Cleve­land’s fairy­tale year gets bet­ter as In­di­ans in Se­ries

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Tom Withers

The gru­el­ing four-month cham­pi­onship drought could soon be over.

Cleve­land, yes, Cleve­land, a city kicked around for years and where sports heart­break was en­grained in the col­lec­tive DNA of gen­er­a­tions of fans and mis­ery was a fum­ble or John El­way touch­down pass away, is on deck for an­other ti­tle cel­e­bra­tion.

This year, ev­ery­one else is play­ing for sec­ond place. It’s Cleve­land’s turn in the spotlight.

The empty cups and bot­tles had barely been cleaned up from the sum­mer-long party after LeBron James and the Cava­liers stormed back to win the win the NBA Fi­nals, when along come th­ese im­prob­a­ble In­di­ans, a team that has de­fied the odds all sea­son and ad­vanced to the World Se­ries for the first time since 1997.

And in a per­fect sports storm al­most unimag­in­able to the most op­ti­mistic fan, the Cavs will re­ceive their di­a­mond-stud­ded rings Tues­day night at Quicken Loans Arena and be­come the first Cleve­land team since 1964 to hoist a world cham­pi­onship ban­ner as the In­di­ans throw out the first pitch in Game 1 next door at Pro­gres­sive Field.

“Is there any bet­ter way?” asked James, the star whose re­turn home in 2014 trig­gered a wave of hope across North­east Ohio. “I don’t know, hav­ing an ice cream truck out­side both are­nas at the same time as well. It’s great. We get to host the World Se­ries and we get our rings on the same night — at the same time.

“If we had a re­tractable roof it would be prob­a­bly the loud­est (sound) we ever heard, so it’s pretty spe­cial,” he said.

For years, Cleve­land was lit­tle more than a punch­line to out­siders — a city dubbed The Mis­take On The Lake.

Th­ese days, the joke’s on ev­ery­one else. Cleve­land is un­der­go­ing a 21st cen­tury re­nais­sance that in­ten­si­fied when the Cavs stopped the city’s dry spell without a ma­jor pro sports cham­pi­onship at 52 years.

Now the city’s abuzz about the In­di­ans, who haven’t won the World Se­ries since 1948.

On Thurs­day, the fi­nal World Se­ries tick­ets sold out in 15 min­utes and fans en­dured long lines to buy mer­chan­dise com­mem­o­rat­ing the AL pen­nant.

Clau­dia Beal was one of them, and as she waited pa­tiently at a sport­ing goods store in sub­ur­ban West­lake, the mother of three boys was sa­vor­ing ev­ery sec­ond.

“When I moved here, peo­ple thought I was crazy. They were like, ‘Oh, Cleve­land,”’ she said, rolling her eyes. “And now they see what it’s like and we’re get­ting our turn. I think ev­ery­one now re­al­izes what a great city it is. It has this bad rap. I didn’t know I was go­ing to move here, and once I got here, I was like, this is amaz­ing.”

And as Cleve­land’s im­age changes, so does its peo­ple.

By win­ning it all, the Cavs in­spired con­fi­dence in fans who grew to ex­pect the worst in big mo­ments. They’d been tor­tured by El­way beat­ing the Browns in AFC cham­pi­onship games, Michael Jor­dan knock­ing down a game-win­ning shot to sink the Cavs and the In­di­ans los­ing Game 7 to Florida in ‘97.

But James and his team­mates, who have ral­lied be­hind the In­di­ans at play­off games this Oc­to­ber, gave fans the be­lief any­thing is pos­si­ble. They also took some of the pres­sure off the city’s other teams.

“That’s part of my whole mind­set is to in­spire as many peo­ple as I pos­si­bly can — from kids grow­ing up in my in­ner city to pro­fes­sional athletes in our city,” James said.

Cavs coach Ty­ronn Lue has en­trenched him­self into Cleve­land since ar­riv­ing two years ago. Even now, months after his team’s his­toric come­back, he’s stopped by fans bask­ing in a ti­tle that was al­ways out of reach.

“I don’t know why, but they do come up to me and thank me,” Lue said, smil­ing. “We’re champs and they carry them­selves like that and right­fully so.”

Anne Balk feels grate­ful. Like so many Cleve­land fans, she’s en­joy­ing this 2016 joyride. Her jour­ney, though, has deeper mean­ing.

As the Cavs marched to­ward a cham­pi­onship, she gave birth and spent many nights in front of the TV watch­ing play­off games along with her baby boy, Bodhi.

GENE J. PUSKAR — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

In this file photo, Cleve­land Cava­liers’ Kyrie Irv­ing stands on the roof of a pickup truck be­fore a pa­rade cel­e­brat­ing the NBA bas­ket­ball team’s cham­pi­onship, in down­town Cleve­land. Four months after LeBron James and the Cava­liers ended the city’s cham­pi­onship drought at 52 years by win­ning the NBA ti­tle, the In­di­ans are back in the World Se­ries for the first time since 1997.

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