Once upon a time at a bar in Harvard Square, a buddy from college remarked that I was his only friend who, when placed in a room full of bankers, consultants, doctors, and lawyers, would be drawn to the one guy wearing a Carhartt jacket. (The guy ended up being quite smart and interesting, thankyouverymuch.)
Perhaps that interpretation of my taste explains my feelings for you, Cleveland. You see, I have enjoyed sports in plenty of glamorous places, but you remain one of the best sports towns I know.
I’ve been nursing this crush on you for years. I suppose I could blame it on nostalgia, since some of my earliest and most formative experiences watching professional sports were at Gund Arena (a.k.a “The Q”) and The Jake (a.k.a. Progressive Field).
But nostalgia isn’t the only thing fueling my attachment to you. After all, I grew up just as close to (earmuffs!) Pittsburgh and had my very first MLB baseball experience at Three Rivers. Truth be told, Cleveland, you have given me a unique sampling of teams and figures to think about in the wide world of sports: the Cavs, the Tribe, the Browns 1.0 and 2.0; Bernie and Vinny; CC and Thome; Price and Ferry; Bron Bron, Baerga, and Belle. You even gave me both the Rockers and John Rocker for a time, which covers a sports spectrum more colorful than this girl could ever ask for.
Perhaps my affection for you remains strong because we’ve never actually been together. If I had ever fully committed to you and your teams, your charming quirks might have devolved into exasperating deal-breakers that pushed me to the end of my rope and landed me angry and sad and shouting invectives at an empty building from the middle of the street (see also: Factory of Sadness).
Some of your true fans will rib me for romanticizing your quirks. They will grumble about all those ill-conceived front-office moves, bad management, and cruddy seasons. They will smirk about Varejao and scoff at McCoy and rue the day that Lofton was traded because that really was the beginning of the end. So much losing, their care-worn gazes will say. And they are not wrong. But they are overlooking something.
You are many wonderful things, Cleveland, but you are not high-gloss glamorous. And do you really want to be? Your hard-scrabble, Rust Belt identity itself has been romanticized ad nauseam, but I think many Cleveland loyalists derive real pride from your bearing of that image. You wouldn’t be all those fascinating shades of you unless you were playing out the salt-of-the-earth and underdog narratives.
Furthermore, at a fundamental level, sports fans don’t follow a team because they expect – or want – that team to win every time. Winning streaks can be highly satisfying, sure, and the occasional championship is exhilarating and for some fans even vindicating. However, the purpose of watching (or playing) sports is not to win every time; the deeper utility of sport is in not knowing if you will win. It is the not knowing that keeps us buying tickets and tuning in. (Aside: The sexy, risky side of uncertainty is also what makes betting on sports such a massive, lucrative industry.)
There is much about being a human that one knows with certainty: there will be bills to pay; there will be some responsibilities to face; the body will age, and at some point, the body will die. (Too dark? My bad.) But in the midst of that heavy, inevitable stuff, we will relish the thrill of not knowing how some things will turn out but will be excited to find out. And with you, Cleveland, we never really do know, do we? Thank you for that pleasure.