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Baker Mayfield, the Indians, and the weight of expectations

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How Baker Mayfield and the Browns helped me appreciate the Indians even more

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

I didn’t watch the Indians play the White Sox tonight.

Over the last three years, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a plan-free night, access to a TV, and opted not to watch the Indians play a baseball game.

Tonight was one of those nights and I don’t regret it for a second.

Instead of watching Josh Tomlin take on the Chicago White Sox in a September 20th matchup well after the Indians clinched the AL Central, I decided to watch the Browns play the Jets — one of the few times I, as a citizen of the state of New York, get to actually watch the Browns play on a high definition television instead of a shady neighborhood of the internet.

Of course I just thought it would be Tyrod Taylor and the anemic Browns offense facing Sam Darnold and the young and also bad Jets offense. Maybe I’d give up when they were down by a dozen and in the negatives for passing yards again and see what the Tribe were up to.

But it didn’t turn out like that. Baker Mayfield made his NFL debut and took Cleveland — if not the league — by storm over the course of a few hours.

I’ve always been quick to snark on the Browns for being such an overall disaster of a franchise (and you can bet I still will, one night doesn’t change that), but tonight felt... special.

Not just for being a fan of the Browns, but for being a fan of Cleveland and sports in general. I felt something watching the Browns tonight that I haven’t felt in a long time watching the Indians.

It’s not hope. I’ve definitely had a lot of hope watching the Indians, a hell of a lot more than I’ll ever have watching the Browns (see, still not stopping). It’s not even raw excitement. I’ve been really excited about the Indians, even when they were clearly going to win the division and nothing really mattered. It was more of an excitement of the unknown. I can’t remember the last time I watched the Indians having absolutely no idea what would happen next and caring so much about every action of every player while also not constantly on the verge of panic if they messed something up. The Indians are so established as being great now that everyone but perfection feels like failure. That’s not fair to the Indians, or ourselves as fans.

Baker Mayfield electrifying the Browns was so eerily similar to watching the Indians in 2016, when it was clear something magical was happening, but we didn’t know what to expect yet. We didn’t demand the Indians were perfect in every game, in every at-bat, and with every pitch. We just wanted them to win, and we rode the emotion of every game as it passed. I guess I’m saying I miss that.

Sure, the Browns being so happy over a meaningless regular season win against a terrible team is only noteworthy because they were so bad to begin with for so long. They had to scrape the bottom of the world’s largest, emptiest barrel to get here, but it feels like they’re finally climbing out of it. Meanwhile the Indians have been sitting on a barrel full of gold waiting for the right time to spend it for several months now.

If anything, watching the Browns tonight made me rediscover my love of all sports, including (and mostly of) the Indians. Watching a game on TV and following along online can be fun, and it can be more than meaningless bickering over percentage points of differences between great players.

Eventually they’re going to get over that hurdle and we can all be elated again, and for one night everyone in Cleveland can celebrate another truly great franchise winning in the biggest moment.

For now, don’t forget to enjoy the little moments. There are a lot of them right now, but it won’t be like that forever.