Is Cleveland Even Trying Anymore?

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“To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.” – Ichiro Suzuki

We have gotten to a point as a nation at which I feel inclined to pose the question undoubtedly on the minds of everyone paying attention to the progression of this nation as it rollicks forward toward an uncertain fate: with the utmost respect and least offense possible to its residents, is the city of Cleveland even trying anymore? I’m not even focusing on sports, although in the wake of last week’s Trent Richardson trade by the city’s supposed professional football team, it is certainly a focal point.

For a city whose motto is “progress and prosperity,” there is a troubling air of regression and uncertainty ahead in the seat of Ohio’s most populous county. The Browns (“The Cleveland Clowns” to those familiar with the issue) have not made the playoffs since 2002 and have never been to a Super Bowl. The last time the team won the NFL Championship, “I Feel Fine” by The Beatles was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, the first recorded instance of feedback on a rock record. The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948, when a stellar shortstop named Lou Boudreau and two legendary pitchers named Bob, Lemon and Feller, led the team over the Boston Braves. The city’s professional basketball team lost its state-grown savior in one of the worst examples of hype journalism prior to Tim Tebow’s time with the Jets, and Cleveland has not had NHL hockey since 1978, when the Barons merged with the California Golden Seals to form the Minnesota North Stars.

Even beyond the sports, however, is a feeling of hopelessness. The city that claims the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as its own has gone the way of rock music itself: a stagnancy permeates above its skyline and over Lake Erie, and a once-bustling scene leaves visitors yearning for an almost-forgotten time. Cleveland.com states that its namesake is still years away from rebounding economically, a particularly crushing blow to one of the places struggling the most in the wake of the Great Recession. The mainstays of industry, manufacturing and transportation, are being outsourced at a rapid rate, although healthcare and life science positions are opening at a steady pace.

It seems like even Akron is doing better these days. Native son LeBron James is doing well, last I heard. He is coming off his fourth MVP season, arguably his best, as well as his second NBA championship, most notable for going Super-LeBron in Game 6 of the Finals after losing his trademark (It probably actually is trademarked at this point) headband, almost single-handedly bringing the Heat back from the edge of defeat and more questions about his identity as a winner. In addition, the Black Keys have taken Junior Kimbrough and made his brand of steaming, straightforward blues rock mainstream, certainly a high accomplishment. They seem to have a really good time, harking back to the days of chitlin’ circuit simplicity and hardboiled rock ‘n’ roll.

Presumably, Junior Kimbrough (and, by extension, the Black Keys) were not referring to Cleveland. The best thing Cleveland is exporting musically right now might just be Broccoli Samurai.

And yet, there is hope.

The Indians are currently 88-70, with a leg up on the Rangers for a shot at the Wild Card spot in this year’s playoffs. A revitalized Ubaldo Jimenez is adding support to a pitching staff led by the sublimely surnamed Justin Masterson, and a relatively rag-tag team of hitters are playing just the right combination of small ball and slugging to be annoyingly fun to watch. This is a team whose leading home run hitter is Nick Swisher, with a whopping 21 homers on the year, but the power is nicely distributed throughout the lineup such that anyone, at any time, can crush a go-ahead bomb or tying sacrifice fly. Exactly nine players among the Indians’ fielders have hit 10 or more home runs, giving just enough reason for opposing pitchers to take notice. It is worthwhile here to point out Jason Giambi’s continued relative relevance (9 HRs and 31 RBIs in 70 games of work), which is something quite remarkable for a player of his age (42) and his longevity.

The Cavaliers have one of the most promising point guards in the NBA, a player whose combination of flash and finesse might maybe hint at a Bullets-era Earl Monroe. Not only does Kyrie Irving have the skill of a perennial All-Star, but he is the key to the best marketing campaign in the NBA (eat your heart out, Blake Griffin). Irving is a fun, explosive personality and player who can change a game with a dynamite assist, killer crossover or, as we learned, a cold-blooded 3-pointer. The Cavs are certainly wary of not giving a star player enough help, and with the right setup around him, Kyrie Irving could very well be the next dominant metronome in professional basketball.

With a 3-touchdown (albeit 3-interception) performance against the Minnesota Vikings in a victory, the Browns may have ushered in the era of Brian Hoyer. The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers castoff had flashes of brilliance on Sunday, and his time spent in winning atmospheres may lend itself to an unfamiliar victorious attitude to which the Browns are not accustomed. At the very least, Hoyer is almost two years to the day younger than former incumbent Brandon Weeden, and his spark of youth may bring an added element to the huddle. Having already received Andrew Luck comparisons from the likes of Phil Simms, Hoyer has already been tapped to start on Sunday against a strong Cincinnati Bengals team, and if he plays even decently well, expect to see more of him on the field.

Even Cleveland native Arsenio Hall is back on television, albeit with a strange guestlist and a lack of the Browns-influenced Dog Pound. Like Cleveland, it may not be as much fun as it used to be, but at least he is trying. The slightest glimmer of hope keeps his revival alive, albeit with a Springsteen-esque darkness knocking on the door. Maybe it is the impending feeling of failure, the constant atmosphere of drudgery, which lights the fire inside Hall and his compatriots. This city and its inhabitants are not finished yet, despite the gloom of the situation. It will continue to battle until the dying embers have faded into the neighboring lake. And, really, is there anything more American than that?

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