Usually, it happens around the MLB All-Star break. It's mid-July, and without a regular slate of games, it's virtually a couple of days without sports. It's really some birthday present for someone like myself; I'm craving a game to watch, but the gods are telling me that I will get nothing, and I will like it. On the other hand, it gives me some time to reflect on what's happened during my time in this world. Sure, it isn't as fascinating as the story of Forrest Gump, or even a real person whose story might include more relevant occurrences than a regular kid from Cleveland, but this is my story, and the only one I can tell with such a degree of accuracy.
35 years ago, Jim Kern represented the Indians in the Mid-Summer Classic in San Diego, with his 6-3 record and 7 saves, as the National League All-Stars bested the American League by a count of 7-3. Kern came on in the 7th inning of a tie game, struck out Reggie Smith of the Dodgers, surrendered a double to Pete Rose, retired Joe Morgan on a flyball, and issued a free pass to George Foster, before AL skipper Billy Martin went with his guy from the Yankees, "Louisiana Lightning" Ron Guidry. Guidry got them out of the inning, but the stars of the Senior Circuit took batting practice of 1st-year Yankee Goose Gossage in the eighth inning to secure the win. When it was over, the result was logged in the annals of baseball history and forgotten. You'll have to forgive me for the lack of details, I was literally born at 10:36 that morning, and unable to ask the powers-that-be at Euclid General to put the game on.
Over the next six or seven years, things would happen and I was very much oblivious to them all. The Tribe would go on to lose 90 games, despite Kern's success; he was 10-10, but kept the ERA just over 3 in '78. Dave Garcia would take over for Jeff Toborg in the middle of the 1979 season, salvaging a "winning" season at 81-80, something the Indians would do only 1 more time in their remaining days at The Stadium. Of course, I was too young to comprehend any of that, as well as the better years of Andre Thorton, Sid Monge, Toby Harrah, and Lary Sorensen. Coincidentally, it was Sorensen, representing the Milwaukee Brewers at the time, who preceded Kern in San Diego on the day of my birth. Having missed "Ten Cent Beer Night" by a few years, the most significant baseball-related event in the history of that ballpark would have to be Len Barker's Perfect Game in 1981, but I was alive, so let's just say I was there...only because everyone else does. Truthfully, any recollection I have of the Tribe starts 28 years ago with a George Brett solo-shot off Vern Ruhle (the only run of the game), spending my 7th birthday with my pops down at the ballpark, even though it was not the first game I ever attended.
I don't know exactly how old I was when I began to understand that Cleveland was a Browns town, but it was at a very young age. I can't confirm any of this, but I'm pretty sure that learned to dislike the Pittsburgh Steelers sometime between my first steps and my first words. I was likely sucking on the corner of a blanket when Brian Sipe was leading the Kardiac Kids into Don Cockcroft field goal range against the Raiders. Who am I kidding, I was probably sucking under a blanket during Shurmur-ball. Ultimately, Red Right 88 was the last definable moment of Cleveland Sports misery that I wasn't subjected to, but I promise you that the Browns were sure to fill my misery quota in the years I do remember.
While I don't exactly see Bernie Kosar as the deity that some people my age do, there is no denying that there's a parallel between me being a fan of the Browns and the kid from Miami being their quarterback. Gary Danielson actually started against the Redskins for the favored Browns (not that I had any understanding of Vegas spreads), but it was Bernie Kosar that would finish that 14-7 loss at The Stadium. The next time I saw or heard from Gary Danielson, he was calling Big Ten games on ABC. A week later, the Browns would travel to the concrete tomb next to the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio River in Western Pennsylvania. The Browns had lost 16 straight to their rivals in that house of horrors, and that cold October day in 1985 would be no different, but it would be the last day of The Jinx. I may not have understood why "field goals" were kicked after touchdowns were scored, but I had a very clear understanding the of The Jinx.
From 4-4 after that loss to the Redskins to 8-8 at season's end, the Browns were Champions of the AFC Central Division, despite scoring 7 fewer points than they allowed. They drew a game against Miami, the defending conference champs, in the Orange Bowl, a game they dominated for the first 30 minutes. This was the first time Cleveland would break my heart, and also the first time my pops and his buddies would mess with me...only I don't say "mess". So I would like to take this chance to apologize to Browns fans everywhere; apparently, our beloved Dawg Pound let Dan Marino and company back in the game because I didn't put my plastic hutch Browns helmet on at the right times during the game. My bad, Cleveland, my bad. If it serves as any consolation, I spent a long time under the dining room table crying my eyes out. The fact that Miami lost to New England the next week, and that New England team was destroyed in the Super Bowl by the Bears, might suggest that the 8-8 Browns weren't going very far. As a 7-year old, for some reason, I put a lot of stock into transitive properties.
Meanwhile, at the Coliseum, a building I've only ever entered in its Indoor Soccer venue configuration, the Cavaliers were recovering from the Ted Stepien era. On the list of things I missed, the ineptly owned Cavs of the early 80's ranks somewhere between the Vietnam Conflict and the draft where the Browns took Mike Phipps. I vaguely knew the Cavs; they had a guy named World B. Free, and a guy named Dirk Minnefield, who I deduced was Frank's brother. I deduced incorrectly. The picture becomes a little more clear, as Ron Harper, Brad Daugherty, and Mark Price enter the picture the next season. They were entertaining and as likable as anything that I only knew through Channel 43 could be, but I didn't have that connection with basketball. I never played organized basketball, which isn't much of an excuse, because I never played soccer, yet we made the journey down I-271 to the "Palace on the Prairie" in Richfield, Ohio to see Kai Haskivi and the Force of the MISL.
New things, things like Super Bowl hopes and Chief Wahoo on the Indians caps entered the picture in 1986. On a much more personal level, the local high school in my community played for the state championship. Setting me up for the lifetime of disappointment ahead, they lost. Speaking of losing, the Cleveland Indians did a whole lot of it, losing 102 games in 1985, but bounced back in 1986 with their cartoonish-looking caps to win 86 games in a year they drafted Greg Swindell out of Texas. Pat Corrales had them looking so good, that in 1987 Sports Illustrated spoke very highly of them...but, it didn't end the way SI promised us it would.
The scheduling gods certainly didn't take it easy on the Browns to start 1986. The Bears, fresh off their Super Bowl massacre of the Patriots in New Orleans, were still the Bears and were in no mood to lose their opener to the Browns at Soldier Field. I couldn't even get upset, remember the kid crying under his father's dining room table the last time the Browns played, they were the Bears. With apologies to "The Wiz", they were the Bears and NOBODY beats them. They bounced back to beat the Oilers of Houston the next week, and The Jinx was buried in Week 5. They would win their last 5 games to finish 12-4, and clinch a playoff spot.
For me, that was the beginning; here is almost everything pertinent between then and now...
That brings us to July 11, 2013. Andrew Bynum agrees to terms with the Cavs, in a move that shocks some people. Danny Salazar makes his Major League debut and gets the win over Toronto, keeping the Tribe within 2.5 games of the 1st place Tigers. If you go 35 years in the other direction, Cleveland has their 1948 World Series title and 4 NFL Championships, not to mention their dominance in 4 years of play in the All-American Football Conference. That must mean the next 35 will offer us nothing but good tidings.
The only question is, what will we do to kill time between the championship parades down Euclid Avenue?