This past weekend’s premiere of the 30 For 30 documentary, Believeland, was a chance to see a great film that resonates to my own Cleveland fandom. One of the film’s producers, writer and Cleveland native Scott Raab, spends parts of the film discussing his relationship with the city and teams with his son, which brings back memories of my own relationship with my father and Cleveland sports.
My father, Ronald Pohorence, is a Cleveland native, having grown up in Lakewood’s Birdtown neighborhood. A neighborhood comprised of Slovak, Polish, and Ukrainian immigrants, it was a close knit community where they helped build Cleveland to where it was. These were the blue collar workers who made it a great industrial city following World War II.
Like many baby boomers, my father and his siblings would frequent the neighborhood fields and streets playing any type of pick-up game. The most popular games were tackle football and stickball. The Pohorence boys were big fans of the Browns and Indians. My dad would have been two years old when the Indians took the American League pennant in 1954 and 12 when the Browns won the NFL championship.
Through the decline of the Indians in the 1960s and the ups and downs of the Art Modell Browns ownership, my dad was always a fan. Once the Browns left for Baltimore, my dad lost interest in pro football, as we became bigger Indians fans. At that same time, I was becoming more interested in baseball.
I am not a Cleveland native. My siblings (two older brothers and an older sister) and I were born in Mansfield, Ohio. It is close enough that most people there are Cleveland fans. I grew up in Rochester, New York, but quickly adopted my father’s fandom. Growing up in the 1990s, the Indians teams I was introduced to were young and promising. I quickly chose Kenny Lofton as my favorite player. I always wanted to wear #7 on my Babe Ruth and high school teams. It was only a matter of time before I got to experience the pain of being a Cleveland fan.
Toward the end of Believeland, Scott Raab, with his son Jake, was asked why he would be a Cleveland fan, mentioning he did not force these teams on his son. Scott alludes to the audience that Jake is not a native Clevelander. Jake mentioned how he loved the city and loved how his dad talked about the teams. While I am slightly older than Jake, I feel the same connection with my father, my father’s native city and my father’s favorite teams.
It is painful to be a Cleveland fan. It’s been really painful to be an Indians fan. This is a team that has not won a World Series since 1948.
It is sad, as a fan, to realize how many momentous achievements have happened in this country since then. Since 1948, America has added two states, passed the Civil Rights Act, sent astronauts to the Moon, survived and ended the Cold War, and elected our first African-American President.
Even baseball has seen a lot happen since then. Baseball introduced AstroTurf, expanded to teams in California and Canada, developed a deeper playoff system and integrated beyond the likes of just Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby. Baseball has even seen the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox win the World Series.
Even with that long of a World Series drought, no Indian fan thinks of it as a curse. The three pennants we won were followed up by increasingly hard to swallow defeats. Even the two World Series losses I have been alive to see were never attributed to curses. The Braves had better starting pitching and a great closer in 1995. For the magical run in 1997, the Marlins had the Indians bullpen’s number (maybe except for Mike Jackson) all series long.
To this day, as a cautious Indian fan, I have hope that this franchise can win the World Series. The only thing I fear is my father not being able to see this team win a title. My father, in his sixties, has seen the worst in the city of Cleveland from the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, Dennis Kucinich’s mayoral tenure, and his mayoral stint resulting in the city’s financial default. He also seen the worst from the Indians franchise be it Ten Cent Beer Night, the rise and fall of Super Joe Charboneau, plus the two and half decades of second division teams.
At the same time, he’s seen both revive themselves. Cleveland likes to refer to itself as “The Comeback City.” From the failures in the 1970s, there was hope. The Gateway Project gave the Indians a new, baseball-only home, Jacobs Field, while revitalizing downtown. The Indians of the 1990s gave the city and the fans hope following the Browns departure. Even with the constant disappointment of the “new” Browns, baseball keeps the city hopeful.
People joke about Cleveland, still stuck with the image as the dying steel city it once was. I love this city. I love these teams. Both are far from perfect. For each ugly thing that Cleveland and the Indians have, there are many more things to love about them. Here is to the constant hope that the Indians can give us fans a title for this great city.