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.
In a few years, Balk, who shopped for souvenirs while wearing a black hoodie that said, “Ohio Against The World,” will tell her son the amazing story of his first seasons as a Cleveland fan.
“You know,” she said. “This has been quite year for us.”