Hope springs eternal

In a rough-hewn, handmade wooden display case in my office
unobtrusively sits a moment in time that never was.

Next to a brick from a bar that burned down, near an
autographed Jack Hamilton baseball and propped up against a Bobby Suter hockey
puck, an unused playoff ticket fades.

Section 101, Row Z, Seat 7 of Jacobs Field was mine and mine
alone for Game One of the 2007 World Series.

The seat was in one of the very last rows of the section
situated above the bullpens.

The price: $200. Worth it 10 times over.

It didn’t matter if it was on Mars. I didn’t care. It was a
ticket to the game.

A former student of mine always shared a love of the Tribe.
We would spend hours talking about the pitching we had or the hitting we
needed. Even after he was no longer a student, he’d stop by and chat about the
team.

His dad was a heavy hitter in Cleveland construction and
knew someone who knew someone and often found himself with a few extra tickets.

One day in October, as the Tribe was dealing with its
playoff run, he stopped by unannounced.

“Dad’s got an extra ticket to Game One. Wanna go with us?”

Baseball starts every season the same way: Hope springs
eternal. Everyone is 0-0. Predictions mean little, prognosticators are often
wrong and teams evolve. The season is a marathon, not a sprint, so injuries can
be dealt with, pheenoms can arise and miracles can occur.

Ten years earlier, the Indians made a miracle run to the
1997 World Series on the back of a team that had lost its top power hitter,
gutted its rotation and had countless off-season issues.
Jaret Wright, son of former major leaguer Clyde Wright, began as an opening day
starter for the Class AA Akron Aeros and finished the season as the starter of
Game 7 of the World Series. Had it not been for a Jose Mesa meltdown, the
21-year-old kid would have likely been the series MVP.

In 2007, the team started with a similar situation. It had a
limited payroll, injury questions and a very competitive AL Central with which
to contend.

As with all Eric Wedge teams, the Tribe that year started
off slowly, rolling out of the gate at 7-7. Three “home” games had to be played
in Milwaukee at Miller Park while another four were postponed, all due to snow.

As expected, C.C. Sabathia was an ace. He bolted to an 8-1
record through the end of May and was anchoring a staff that had been a
question mark. What wasn’t expected was that Cliff Lee, the future Cy Young
winner, would falter to the point of not making this post-season roster.
However, the ageless Paul Byrd and the youngster Fausto Carmona combined for 12
wins through May against only two losses. Joe Borowski was applying his “bend
but don’t break” closing method en route to 45 saves for the season, giving the
fans ulcers but giving the team wins.

Of course, this couldn’t last. It never did if you were a
Cleveland fan. The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive… Anything other than The Ohio
State University that started with a capital “T” like that usually lead to
heartbreak. In this case, it was a simple June swoon. They went 13-13 and
followed that with a 4-4 opening to July as they skidded into the All-Star
Break one game behind the Detroit Tigers.

The American League gutted out a 5-4 All-Star Game victory,
assuring the American League champs home field advantage in the Series. It was
Cleveland’s own Victor Martinez who provided the deciding margin, yanking a
two-run homer just inside the left field foul pole.

After sputtering in the wake of the All-Star Game and
trailing the Detroit Tigers in the Central, General Manager Mark Shapiro made
two astute moves: He traded minor league catcher Max Ramirez to Texas for
former Indian Kenny Lofton and he backed off of Manager Eric Wedge in regard to
who got to play. Wedge moved Josh Barfield out of the line up and replaced him
with rookie Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cliff Lee bottomed out later that month and was sent to
Triple A for almost the remainder of the season. He returned when the rosters
expanded and pitched four times out of the bullpen, but he never became a
dominant force for the team.

After several fits and spits of adjustment, the Tribe found
its in the Central, finishing the season eight games ahead of the foundering
Tigers. It was the team’s first division crown in six years.

The Indians entered the playoffs with the worst of luck. By
virtue of a tie-breaker, the Tribe was seeded second, meaning the Red Sox would
have home field throughout the playoffs. Even worse, the Yankees won the wild
card and thus ended up facing off against Cleveland in the divisional series.

The Tribe took the first game handily 12-3, but the Yankees
were not to be trifled with. It was clearly going to be one of those ugly
series that usually went the way of the Bronx Bombers.

In baseball, as in life, sometimes you look for signs that
something special could happen. In 2003, it was Dave Roberts’ steal in the
darkest of all circumstances that jumpstarted the Red Sox miracle comeback. In
2005, it was A.J. Pierzynski racing to first after a disputed passed ball that
gave Chicago White Sox the spark the team needed to pull out a 2-1 win in the
ALCS.

For those of us who follow Cleveland, we have been burned so
often that regular baseball fortune couldn’t be enough to inspire us.

It couldn’t be something that simple.

It had to be biblical.

And it happened.

With rookie sensation Joba Chamberlain pitching in the
eighth and the Tribe down 1-0, Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore drew a walk. He then
took second on a wild pitch. With Cabrera readying for a sacrifice, a swarm of
nearly 10,000 midges descended upon The Jake, with most of them taking up
residence on Chamberlain. Despite being sprayed down with a gallon of “OFF!”
and toweled off by several staff members, Chamberlain was sufficiently bugged.
Cabrera got down the sacrifice, advancing Sizemore to third. He scored shortly
there after on the second wild pitch of the inning. The midges disappeared
shortly after that and were not heard from again in the series. The Tribe took
it in four games and was off to face Boston.

The Indians were allowed to start marketing World Series
tickets shortly after the divisional series win. It was at this point, I found
myself guaranteed a slot for Game One. I never expected to go, as it was likely
we’d lose in Boston.

The funny thing is, things you don’t expect to happen often
do.

Sabathia and Carmona got the crap kicked out of them in
their starts. Our two aces were spent and we had a lucky 1-1 split to show for
it. However, the oft-injured Jake Westbrook and Byrd pitched gems, allowing us
to dream.

It was 3-1 in the series. In baseball terms, that’s as good
as done.

Of course, when you cheer for a Cleveland team, you know
it’s never really your year. You know it’s not a gimme. You try not to, as Ken
Dryden once noted, “dare to hope.”

The Sox swept the next three games, besting our two aces
again and sweeping us out of the series. The collective score of those three
games was 30-5.

Each game I hoped. Each game I was crushed. Each day, I
prayed.

“Please, God. They had their series in Boston already.
Please let us have ours.”

All to no avail.

As Boston was pummeling Colorado in a series that we easily
could have won, my former student stopped by.

“I’ve got something for you,” he said, extending an envelope
to me.

I opened it and found my World Series ticket.

“Where did this come from?” I asked.

“They sent them to us anyways,” he explained. “It’s supposed
to be just what they do, but I think it’s just mean. Thought maybe you’d like
to have it.”

I thought about dropping it into a shredder, but then I
thought better of it. Eventually, I propped it up among my mementos and
decorations and every so often as the grass turns green and radio stations
start broadcasting games that mean something, I’ll take it down and gently
examine it.

This wistful reminder of something so close…

This year, the Indians were picked to finish fourth out of
five in the Central Division by some pundits.

About the same was expected of them in 2007.

They’re 2-1 to start and are kicking the crap out of the
Tigers as I write this.

Hope springs eternal…

3 thoughts on “Hope springs eternal

  1. Peregwyn says:

    Major League is one of my favorite movies. And I have 4 Indians on my fantasy team.
    ~Misplaced Clevelander

  2. Dan says:

    The Chamberlain game inspired the onlysports post I’ve ever written. Biblical indeed.

  3. Dan says:

    Oh, and speakingof Boston

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