Cleveland: Ya Gotta Be Tough

by Peter Kirsanow

That was the legend on a T-shirt popular in my hometown in the Seventies and early Eighties. The legend was a statement about a confluence of factors that made Cleveland . . . well, Cleveland: physically demanding jobs in foundries, steel mills, and auto-assembly plants; salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense residents; brutal weather (Forbes recently ranked Cleveland’s weather the nastiest of any major city, although I think Buffalo takes the title); more than one neighborhood in which body armor is highly recommended; and the futility of its professional sports teams.

When the T-shirt first appeared, Cleveland hadn’t seen a championship in any sport in about 15 years. It’s now been 47 years since the Cleveland Browns, led by Jim Brown, won the NFL Championship in 1964. The Indians last won a World Series in 1948. And  many believe Cleveland’s best hope for an NBA Championship left when its native son took his talents to South Beach last summer.

Cleveland fans know better than to get their hopes up until the trophy is securely in hand. We are the city of The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot. Not only do we give our sports failures names, but we remember precisely where we were when our hearts were torn out. Again. Red Right 88? In my parents’ basement. Bottom of the ninth, Game 7 of the ‘95 World Series? In my kitchen.

Ya gotta be tough.

So we don’t get our hopes up merely because the Indians, after being ranked dead last in the majors in the preseason Power Rankings, have the best record in baseball. We don’t start checking our October travel schedule because the Indians’ run differential is twice that of the No. 2 team. We don’t buy season tickets because a bunch of 23-year-olds in the starting rotation look like their competing with one another for the Cy Young. We don’t scrap July vacation plans so that we can watch a revitalized Grady Sizemore hit for the cycle during a homestand against the Yankees and former teammate C. C. Sabathia.

Nope. We don’t do those things. Instead, we smile. We check the box scores. We enjoy it while it lasts. We scan frantically about looking for that shoe — more precisely, that big, steel-toed Cleveland boot – to drop. And we pray that October gets here yesterday.