CLEVELAND — People wear T-shirts here that say “Cleve-LAND I LOVE!” and simply “CLE,” as if the rest of us know what that refers to and don’t think it stands for CLUELESS or CLOGGED ENTRY.
A billboard as you enter town reads “City of Champions.”
Wow. That was fast!
But after this 6-0 waxing of the Cubs by the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series, maybe it’s not a boast but a fact.
We all know what Cleveland was until LeBron James decided to let Miami keep his NBA titles and moved back to Ohio. It was the City of Sad Sacks.
But times change. Oh, don’t they!
The Cubs’ offense, so potent in the final games against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS? Gone.
Great pitching from Cubs ace lefty Jon Lester? Gone.
Steady relief pitching? Gone.
Yet the Cubs got here, so don’t forget that achievement. Nor should Cubs fans despair after this sad outing. Things can change.
Remember, no continuously operating pro sport franchise — in the history of the world — has gone 108 years without winning a championship. Except the Cubs. And here they are.
As I looked out through the press box window at the players toiling below at Progressive Field, the white-lettered words “World Series’’ inscribed on the roof of each dugout, plus along the first- and third-base lines, were simply startling. It felt as though, at any moment, the announcer would say, “Thanks, Cubs and Indians, for that warmup. Now, for tonight’s official game: the Red Sox vs. the Giants!”
But this was real.
Indians star pitcher Corey Kluber had his big-boy pants on and spanked the Cubs from the get-go. He struck out eight of the first 11 batters he faced, five of those looking.
This was World Series history, all those early Ks. But history was everywhere tonight.
Former center fielder Kenny Lofton threw out the honorary first pitch. A longtime Indian, he played on their World Series team in 1995. But he also was a White Sox and a Cub. And a Brave, Giant, Pirate, Yankee, Philly, Dodger, Ranger, and, at age 40, once again an Indian.
So maybe he was a goodwill ambassador for all of baseball. But as far as representing just Cleveland, uh, not so much.
The Cubs are here, representing millions of fans across the nation, which just never seemed possible. With each passing year of failure, another boulder was placed in front of the Cubs’ access to the biggest stage. Why? Because besides the physical part, the mental part — the idea of not making it — became more of a load to carry.
In a sense, the Cubs now represent all those people who have never gotten something they really wanted from the game.
Lo and behold, even surgically repaired slugger Kyle Schwarber played. Fresh up from the Arizona Fall League, whatever that is, Schwarber cranked a pitch by Kluber to the wall for a double in the fourth inning. Being a lefty designated hitter in the World Series is a fine thing, especially considering the DH position didn’t exist the last time the Cubs were in the Fall Classic.
“I’ll probably cry at some point today,” an emotional Schwarber said before the game. He might be joined by lots of conflicted Cubs fans, too.
Outside the stadium, there were thousands of people milling about, folks who had come downtown because the Indians were in the World Series but also because the Cavaliers were getting their championship rings across the street at Quicken Loans Arena.
On a nearby building, a 12-story photo poster of LeBron looked down on all, with the forward’s back turned, his arms out to his sides in religious supplication, powder rising from where he had clapped his hands, the word “CLEVELAND” across his jersey.
We get it. This is a big deal for this city. For its integrity and self-worth.
But it means an awful lot to Chicago, too. Non-White Sox Chicago, that is.
I was at the 1995 World Series at this ballpark, then known as Jacobs Field, seated in the “auxiliary press box,” outdoors in the upper right-field deck. Indians vs. Braves. One night there were snow flurries and a wind chill well below freezing.
This can be a cold game, even if it was glorious getting here.
“You look too far back, you look too far forward, you miss what’s right in front of you,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
So true. Even if it’s a first-game heartbreak.
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.