Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the Matter of One Week's Time...And What a Week it Was- A musing on a sports miracle

It was a warm Friday night in Northeast Ohio. One of those Mid-June evenings that bridges the gap between spring and summer. However this evening there wasn’t much joy being felt over this fact. In an arena in downtown Cleveland, the city’s beloved basketball team the Cleveland Cavaliers were in the final minutes of a certain defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, a team that seemed destined to win the Championship over the Cavs. Fans looked downcast, some holding back tears, as the final minute ticked away. This was it, game four was ending and the Cavs were one loss away from series defeat. Worse, they were headed back to Oakland for game five……

Game five took place on a Monday night, a night strangely chilly for June 13th. On that chilly night though, began what now are easily remembered as six day of magic for all those living on shores of the lake called Erie with a tower that is Terminal. That night, behind 41 point performances from both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, the Cavaliers shocked everyone by beating the Warriors on their home court,112-97, and successfully sending the series back to Cleveland for game six; a game that everyone knew, would be the biggest sporting event the town had hosted in many years.

That Thursday night was definitely a big deal! Fans who attended the game were give a black shirt with a big Cavs “C” on it. The goal was to give the effect of a sea of black in the stands, and it worked. The Cavs picked up right where they left off in game five, opening the game with a 8-0 run, leading to a 31-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. The crowd was electric the entire game and the Cavs never lost the lead for the entire game, though the Warriors naturally made it quite close at times. However, the final was 115-101, and suddenly NE Ohio began to buzz. Suddenly the reality began to set in. The Cavs had forced a game seven; something that less than a week prior had seemed unthinkable!

Father’s day. June 18th, 2016. What a day. I was actually at the Indians game that afternoon with my parents. The Indians won the game, and as the fans were exiting Jacob’s Field, chants of ‘Let’s go Cavs! Let’s go Cavs!!” broke out. The city of Cleveland was alive with a buzz that I have not experienced very often. That afternoon, there were equal amounts of traffic leaving downtown after the Indians game, and entering downtown to get ready for what would go down as perhaps the biggest city wide watch party in the history of Cleveland, OH. People lined up in parking garages to watch the game on the giant screen outside Quicken Loans Arena, while inside that same arena 20,000 fans lined the seats to watch the game on the giant screens inside. Every bar was filled to the max. Many ran out of everything. However, no one was overly angry about it. This night would belong to Cleveland folklore forever.

You all know the rest and don’t need me to re-count it in full detail, but needless to say as Kyrie Irving hit the three pointer with under a minute left, and LeBron hit his second free throw to ice the Cavs 93-89 win, downtown Cleveland became the scene of perhaps the biggest celebration possible. Policemen were heard saying back to their dispatchers, “we are currently watching a giant crowd of people. They aren’t violent, they are just very happy.” Strangers hugged. People high-fived and shook hands with city police officers. That night, there was total unity of mind and heart. For one night, politics didn’t matter. Differing beliefs about doctrine didn’t matter.. For the Christian it was a microscopic example of what heaven will be like one day, where all believers are completely united in love and mind before Christ. Sports, while often heavily idolized, are one of the few uniters of people we still have, and can be harnessed for so much good. That night in Cleveland, no one rioted. No one looted. Everyone took care of each other. May we begin to see that happen more and more in Cleveland!

Even if the Cavs bring us another championship this year, it won’t be quite like the experience of that first one. Things like what this town experienced over those crazy six nights, are unrivalled and unprecedented. A Cleveland team overcoming a 3-1 deficit was simply unthinkable. No one dared even believe it was possible. That is why the first ever Cleveland Cavalier’s Championship in franchise history, and the first championship for Cleveland in 52 years was record breaking and stunning and absolutely euphoric. A second championship in many years would be fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but I also won’t be devastated if this year doesn’t end with a repeat championship. LeBron and company got us one championship, and if we are all honest, that is more than probably many of us thought we would see in our lifetime. Never forget the joy of last year’s win. No matter what happens this year, no one can ever take that away. Go Cavs!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Five Great Indians Home Openers! -Another Story Blog

In honor of the Indians 24th home opener at Jacob’s Field set to occur this afternoon, I thought it might be fun to look back on what I consider to be the five greatest home opening games in the ballpark’s history.

5. April 4th, 2014. The 20th anniversary of the ballpark doesn’t look to be overly impressive or exciting upon first look at the score. The Indians won handily 7-2. However, for over half the game the Tribe’s offense had been shut out, and they headed into the bottom of the sixth trailing the Minnesota Twins 2-0. Then catcher Yan Gomes had a seven pitch at bat to start off the inning, culminating in a solo home run, cutting the deficit in half. A walk and sacrifice bunt later, and Nick Swisher teed off on a pitch, scorching it into the right center field stands, netting the Indians a 3-2 lead, a lead they would continue to add on to as the game went on.

4. April 6th, 2007. A piece of humorous Cleveland sports lore is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary. Technically there is no record of this game ever happening, because well, it technically wasn’t an official game. However, those of us who tuned in or were at Jacob’s Field for this home opener will never forget the events that did transpire. It was cold, and snowy most of that Good Friday afternoon, but at just after 4pm the snow slowed to just about non-existent and the game began. Amidst snow flurries for the next four and two thirds innings, the Indians built a 4-0 lead over the Seattle Mariners. Then the snow began to really come down hard, and with two outs, the Mariners had the bases loaded and Jose Lopez at the plate. That is when Mariners manager Mike Hargrove chose to go out and plead his case with the umpires that his hitters couldn’t see the ball due to the snow. As Hargrove strategically stalled for time, the snow thickened ever more, the umpires called for the game to be delayed, and the rest as they say is history. The snow didn’t stop in Cleveland for two more days, causing the postponement of the entirely scheduled four game series, as well as moving the next scheduled three game series with the Los Angeles Angels to Milwaukee’s Miller Park. The Mariners would need to come into Cleveland three separate times throughout the summer of 2007 to make up the games. Had the Indians been allowed to get that final out in the top of the 5th inning, one game would have been official at least, but then, there wouldn’t be this chapter addition in the bizarre stories of Cleveland sports lore.

3. April 10th, 1998. On Good Friday afternoon,the Indians opened the home portion of their 1998 schedule, and had gotten a 5-4 lead to closer Mike Jackson headed into the top of the ninth inning against the then Anaheim Angels. With two outs, a single by Garrett Anderson tied the score at 5-5 and sent the game into extra innings. Despite the blown save, the Tribe was resilient, and as they entered the tenth against Angel’s closer Troy Percival, a pitcher they had a lot of success against in the 90’s, there was good reason for optimism. With two men on and one out, Jim Thome stepped up to the plate and hammered Percival’s 1-1 pitch deep into the opposite field bleachers for a walk off three run homer, sending the sell-out crowd into a roar of euphoria. My personal memory of this game, was waiting around the television with my parents while we talked with my grandparents on the phone. Our plan to all go out to a fish fry was temporarily halted when the game went into extra innings. The agreement was that if the Indians didn’t score in the 10th, we would meet at the fish fry and listen to the rest of the game via the radio. All of that discussing and deciding was brought to mute when Thome connected, sending us out to dinner on a thrilling note!

2. April 12th, 1999. It was a chilly but sunny afternoon. Dave Burba pitched for the Indians and did well, holding the Royals to just two runs. However, the Tribe’s offense was non existent, and through seven innings they trailed 2-0. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Kenny Lofton walked, and Enrique Wilson, not known for his power by any means, had a hard fought seven pitch at bat, ending with him lining a 3-2 pitch over the right field fence for a two run homer, knotting the score at 2-2! In the bottom of the ninth, the Indians loaded the bases with two outs, but Roberto Alomar grounded out and sent the game into extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, after a walk and single put runners on first and second, Travis Fryman stepped up and launched a high fly ball that just carried over the wall in right center field, sending the sell-out crowd home happy!

1. April 4th, 1994. Simply put, the inaugural game at Jacob’s Field is still the greatest home opener the corner of Carnegie and Ontario has ever hosted. Randy Johnson took a no hitter and 2-0 lead into the eighth inning, with Indians legend Bob Feller, the only pitcher to ever hurl an opening day no hitter, pacing nervously in the press box, as his distinction began to undergo serious threat of slipping away. Johnson walked Candy Maldonado to start the bottom of the eight and then Sandy Alomar broke up the no hit bid with a single! Manny Ramirez followed that by hitting a long drive off the wall in left field for a double, allowing both runners to score and knotting the score at 2-2! The game headed to the tenth where the Mariners regained the lead 3-2, before a young Jim Thome pinch hit with a man on and one out in the tenth and lined a double down the right field, moving Manny Ramirez to third. An RBI groundout later by Omar Vizquel re-tied the score at 3-3. Finally in the bottom of the 12th, Wayne Kirby slashed a single down the left field line, scoring Eddie Murray with the winning run! It was a game that featured a little of everything, and set the tone for the type of games Jacob’s Field would host over the next 22 years!

What type of excitement will this ballpark host in 2017? We begin to find out today! Go Tribe!

Footage from The "Snow Opener" in 2007

First Game At Jacob's Field (Part 1)

First Game at Jacob's Field (Part 2)

Home Opener 2014 Highlights

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Day A Baseball Game Saved Hundreds of Lives-A True Story

It was an exceptionally warm day for October, even by Bay Area standards.  The temperature sat in the mid 80’s and the late afternoon sun was shining brightly, as people were arriving into and finding their seats at Candlestick Park, where the first pitch of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants was set to occur in a half hour. It was 5pm, West Coast Time, and ABC was just beginning their pregame broadcast.

Then suddenly at 5:04pm, as broadcaster Tim McCarver was narrating highlights of game two of the Series, the ground began to shake, the TV feed got choppy, and fellow broadcaster Al Michaels interjected to state “I tell you what, we are having an earth….” and then silence….followed by static and then an empty ABC logoed blue screen, finally followed by, as audio began to come back on the air, Al Michaels stating an earthquake had just in fact occurred and added for the sake of levity “that was the greatest opening in the history of television.”

Power went out all over both San Francisco and Oakland, including the power at Candlestick Park, and therefore the game would be cancelled shortly after, as players sought to find their own family members amongst the crowd. What had initially produced additional excitement in the crowd slowly turned to a quiet somber mood, as word began to spread through fans with portable battery operated radios that the earthquake had caused highway bridges had collapsed as well as a section of the Bay Bridge. What had just occurred would come to be known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and it measured at 6.9 on the RIchter scale.

Just prior to that season Candlestick Park had ungone major structural improvements that likely prevented the quake from causing the upper grandstands to fall. No one knows for sure, but thousands of fans could have been injured or killed had these repairs not taken place. However, these improvements allowed the ballpark to actually be one of the safest places for the crowd of 62,000 people to be at that moment.

Across the Bay in Oakland, a section of the top of the double tiered Cypress Street Viaduct collapsed onto the lower deck, crushing cars underneath, killing 42 people. However, highway experts estimate that had this been a normal Tuesday at 5pm, hundreds of cars would have been on that freeway section at that time, but due to the World Series game, many folks had left work early, or stayed at work for office watch parties.

Thus, October 17th, 1989 can be remembered as a day a baseball game likely saved hundreds of lives, due to the unique nature of both cities having vested interests in the game, and the time of day the game was scheduled.  It is also the only known time an earthquake of such magnitude has ever been captured on live TV.

The World Series would resume 10 days later, after extensive examination of both Candlestick Park and The Oakland Coliseum, for structural soundness. The Oakland Athletics would win the series 4-0.

Prior to the start of the rescheduled game three, ABC sportscaster, Al Michaels would give this monologue on the endearing nature of baseball, and how in difficult times it can bring about healing and help restore a sense of normalcy to the world:

“At this very moment ten days ago, we began our telecast with an aerial view of San Francisco; always a spectacular sight, and particularly so on that day because the cloudless sky of October 17 was ice blue, and the late-day sun sparkled like a thousand jewels.

That picture was very much a mirror of the feel and the mood that had enveloped the Bay Area...and most of Northern California. Their baseball teams, the Giants and A's, had won pennants, and the people of this region were still basking in the afterglow of each team's success. And this great American sporting classic, the World Series, was, for the time being, exclusively theirs.

Then of course the feeling of pure radiance was transformed into horror and grief and despair- in just fifteen seconds.[16] And now on October 27, like a fighter who's taken a vicious blow to the stomach and has groggily arisen, this region moves on and moves ahead.

And one part of that scenario is the resumption of the World Series. No one in this ballpark tonight- no player, no vendor, no fan, no writer, no announcer, in fact, no one in this area period- can forget the images. The column of smoke in the Marina. The severed bridge. The grotesque tangle of concrete in Oakland. The pictures are embedded in our minds.

And while the mourning and the suffering and the aftereffects will continue, in about thirty minutes the plate umpire, Vic Voltaggio will say 'Play Ball', and the players will play, the vendors will sell, the announcers will announce, the crowd will exhort. And for many of the six million people in this region, it will be like revisiting Fantasyland.

But Fantasyland is where baseball comes from anyway and maybe right about now that's the perfect place for a three-hour rest.”

Indeed baseball is a great distraction to us in times of sadness. I began to understand this after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 prompted a week of baseball game cancellations around the country. However, on 9/18/01, baseball came back, and some healing through the joy of the great American past time began.

So, as we begin the great ride of the 162 game marathon that will make up the 2017 baseball season, we look back on a day a scheduled game potentially saved many lives, and prepare to enjoy the endearing seasonal ride once more, surrounded by friends and family. Go Tribe!

Actual Pregame Coverage leading up to the earthquake

MLB Tonight's 25th Anniversary Six Minute Documentary