Sometime between the top and the bottom of the first I arrived at Vaughan's Pub in Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois, and asked if they could toss the Indians game on the TV at the corner of the bar.
Jackie, the bartender, flipped through the options and pulled the game up in time for me to watch Cheslor Cuthbert fly out to center field. Two other patrons fluttered at the end of the bar by the window, on their second mimosas half an hour after the bar opened.
Kluber decimated the Royals by dropping breaking pitches on the black and fastballs in enticing but unhittable positions. Jackie continued to make bloody mary's with a splash of Guinness, and the bar slowly filled with Cubs fans. Not unusual, given its location about five minutes from Wrigley Field.
It is a Cleveland bar, according to its website. The stickers in the window from Put-in-Bay and other Ohio haunts reinforce this claim. Still, I wonder whether there is an actual fan base in the city for the Indians. I've attended the Browns Backers bars and can follow the Lebron jerseys to the nearest place showing the Cavs, but at a pub that goes out of its way to announce that it plays Indians games, I was the only fan on a Sunday afternoon.
When the rain delay struck, a man at the bar immediately slapped my shoulder. "Hey man, do you mind if we flip this to the Tigers game?"
I said no while looking at the three other TVs above the bar and the four behind us, all tuned to the White Sox and Cubs.
At the time, I assumed that the game would be rained out. The Indians lead 5-0 in the sixth inning, an official game if the league decided to call it. A clean sweep of the Royals, the World Series championships washed away cleanly by a simple thunderstorm. While I waited for the official word, Jackie wondered aloud a number of times why there weren't other Indians fans at the bar if the game was important enough for me to be there. Embarrassed, it took me a minute to find the right answer, to correctly frame it with the fervor of Cleveland fans.
"The Indians are still in the early stages," I said. This season and in their current version of the team. The bats have woken up, though, and the pitching leads the division, but the team hasn't seriously threatened to win it all since 2007."
"It's just funny," Jackie said, "Since we're going to be packed later for the Cavs game."
I nodded. Next to me, another Tigers fan settled up to be bar, meeting his friend. "If the Indians make the World Series this year, it'll be different."
Then, I think of the rows of empty seats in the Progressive Field, the blanks spaces in the bleachers, all echoing the noise of John Adams' drum. I like to think that the seats will fill, but I'm not sure.
* * *
"I'm not even sure I want to watch this game."
He mumbles it from the couch in his Believeland shirt and a throwback Cavaliers hat. A cluster of us sit in a friends apartment, attempting to coax the Cavs to victory in between mouthfuls of garlic cream cheese chip dip.
"We're in a lot of trouble."
"Fuck Draymond Green."
"I don't know, maybe if he ever passed the ball."
The Cavaliers teeter on the edge of immortality in this, another trip to the NBA Finals with Lebron at the helm. I will be completely honest: I am not a huge Cavaliers fan. I grew up in Orlando and became aware of sports during the 1994-1995 basketball season when I watched Penny Hardaway drive and kick to Nick Anderson or lob an alley-oop to young Shaquille O'Neal. Despite this, I can't help but hope that the Cavaliers win.
"Do the Cavs need to win this game to have a shot at the series?" I asked the room. There are solemn nods, furtive looks to the floor. Game two on the road is a crucible; a team that returns to their own city in an 0-2 whole is unlikely to even up the series, let alone win it. I wonder whether or not these are the same kinds of reactions I will receive if I ask about the Cleveland Indians attacking a seven-game series against a National League opponent in October. These are the nods of fans who understand that it is difficult to win a seven-game series after ceding the first two, the dark acceptance of fans too used to heartbreak.
We stumble on to this topic as the Warriors pull away: how would it feel rooting for the Tribe in a World Series?
One friend, a native of Eastlake, said he couldn't bear to see the Indians face off against the Cubs.
"I wouldn't know what to do with myself," he said. "I want the Indians to win, of course. But how can I root against the Cubs in a World Series?"
I once thought this man would pick a fight with Kris Bryant in the parking lot if he thought it would help the Indians win. And yet, these are the strange allegiances that grow as we move away from our homes. The lines that once divided us so evenly -- Indians fan, Cavs fan blur into actual adult thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Or do they? I ask a similar question about the Cavaliers. Is there a situation where you would —
"No, fuck no," the room responds. "Why would we root for anyone other than the Cavaliers?"
I laugh and remember Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton and Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner and can't quite connect the dots. Why would I root for anyone other than the Indians? What is the difference between the Indians and the Cavaliers? I can't think of any Ohioans in Chicago who would accept the Bulls as a second team, thinking that a series against the Cavs would cause cognitive dissonance.
I feel distant from the rest of the room. I want the Cavaliers to win; I crave a championship for Cleveland like the rest of them. I wonder, though. Is basketball the win that the city deserves? Is Lebron, the chosen boy, who left for two rings and then returned; is he the man who now should provide it?
"He's just not playing," someone says about Lebron. There are some nods in the room. Maybe tonight, Lebron isn't quite able to bring it. He doesn't quite have the ferocity, the attacking personality, the will to win. It is now the fourth quarter, and the question in the room is whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers care about winning the game.
"They have no energy on offense."
"They don't look like they even want to try."
"If they show up like this at home, it's over."
"It's already over."
* * *
Believeland — A nickname for a city starved of a championship by a long line of disappointments from Red Right 88 to now: Steph Curry pulling up from thirty feet. Swish. The room is empty with nine people sitting it.
I wonder if Indians fans would be so devastated if they made a run in the playoffs this year and fell short once more. The last hints of success? 2007, 1997, 1995, and detestably 1999 depending on your thoughts about Troy O'Leary. When the Indians snuck into the playoffs in 2013 in the second Wild Card spot, renewed interest spark. Even after the loss, some spoke of the inevitability of an Indians return to the playoffs the next season. Still, no return.
Believeland — Lebron James on the bench with eight minutes to play. There are thirty Great Lakes beers in the fridges, and yet no one will rise from the couch, the armchair, the hastily assembled lawn chairs.
On the way home, I pass Wrigley Field, lights still shining hours after the game. Crowds stumble around the entrance to Cubbie Bear, ready to ride their team to a championship. The Indians are seven games above .500, and the Cavaliers are down two games to none in the NBA Finals. The Browns are asleep. The last thought from the watch party was, "How loudly do you think Lebron will yell at his teammates in the locker room tonight?"
Believeland — A condition afflicting fans of the three major sports teams located in Cleveland, Ohio. While it may lay dormant for years, it is common to see a full relapse in February, June, and October. There is one known cure — a championship - although treatment is exceptionally difficult to apply as key players are injured or leave. Occasionally, an entire team disappears. Those with the disorder swing wildly in emotions, from desperate to elated and back again, all in the course of an afternoon
It is a lifelong affliction, and sufferers are able to lead mostly normal lives. Mostly.