Monday morning at about 10:00am I was standing on the roadside at the halfway point of the Boston marathon (about a block from my house), with my one-month old strapped to my chest, my 8-year old stepson sitting on the curb in front of me, and my 11-year old stepdaughter standing by my side. We were cheering on the wheelchair racers, who each year are the first batch of athletes who pass the midway point. For the next two hours, we cheered on runners, walkers, rollers and military personnel as they passed by. My favorite aspect of the marathon is indiscriminately cheering on everyone with any kind of identifying mark, whether it be a name, a country, a city, or simply a strange outfit ("Go pink tutu!"). I am not alone in this enjoyment, as anyone standing in the crowd along the marathon route can testify.
A few hours later, I was in my office getting a lecture ready for the next day. And then, across my twitter feed, I got the first word of the bombings at the marathon finish line. Within a few minutes, I saw a video of the first bomb. I immediately returned home and proceeded to play catch with my 8-year old in an effort to keep him away from the news. On the walk back to my house, however, for the first time in my five years of living here, I felt like Boston was my home. I have gotten married here. I became a parent here. I had my first kid here. But it took this terrible event to make me feel like a Bostoner.
One of the issues that periodically gets discussed on this site is how our varied constituency came to be Indians fans. I wasn’t born in Cleveland. I was born in upstate New York. Then I moved to Nebraska. It was not until 1985, just before I started first grade, that I moved to Cleveland and began the process of becoming a Cleveland fan. I left Cleveland in 1997 and moved to Atlanta for college. Since then, more than 15 years, I have spent a grand total of about six weeks in Cleveland. I only have one close friend and no family remaining in Cleveland. And yet I remain, much to my wife’s bemusement, a diehard Cleveland fan. Why?
I remember exactly where I was when Michael Jordan hit that jumper over Craig Ehlo. I remember the orange, industrial carpet I was jumping up and down on after Ehlo hit his layup to put the Cavs up by 1. I remember the voice of my dad from behind me saying, "it’s not done yet." I remember the sheer horror that filled me as I saw Jordan lift, elevate, and sink that shot. I remember the abrasive scratch of the carpet on my knees as I hit the floor, sobbing.
I remember exactly where I was when Ernest Byner fumbled just shy of the goal line. I remember the click of the volume dial on our circa 1982 television as I rushed to turn the volume down. I remember the distance between me and the sound of the phone, behind me, ringing, and (again) the angry sound of my dad’s voice hanging up on his brother, a Denver native.
I remember Jim Poole relieving Dennis Martinez in the fifth inning of game 6 in the 1995 World Series. I remember him getting out of the inning, before giving up a leadoff homerun to David Justice, and hating David Justice (before loving him later in the decade). I remember a creeping sense of dread running from the metallic can of Sprite in my hand to my stomach, feeling as if that homerun might be enough.
And don’t even get me started on 1997...
Sports is seldom tragic, and when it is, it has nothing to do with the result on the scoreboard. And yet, sports can be traumatic. That trauma, in turn, can be formative. I have a lot of great memories of growing up as a Cleveland sports fan, but I don’t think any of them contain the visceral memory embedded within those moments of trauma. I became, and remain, a Cleveland sports fan to a large degree because of the trauma inherent in that label applied to the last 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60...years.
One of the more annoying aspects of being a Cleveland fan is the fatalistic attitude carried by many of its fans. I don’t think an embrace of Cleveland’s trauma, however, is an embrace of fatalism. It is simply an acknowledgement of a shared reality many of us have experienced. If that shared trauma gives us something to bind us together, so that when victory comes--and victory will come for us someday--we are there to share it together, I am willing to embrace it.
The tragedy of what happened in Boston Monday afternoon makes sports seem trivial. I am fortunate that I do not know anyone who was directly affected, though like many, I am only an additional degree removed from several of the bombings victims and direct observers. However, the mirror of the tragedy has, I think, finally revealed to me why I remain a Cleveland fan.
I am and will always be a proud Cleveland fan. And now I am a Bostoner.