Politics, Sports, Truth

“The Vic & Paul Show” Plays the Best Location in the Nation…

This summer, July 12-15th at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square, I’ll be performing again in my beloved hometown — 36 years after my last turn on a Cleveland area stage as Broadway song and dance legend George M. Cohan in the Euclid Shore Center of the Arts’ Bicentennial production of George M!

I began my stage career as a freshman at Cleveland Central Catholic High School when director Dennis Behl cast me as Og the Leprechaun in the spring ’77 musical, Finian’s Rainbow.

Since I played football and wrestled, I was only able to do the spring play. (At Cleveland Central Catholic there was, thankfully, no dividing line between the jocks and theatre folk.)

In my sophomore year at CCC, the fabulous Mary Ann Zampino took over the Central Catholic theatre program – and I won the role of Coach Bart Bascom in You Were Born on a Rotten Day.

It’s still hard to imagine I wrestled at 126 pounds – and that Bart Bascom could wear such a tight t-shirt with complete confidence. (Those were the days, my friend.)

You Were Born on a Rotten Day was certainly not a classic theatrical property, but in the two years that followed, I had the opportunity to play two great American musical theatre roles: Marrying Sam in Li’l Abner (originated on Broadway by the famed Stubby Kaye) and, in my senior year, Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man.

Now, 36 years after playing the title roles in The Music Man and George M! – and, after a decade of work in Chicago theatre, a brief but memorable stint at Saturday Night Live, and a productive two decades in the television industry in Los Angeles, I’m thrilled to be returning to Cleveland with my very funny wife Victoria and my great friend and musical director Steve Rashid to perform our hit improvisational comedy revue The Vic & Paul Show from July 12-15 at The 14th Street Theatre in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square.

The Chicago Tribune calls The Vic & Paul Show “Old school sketch comedy done right” – so go to the Cleveland Playhouse Square website to purchase tickets for an unforgettable evening of comedy, music, marriage and martinis.

This is going to be a very funny homecoming.

To all my Cleveland family, friends, and fellow Central Catholic alumni – I promise you an evening of laughs well worth the 36-year wait.

And, hey! The Tribe’s in first place – so, it’s all good!

Here’s the whole “Vic & Paul Show” Summer 2012 Tour…

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You CAN Go Home Again.

In his 1940 novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe’s protagonist, George Webber, is an author who writes a book about his hometown – and winds up pissing off his old hometown peeps to the point where he gets death threats. In the novel, Webber comes to the realization that, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

Over the years, the phrase “You can’t go home again” has entered the popular vernacular, representing the notion that once you move away from the place of your birth – especially to a bigger city — it’s impossible to return to your old stomping grounds and find satisfaction. Your fond, gauzy memories of the past will be disappointed by what you find upon your return.

Well, if Thomas Wolfe had come along with me on my trip back to Cleveland, Ohio this summer, he might have re-written his famous novel. You can go home again. At least you can go home to Cleveland.

I had two good reasons to return to Cleveland this past August. First, it was time to spend some quality time with my mother and sister – who still live in the same West Side neighborhood that I grew up in. Second, my high school, Cleveland Central Catholic, was hosting an alumni event, culminating in a football game on our brand new football field. (We never had our own home field when I toiled on the gridiron for CCC.) It was a happy confluence of events: a chance to see old friends and family.

The first impression I got as I drove my rental car into my old neighborhood on Cleveland’s West Side was that the ‘hood had seen better days.

In my youth “Old Brooklyn” was always a working class neighborhood – but that was at a time in the early 60’s to mid 70’s when the working class was more upwardly mobile. The sons and daughters of increasingly unionized factory employees, union steel workers and public school teachers were going to college in record numbers. And I was one of them.

I’ll spare us all the rest of my socio-economic rant. Suffice to say that, like all the big, brawny Rust Belt manufacturing cities that flourished for a hundred years on the Great Lakes, Cleveland has struggled economically in the post Free Trade economy.

But while it may no longer claim to be “The Best Location in the Nation” – or the largest city in Ohio (the former state capitol backwater, Columbus, now holds that title) — my hometown is a proud old metropolis with strong cultural institutions, from the Cleveland Orchestra to The Cleveland Playhouse, The Cleveland Clinic and it’s beloved Browns and Indians, long-suffering sports franchises with storied histories of heartbreak and glory. It’s the city of Bob Feller and Jim Brown.

‘Nuff said.

The neighborhood I grew up in from first grade until I went away to college is on the West Side near the Cleveland Zoo. My mom’s house is just a block away from the intersection of Pearl Road and State, near the bus barns. (When I was a kid, on a hot day in late summer, the old streetcar tracks could still be seen peeking through the receding asphalt, fanning out from the bus barns.)

A while ago, folks in my old neighborhood were given the choice of keeping their red brick streets or having them paved with asphalt. My mom’s block voted to keep their bricks. It was good call. Cleveland winters are hell on blacktop. Plus, the brick street gives my mom’s block character. Those bricks were unforgiving when you wiped out on your bike or during games of street hockey and “kick the can” – but they sure look good. Still do.

I took a walk around the neighborhood, down my own Spokane Avenue and along my old paper route on adjacent Henritze Ave. (Oh yeah, remember when ambitious kids could earn some cash and gain experience as young entrepreneurs by delivering the daily newspapers? Don’t get me started.)

My solitary ramble through this familiar landscape was revelatory. All along my street, and on my old paper route, I saw tidy, well-maintained, middle class homes interspersed with properties that had clearly seen better days. Yet, throughout the neighborhood, I saw people painting their houses and working on their landscaping. I also saw something you don’t see much of in my suburban neighborhood in Woodland Hills, California: porch life. People sitting on their porches and front steps, chatting with neighbors and watching the world go by. And, in this case, one strange, expatriate wanderer.

But at the corner of Henritze and West 41st St., I came face to face with a clear and undeniable sign of my neighborhood’s decline: a grassy empty lot that was once Memphis Elementary School. In my day, Memphis School was a vital center of activity in the neighborhood. I never went to school there, but I swung on its swing sets, took advantage of its summer youth programs, and played “strikeouts” against boxes drawn on its walls. And yes, I also learned to avoid the unsavory elements of “The Memphis Gang”. Now, all those childhood memories have been reduced to a patch of lawn.

When we first moved to Spokane Avenue in the early 60’s, huge, majestic elm trees on each “tree lawn” dominated the far end of our block – their branches reaching across the street to embrace each other. Riding down the street to Scott Tyndall’s house was like entering the forest primeval. Our end of the block had no trees. I remember when the city planted a little maple tree sapling in front of our house.

By the time I began high school, the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease had claimed the big trees down the block – and today, more than three decades later, our little Maple trees now dominate Spokane Avenue. And the tree in front of my house is one of the biggest on the street.

Ah, my house. I love this house. My family moved here in 1964 (or was it ’65?). I thought we’d moved into a mansion. Built in 1910, as was much of the housing stock in the neighborhood, it’s a 3-story, 1,366 square foot modest Victorian masterpiece – and it served our family of five very, very well. My mom still lives in this house, and she’s done a great job of fixing it up. Adding a bathroom downstairs was brilliant! Renovating the bathroom upstairs was also a great idea.

And leaving my old second floor bedroom untouched is all right with me.

Seeing it now, it’s hard to imagine all the things we did in my backyard.

It looks so small now – but, back in the day, my pals and I found plenty of room to play football (complete with NFL Films-style dramatic self-narration), recreate scenes from “Combat” and “Lost in Space”, play games like “Red Rover” and “Kick the Can” – and compete in our version of “Home Run Derby.”

“Home Run Derby” was played with a Wiffle ball. Teams were usually 2 versus 2 — or 3 against 3. The batter stood at home plate facing the back of the house. The pitcher threw the plastic ball – and the batter did his best to loft it onto the second floor porch (a home run) – or onto the roof (also a home run). However, if the ball was hit onto the roof, the fielders had a chance to catch the ball as it rolled off the roof. If they did, the batter was out. Batted balls that hit the house below the second floor were singles. Balls that hit the second floor were doubles. Balls that smacked against the third floor were triples. In every case, if the fielders managed to catch the ball as it rebounded off the wall – the batter was out.

We played “Home Run Derby” for hours. We broke a lot of windows, too.

That evening, I drove my rental car north to meet some of my high school teachers and friends at Sokolowski’s University Inn, a Tremont area institution that sits on the western rim of The Flats – the industrial flatland through which the Cuyahoga River winds to Lake Erie.

Across The Flats, in downtown Cleveland, The Jake was hosting a Cleveland Indians game.

Now, I know that a big insurance company purchased the “naming rights” to Jacobs Field — but I’ll start calling that great ballpark “Progressive Field” about the same time I refer to Sears Tower in Chicago as “Willis Tower”.  Which is never.

And speaking of “You can’t go home again” – tell that to former Cleveland Indians star and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, one of eight Major League ballplayers to hit more than 600 career home runs. On the same weekend that I was returning to my hometown, Jim Thome was at The Jake playing his first game in a Cleveland uniform since the dark day in 2002 when he accepted a six-year $85 million offer from the Philadelphia Phillies.

The CCC welcoming committee in front of Sokolowski's. (Photo by Allen Clark)

As Cleveland’s baseball fans warmly welcomed Thome back to town, so too did the Cleveland Central Catholic community gathered at Sokolowski’s welcome the prodigal son who left in 1976 to go to Chicago and attend Northwestern University.

Among the hometown heroes I reconnected with that night were my former Social Studies teacher, the ageless Elda Borroni, my former Art teacher and beloved mentor, Ellen Howard (Ellen Fasko in those days), and my classmate and quirky, creative buddy, Dancin’ Dave Wicinski.

Me and Dancin' Dave, one of my best CCC buddies & a classic character. (Photo by Ellen Howard)

With Elda Borroni, a teacher who challenged me politically and intellectually -- and still does. (Photo by Allen Clark)

With Ellen Howard: my Art teacher, Yearbook advisor, mentor and lifelong friend. If you only have a few teachers like Ellen in your high school years -- you're damn lucky. (Photo by Allen Clark)

The next day, I brought my mother Mary and sister Nancy to the East Side campus of Cleveland Central Catholic for a back-to-school event for alumni – and a football game at my alma mater’s brand new football field. Before the game, we took a tour of the Forman campus (the former St. Stan’s High School) where I’d spent so much time during my high school years, especially at football practice and in the basement where the Art Department was housed.

I was thrilled to see some of the school calendars I helped create have been preserved and installed in the Art Department hallway. (Note the "Music Man" poster. I was Prof. Harold Hill in that production.)

I played football at CCC for four years as an enthusiastic but seriously undersized defensive back and running back. By senior year I was a starting cornerback – and the smallest player on the field in every game I played. And in all those years, we never had our own football field. Our varsity home games were played at Garfield High.

Now, thanks to the generosity and community-minded spirit of the Stefanski family and other CCC alumni donors, we have a splendid new stadium that has helped to rejuvenate a downtrodden, once-proud neighborhood. It’s truly amazing. It’s clear to see that Friday Night lights will be a big deal at CCC.

Check out the following game photos by Central Catholic’s talented official photographer, Allen Clark.

The Cleveland Central Catholic Ironmen won the game, too!

The new football field has truly transformed the whole neighborhood. (Photo by Allen Clark)

Over the course of the weekend I got to reconnect with my wrestling coach and all-time inspirational hero, Joel Solomon, his younger brother (and my football and wrestling teammate) John Solomon — and Martha Benek, the girl who played Marian the Librarian opposite my fast-talking charlatan, Harold Hill in “The Music Man”. Amazingly enough, Martha is now the librarian at CCC! (I have not, however, been selling marching band instruments from town to town.)

Harold Hill (Paul) and Marian the Librarian (Martha). She's really a librarian!

On Sunday, I drove out to Twinsburg, Ohio to spend a delightful afternoon with my former Scranton campus principal, George Costa — and his wonderful and witty wife, my high-spirited high school theatre director, Mary Ann Zampino.

George was the coolest principal you can possibly imagine – and “Zamp” cast me as Marryin’ Sam in “Li’l Abner” and honored me with the title role in “The Music Man”.  She was also the person with whom I performed in my first comedy revue.

How can you ever say “thank you” to such people? The only way is to see them more often — and share more than just memories.

It was an awesome three days in August spent with wonderful people in the Best Location in the Nation.

You can go home again.

And you should.

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Cleveland Indians on the warpath….

I don’t want to jinx anything, but…

As of June 25, 2011, my beloved Cleveland Indians are still in first place in the American League’s Central Division — scant percentage points ahead of the Detroit Tigers.

The Tribe is 5-5 in their last ten games and Detroit is 4-6, so it’s a close race – but when the season began, who would have thought that the Cleveland Indians would even be in the race, let alone ahead?

The Tribe's 1948 owner, Bill Veeck.

I dearly hope my Tribe hangs on and makes it a race this season. My blue collar hometown could use a positive sports story to lift its spirits – and fill the ballpark. Cleveland is a proud Rust Belt city — and we haven’t won a World Series since legendary owner Bill Veeck and player-manager Lou Boudreau’s team took the title in 1948.

We came close a couple times in the 1990’s. Don’t get me started about the ridiculously wide strike zone that umpires gave Florida’s favorite Cuban boat-person Liván Hernández in 1997 – leading up to that weak, heartbreaking dribbler up the middle past the Tribe’s previously impervious closer, Jose Mesa.

Since 1901 the Indians have appeared in five World Series. They beat The Brooklyn Robins for their first World Championship in 1920 in a best of nine format, 5 games to 2 — allowing just two runs over the last four games. (Indian pitching posted a miniscule 0.89 ERA during the series.)

1948 player-manager Lou Boudreau and his wife.

In 1948, The Indians returned to the World Series for the first time since 1920, beating the Boston Braves in six games to capture their second championship. To this day, this is the Tribe’s greatest moment, though superstar pitcher Bob Feller failed to win his two starts. It was the first World Series to be televised on a nationwide network and was announced by famed sportscaster, Red Barber.

In 1954, The Indians set a franchise record with 111 victories to win the American League Pennant. But in the ’54 World Series, Giant’s center fielder Willie Mays ran down Tribe slugger Vic Wertz’ smash — and the Tribe was swept in four games.

The Giant's Willie Mays hauls in "The Catch" in the '54 World Series.

In 1995, The Indians won their first American League Pennant in over 40 years and advanced to the World Series to face the Atlanta Braves — who won the series in six games. The Tribe, who had batted .291 in the regular season, averaged just .179 in the Series.

This guy got the widest strike zone in World Series history.

In 1997, the Indians won their second American League Pennant in three years. They faced the Florida Marlins in the World Series. Trailing three games to two, the Indians won Game Six to force a decisive Game 7. But it was not gonna be the Tribe’s moment.

The Indians had a one run lead in the 9th inning and were on the verge of winning their first World Championship since 1948 — when the Marlins rallied to win the game in the 11th inning. Game 7 was decided in extra innings on an Edgar Rentería single up the middle past Jose Mesa: one of the great heartbreaking moments in Cleveland sports history, including The Catch, Red Right 88, The Drive, The Shot and The Fumble.

But that’s history. And history is the past. Today, the Cleveland Indians have a chance to write a surprising new chapter in Cleveland sports history. We’ve got Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizeore and Travis Hafner. Screw the past.

Go Tribe. 1948 is just 63 years ago. We’re ready to party!

Knock on wood…

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Filed under History, Sports