The Cleveland Indians were on the brink of winning their first World Series since 1948. It was a game rife with opportunity; our ace started the game, our bullpen was fresh, and our manager was clearly superior to Chicago’s. It was a golden opportunity that may never come again. And yet here we were, three outs away from losing a game that only briefly felt winnable (following Rajai Davis’ homer). This would be only the sixth time in the sport’s illustrious history that a team had blown a 3-1 World Series lead.
I sat on my apartment couch, sober, texting my six closest friends from high school. Instead of nihilistic self-pity or unfiltered rage, a bizarre tone dominated the group chat:
We were content.
Some of this could be explained by the fact that this Indians team had no business being in the ALCS, let alone Game 7 of the World Series against a better team. Previous losses in 1995 and particularly 1997 were different. Those squads had some of the most feared lineups of the decade, full of perennial All Stars and Hall of Famers. The 2016 Indians, by contrast, were a reasonably talented team playing way over their heads.
More of it, though, could be explained by the fact that the Cavaliers had already won a championship, the full impact of which I only realize now.
Back in June I knew that it was a huge deal. I genuinely never thought I’d see a Cleveland title in my lifetime; to experience it on Father’s Day and in enemy-controlled San Francisco made it even sweeter. At the behest of my boss I took the next day off, having spent the preceding hours crying tears of happiness and drinking cheap champagne. Friends with no ties to Cleveland send me congratulatory texts and Facebook posts. The significance of the moment was not lost on me.
What I didn’t realize amid that bittersweet euphoria, though, is that it would forever change the way I–and many other Clevelanders–would watch sports. At the end of each season there’s one winner and 30-some losers. Pre-June 19th, pro sports for Clevelanders were just countdowns to the next crushing moment, letdown…or in the case of the Browns, 16 games of hilarious ineptitude. But now we can enjoy the moment; we can recognize that the journey itself is worthwhile; we can take pride in teams even when they succumb to statistical reality and don’t win it all. This is what I suspect and hope other fanbases feel when watching their teams.
Congratulations to the Cubs and their fans*: it’s been a long wait, you’ve been class acts, and you earned it. And kudos to the Tribe for a memorable, hard-fought, entertaining-as-all-hell season.
*(Michael Jordan can still be stuck on an island without Wifi or air conditioning, though.)