Sunday, November 06, 2016

Goodbye to Our Indian Summer on A Lazy Sunday

The lighting lit up the sky to the west of Cleveland as I drove away from the greatest baseball game I had ever witnessed, a seesaw affair that left my head dazed and my legs sore.

The wind whipped the leaves off the trees and the rain began falling somewhere around Edgewater Park as traffic moved along the Shoreway away from downtown.

The storm that was coming would end the glorious weather on the North Coast that accompanied Games 6 and 7, the violence and suddenness of it jarring to take in as I drove on.  The first tendrils of the storm had caused the rain delay that may or may not have affected Game 7, but now it was coming with its full fury.  Barely able to see out of my windshield, cars pulled over with their hazards on, and – as I drove on – all I could think was that this was finally and officially the end of our Indian Summer. 

Really, that’s what this all was for the Cleveland Indians of 2016 – an Indian Summer, an unexpected extension of sunshine and happiness until the harsh reality of winter comes around.  Against all odds, the Indians persevered to extend our Indian Summer for one more inning, one more game, one more series until the storm clouds were literally gathering over the city, threatening to end it for good.

And ultimately, that’s what happened early on Thursday morning after the Tribe inexplicably came back and came back and came back against an unquestionably loaded Cubs team that had been coronated by the national media throughout the series.  The Indians pushed and pushed until they had nothing left to give, no more strength to push, no more bullets in the chamber. They came up on the short end of an Instant Classic, with plays that will live in Cleveland lore…even if the result of the game left us all sad and depressed.

Arriving home, I went upstairs to find The DiaBride still awake, talked about how my boys watched it with her (and for this I apologize to their teachers) all the way to the end.  How she and the boys lived and died with every peak and valley the game had to offer…and there were a lot.  We talked about the game, about how much fun it was, and how it was a perfect night in more ways than one…up until that final out.

When the alarm went off not too much later than we went to bed (though at the same time it always does) on Thursday, we all roused ourselves and went about our morning routine.  While walking into the kids’ bathroom, I came upon my 9-year-old son (who was once referred to here as the DiaperTribe…if that passage of time can be believed), slowly brushing his teeth – head buried in his elbow.

Walking over, I gave him a hug – seeing too much of my own fandom and my own self in his sad posture – and asked him what was the matter.  He winced out, “I’m just having the worst morning.”
Heart in my throat, I held him a little tighter and said, “we all are buddy…we all are.”

At that moment, I realized that’s what this is all about – fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, family and a shared love of baseball, riding the roller coaster that is a baseball season and, hopefully and much more acutely, the baseball playoffs.  Sure, there are ups and downs…but in the end, you want to ride it again because of the experience.  While most Clevelanders still think it’s all about the destination, it’s the journey that makes it enjoyable and worthwhile. 

As Jonah Keri pointed out, this final game, this season, this Indians’ team is why we love baseball. 
No, the Indians didn’t win the World Series, but they just kept plowing through every roadblock put in front of them, overcoming an absurd amount of injuries, suspensions, a rejected trade from an All-Star catcher, and an apathetic fan base to get where they were.  As Joel Sherman put it very simply (and you should read this), “the Indians are a marvel”.

And they are and there’s plenty of time to wonder who will be patrolling CF next year (hopefully someone that can catch, throw, and hit), or whether Danny Salazar’s “injuries” are in his elbow or in his head (and after reading this…gulp), if Brantley’s injury can stop reminding me of the one that turned the monster once known as “Pronk” back into the mere mortal known as “Travis Hafner”, who will be the starting catcher next year, or even if Chief Wahoo will be returning in 2017.

For now, we saw Frankie Lindor emerge as a legitimate Halley’s Comet…
We saw Kipnis and Kluber write their name in ink among Indians’ greats…
We saw Jose Ramirez become some combination of Chone Figgins’ defensive versatility, Jose Altuve’s bat-to-ball ability, and George Jefferson’s swagger
We saw Francona manage circles around the rest of the league and redefine how bullpens are implemented, not by how long he used these guys but WHEN he used these guys – using his best relievers in the highest leverage situations, regardless of inning or labels and roles…
Night after night, we saw magic...

And yes, this team remains largely intact and the path to the playoffs can be laid out pretty clearly, giving us that other aspect of fandom – hope.

That said, it is more than possible that they don’t go back for a while – or even with this group – as the pain and the lessons of 2008 still loom large.  But this team still feels special.  Their resiliency, their determination, their next-man-up mentality was impossible to ignore and contagious to everyone that ever loved the Indians.  Friends of mine still bitter about that day that Victor sat crying in front of his locker, who pushed the Indians away from their hearts for fear of being hurt again, couldn’t help but be pulled in, to the point they they would fly in from all over the country to be back in their hometown for this World Series.

Once we were all pulled in, the fun lasted all summer.  Right until that final out, when Michael Martinez (MICHAEL MARTINEZ!?!) hit a soft dribbler to end the season.  Never has there been a more apropos end, as the Indians (who had long passed the point of being “short-handed”) had nothing left to go to than a player that was claimed off waivers in mid-August of THIS year.  They had literally exhausted all their options until their last hope rested on a 34-year-old journeyman because…well, because baseball.

And nobody faulted them for it.  Because they did all that any fan could have asked.  They went down fighting with everything they could have possibly fought with against teams they were given NO chance to beat throughout the season and right through the playoffs.  They gave us a level of excitement that I’ve never experienced in my life as a baseball fan.
They gave us phenomenal memories and moments of exasperation and left us feeling exhausted.
They gave us something to share with our families – with our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters – all while prodding each other on, all while giving us hope in the face of everything to the contrary that said that they shouldn’t have even been there.
And isn’t that what this is all about anyways? 

But this is more than just my story, or your story, or a story so personal and heartbreaking that you cannot help but wipe the tears from your cheeks.

This is our story, our shared experience - one of hugs and high-fives with complete strangers, one of nervous nauseousness that seemed to last a month, and one of meaningful embraces with loved ones - both in ecstasy and agony.  Our story that gave us almost everything we wanted…right until the very end.
This was our Indian Summer.  The one we will never forget.