Cleveland As America's Apple Of The Eye For Sports

By Claire Ann Austria

Oct 20, 2016 09:29 AM EDT

Cleveland sports icon ad heroes are triumphantly celebrating their year's ultimate success in their own sports league.

History speakes that in 1989's Major League, a Cleveland construction worker played by a young Neil Flynn declares that the local team is a lot better than he expected they would be. It's a sentiment many are starting to feel about the real Indians - and Cleveland sports as a whole - 27 years since Rick Vaughn, Willie Hayes, Jake Taylor and Pedro Cerrano carried Cleveland to the fictional playoffs. 

After taking down the Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS, the Indians are now just four wins away from bringing the city its second championship parade in four months. The City of Cleveland had no blueprint for a parade in June. Now it seems like they should maybe just keep some downtown streets roped off year-round. 

It's a huge change in civic mood from the many dark days since Jim Brown and his fellow Browns won the championship way back in 1964, before the Super Bowl existed. The Indians lost the 1995 World Series, the Browns left and then Cleveland lost the World Series again in 1997, in heartbreaking fashion in seven games. That was rock bottom. Local hero LeBron James was supposed to be Cleveland's hope and best shot at a title, but he fled for Miami in 2010 after four conference championship round exits and a Finals loss, only to return four years later after all the jersey fires had ended to lose in the Finals again. No one was planning any parade routes on 10 June this year, when the Cavaliers went down 3-1 in the Finals after an 11-point loss on their home court. Coming back from that deficit against a 73-9 team seemed far-fetched even for a movie - a scenario even less likely than Jake Taylor bunting Willie Mays Hayes home from second base. Cleveland was still Cleveland and would forever remain Cleveland. Or so we thought.

On the very same day the Cavs went down 3-1, the Indians were in much better shape at 34-26 and 3.5 games up in the AL Central. But few were counting on them to break the title drought. Star outfielder Michael Brantley was on the shelf with a shoulder injury and the Indians were thought to be feasting on a weak division. 

When the Cavaliers finally pulled off their miracle comeback and won it all on 19  June, the Indians were in the early stage of a 14-game win streak but were still mostly ignored - even in Cleveland. A three-game home series in the middle of the streak drew an average of just 16,883 fans per game. 

So when the Indians lost starting pitcher Danny Salazar in early September with a forearm injury and Carlos Carrasco soon after with a fractured finger, Cleveland were nobody's World Series pick. They were as shorthanded as LeBron's Cavaliers were in 2015 when they tried to knock off the Warriors without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. And all that was before Trevor Bauer's pinkie was maimed in a drone strike. 

Yet thanks to Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and a dominant bullpen behind Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, Cleveland breezed through the American League side of the playoff bracket at 7-1 and can rest up and set up their rotation - or whatever is left of it - for the World Series while the Cubs and Dodgers beat up on each other into the weekend. The Indians likely won't be World Series favorites against the big market National League winner, but they do have the homefield advantage thanks to Eric Hosmer's big night in a star-studded exhibition game back in mid-July. 

Four wins away. Four wins away from being able to make a real case that Cleveland, Ohio, has it better than any other sports town in America. "But the Browns are terrible!" Sure. They are. But the Cavaliers and Indians have reached such heights that they can't even see or smell the Browns anymore. What city could claim they have it better in 2016 than hosting two of the reigning champions in the four major American professional sports? Denver has the Broncos ... but also the Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche. Pittsburgh has the Penguins ... but the Pirates missed the playoffs and the Steelers have Landry Jones as their starting quarterback. In addition to the Cavaliers and Indians, Cleveland boasts the reigning AHL champions in the Lake Erie Monsters and the current UFC heavyweight champion in Stipe Miocic. A huge number of Clevelanders also happen to be fans of Ohio State, the No2 college football team in all the land. Fun times in Cleveland today. No sarcasm. 

Teams have seen to go from worst-to-first in a single year before, but never an entire sports town. It's unprecedented. And win or lose the World Series, there's no reason Cleveland's stay at the top - or at least near the top - of the sports world won't continue. LeBron and 24-year old Kyrie Irving aren't going anywhere and the Indians have their own franchise cornerstones in Kluber, the 22-year old Lindor and manager Terry Francona, who has proven he can win with any team, any payroll, anywhere. 

After the success of Major League, Paramount Pictures regrettably turned into a trilogy. There was Major League II, which should have been called Major League II: Willie Hayes looks very different, and Major League: Back to the Minors/Direct to Video. There has been talk of a remake of the original. But if a new Major League happens now, it will have to be about another franchise. American audiences simply won't buy the idea of Cleveland, Ohio, being the cradle of losers anymore. 

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