Tag Archives: Cleveland

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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Small Ball? Please. The Cavs Go Big. Big Time.

Cavs 5Please pardon this Clevelander for crowing – but the Cavaliers have had a very good offseason so far. After taking the Golden State Warriors to 6 games in the 2015 NBA Finals without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, the Cavs are fully reloaded for the 2015-16 season.

635490647420316139-USATSI-8144247With Kevin Love’s re-signing on the first day of free agency, the message to the rest of the NBA is clear: The Cavs will be going back to the Finals. And this time, barring injury, Stephen Curry and Co. – or anyone else — won’t be enough to stop them.

So many trendy NBA pundits and executives have gotten all excited about “small ball” and how the Cavs were done in by Golden State’s jump-shooting lineup of shorter players. But the fact is that the Warriors were nearly down 3-0 to a Cavs team without Irving wreaking havoc at the point or Love stretching the floor, grabbing rebounds and knocking ‘em down from long distance.

635597185906014271-2015-02-16-LeBron-KyrieTake a moment to consider the Cavs starting five. This is a team that can start All-Star Kyrie Irving at the 1. LeBron James at the 2: easily the leagues most overpowering shooting guard. All-Star Kevin Love (6’10”) at the 3, Tristan Thompson (6’10”) at the 4 and Timofey Mozgov (7’1”) at the 5. Let anyone else play small ball. The Cavs front line is a shot-blocking, rebound-eating animal – with a guy in Kevin Love who will murder you from the 3-point line.

With this lineup, there is so much less pressure on LeBron night after night. He doesn’t need to score a triple double every night like he averaged in the NBA Finals. He’s got more than enough help in every facet of the game.

AR-150629943A word to David Blatt: This is your starting five. Do NOT be afraid to start such a big front line. There will be plenty of room in the paint for LeBron and Kyrie to drive to the hoop when Love leaks out to the perimeter and a defender has to follow him. And on defense, no opponent is getting to the rim easily — if at all.

16233532-mmmainI’ll be interested to see what the Cavs can do to improve their bench. But just sending Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith back to the bench is a good start. And I love Matthew Dellavedova and his hustle, but we could use a bit more bench help at the point. (Though I do want to keep Deli!)

Say a prayer for good health, Cavs Fans, our long municipal nightmare may soon be over.

And given that the average age of our starting five is just 26 years old — the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks very, very big.

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My Mid-Season NBA Prediction.

NBA BannerNBA Banner 2Mark the date, NBA fans. Today I’m announcing that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers will face each other in the 2015 NBA Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta HawksFull disclosure: I was born and raised in Cleveland – and I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life living in Los Angeles. So, you’d be justified in thinking that I’m less than objective. But you’d be wrong.

I’m not betting on The Cavs and Clips just because they’re my favorite Eastern and Western Conference teams. I’m banking on the basketball brilliance of LeBron James and Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul, Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan.

The Cavaliers and Clippers both began the season with high expectations – and both spent much of the first half of the season dashing those lofty hopes.

458127466-jpgFans and detractors alike expressed concerns about the Cavalier’s first-year head coach. It didn’t help that his name was Blatt – and his team played flat. But just as speculation rose that Blatt’s all-star players were gunning for him behind his back – LeBron and Kyrie and company ran off eight straight wins. (And counting as of this writing.)

DeAndre Jordan, Omer AsikThe Clippers have also gelled in recent weeks – with Lob City finally airborne and the league’s best sixth man, Jamal Crawford, raining shots from every corner of the court. With Doc Rivers, their sage head coach and general manager, making just the right personnel moves, the Clipper’s improving chemistry has been evident in their recent six-game winning streak. (And counting as of this writing.)

Both teams have the talent to get to the finals.

Both teams have the postseason experience.

Both teams have superstars at three positions, a brace of perimeter sharpshooters, dominant inside power and rim protection, speed and athleticism.

2013-04-23T193255Z_1_CBRE93M1IB000_RTROPTP_3_SPORTS-US-NBA-CLIPPERS_JPG_475x310_q85And both teams are improving. Just this week, Cavs guard Kyrie Irving just dropped 55 points on the 32-14 Portland Trailblazers – winning without LeBron. And Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford filled it up for 21 points in the 4th quarter to beat the Denver Nuggets.

And they’re just getting started.

Sorry Warriors, Hawks, Blazers and Wizard fans.

It’ll be The Cavaliers versus The Clippers in the NBA Finals this year.

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The (Not So) Favorite Son Returns?

cleveland_skylineScreen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.45.28 PMAs a Clevelander who never blamed LeBron James for taking his talents to South Beach, let me add my own column space to the ten million blogs currently weighing in on The Decision Part Two:

I’d love to see King James come home to the Best Location in the Nation.

And then I’d like to see Dan Gilbert publicly eat that letter of his at center court!

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A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4, 1970.

(I first posted this article in 2012.)

On May 4th, we should pause to remember the price of freedom, paid in blood by patriots – like the young people who died at Kent State.

On this day 42 years ago at Kent State University, Ohio National Guardsmen fired 67 shots into a group of students protesting the American invasion of Cambodia — killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom was permanently paralyzed.

The small college town of Kent is about 40 miles southeast of Cleveland, where on Monday, May 4, 1970 I was an elementary school student at St. Rocco’s School.  The shooting on the Kent State campus began at 12:24 pm – and by the time we were getting out of school at 3:00 pm, the news had reached Cleveland.  But the news was by word of mouth when I first heard it. And it was wrong.

The first thing I heard when I walked out of school along with my 6th grade classmates was that “some hippies had shot some National Guardsmen.”

That’s what I heard from one of the parents waiting to pick up their kids.

When we got home and turned on our black and white television sets, Walter Cronkite set us straight.

Later, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young captured the moment, the sorrow, the sacrifice — and the defiance.

“Ohio”

Written by Neil Young

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
 
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
 
Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio.

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Farewell to Ray Shepardson, the Visionary Who Saved the Theatres

-35ed441eab8bdd6534306114001_3472737074001_video-still-for-video-3472657321001I honestly had no idea how to headline this tribute to the great Ray Shepardson, who died suddenly and shockingly in Aurora, Illinois late last night.

527176_405018629562668_143982015_nIt sounds like a cliché to say that Ray was full of life and larger than life – but if you knew him as his friends and associates knew him, terms like “dynamo” and “whirlwind” and “passionate” and, yes, “madman” were all frequently employed in the fruitless struggle to capture Ray in mere words.

The man who saved dozens of great old theatres and movie palaces from the wrecking ball was a man of prodigious energy, drive, and “can do” creativity.

I was a teenager in Cleveland, Ohio when I first felt the vibration from the human shockwave that was Raymond K. Shepardson. And I wouldn’t have any idea who he was for another thirteen years.

maxresdefaultIn 1973, my mother took me to see a production of “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” that was staged in the lobby of the State Theatre in Cleveland’s downtrodden, downtown Playhouse Square district.

Brel longestI was just 15 years old, but I knew that this long-running version of “Jacques Brel” was something special – and that there was a lot of excitement in my proud hometown about a surprisingly successful effort to save this group of old movie palaces and Broadway road houses in a city that had been on a long losing streak.

Inspirational young Ray waging the good fight at Playhouse Square.

At that time, I had no idea who Ray Shepardson was, or that he was the person behind the movement to preserve the theatrical and cultural glory of downtown Cleveland.

Tonight, four decades after I experienced “Jacques Brel” in the State Theatre lobby, the lights went out in Playhouse Square. The theatres that Ray saved dimmed their marquees in memory of the educator-turned-preservationist who inspired and orchestrated their revitalization.

“The thing that always baffled me,” said Ray, “is how anyone could walk into those buildings and think they weren’t worth saving.”

I met Ray thirteen years after “Jacques Brel”. Neither of us was living in Cleveland anymore. I had come to Chicago in 1976 to attend Northwestern, graduated in 1980, and in 1986, was performing with my future wife, Victoria Zielinski, in a comedy revue for my own theatrical enterprise, The Practical Theatre Company.

frank=sinatra-chicago-theater_679Our friend and fellow Northwestern alum, Drew McCoy had come to Chicago to work on the grand reopening of The Chicago Theatre: one of the finest old movie palaces on State Street in the Loop. Drew helped Victoria get a job selling seats in the luxury box level. And that brought us into orbit around the force of nature called Ray Shepardson.

He was a restless, relentless bear of man, hustling through the bowels of The Chicago Theatre with a towel around his neck, quick-witted and brimming with bravado. I’d played Professor Harold Hill in high school and I recognized “The Music Man” in Ray: the persuasive, undeterred, incorrigible charm and salesmanship.

-e2db18eed68014bdBut Ray’s accomplishments were far more legitimate than Harold Hills bogus “think system”. In the years after saving Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, Ray had wrought his restorative magic on The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis (built in 1929) – where our friend Drew first worked with the great man.

Unknown-1Ray had also supervised the 1983 restoration and programming of The Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles (built in 1931).

Now, Ray was getting The Chicago Theatre (built in 1921) ready for a grand reopening featuring Frank Sinatra in concert. And, thanks to my girlfriend Victoria and my buddy Drew, I had a ringside seat.

When Ray and I finally made the Cleveland-“Jaques Brel”-Playhouse Square connection, we became fast friends. It was a friendship that, for the next 28 years, I could always pick up right where we had left off. Until yesterday.

But I’d rather go back to that glorious day when The Chicago Theatre reopened on September 10, 1986. My fellow Practical Theatre cast members and I were on the red carpet — opening the main doors wearing white gloves and tuxes. My future wife was prowling the luxury box level. My friend Drew was wearing a path from backstage to the box office. Frank Sinatra sang “My Kind of Town” – and Ray Shepardson was at the height of his powers.

ray-shepardsonjpg-e75d4b65496286feIn the years that followed, Ray was involved in more than 30 restoration projects across the country. He was the irrepressible, uncontrollable and iconoclastic savior of historic vaudeville and movie theatres across the country – taking dowdy old pleasure palaces and returning them to their original, gilded luster.

In a promotional video for Ray’s Majestic Theatre restoration project in San Antonio in 1989, the great songstress Rosemary Clooney said that, “Ray is the one who always comes through. He has wonderful taste. He has the dedication that can make it happen, and I’m a big fan of his.”

419905_487558511255790_1551694763_nMore than two decades later, Ray helped make it happen for Victoria and me when we wanted to take our comedy revue, “The Vic & Paul Show” on the road. Not only did Ray help us beat the drum and get the press to our 2011 run at Mayne Stage in Chicago – he was instrumental in helping us make a theatrical return to my hometown in the summer of 2012. With Ray in our corner, our booking at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square was a great success.

And why not? Ray Shepardson, success and Playhouse Square will always be synonymous.

Sadly, today, the same Playhouse Square marquees that heralded our show in lights…382548_477326598945648_462078561_n

…marked Ray’s tragic passing.ray-shepardson-marquee

Kathleen Crowther of the Cleveland Restoration Society said that Ray “had the courage to go against the grain. I’m not sure he’s ever been properly recognized.”

How do you properly recognize a force of nature?

UnknownI’ve tried to do that, to some paltry degree, with this post.

But mostly I want to say thank you, Ray. I dearly wish I had a chance to do as much for you as you’ve done for me.

I’ll close with the words Victoria wrote today (quoting the English language’s greatest poet who, like Ray, loved the theatre)…

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, dear Ray Shepardson. We miss you.

Rest in peace, friend.

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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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