Baseball Revitalizes Cleveland

Darren Zaslau, Sports Editor

For 52 years, Cleveland sports fans have agonized over the “Cleveland sports curse,” the city’s inexplicable inability to win a championship in any professional sport. From 1964 to 2016, Cleveland’s baseball, basketball and football teams had never reigned supreme in their respective leagues. As a result, a combined 147-season championship drought diminished hope for the city to return to its winning ways that dazzled the sports world in the 1950s.

But on June 19, that all changed. The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to win the team’s first title in franchise history, ending Cleveland’s championship drought in an unbelievable fashion. Inside Quicken Loans Arena, tears dripped down LeBron James’ face. On East 4th Street, fathers beaten down from watching decades of losing teams embraced sons who would witness a new era of Cleveland sports. The entire city breathed a sigh of relief. Cleveland sports fans had not reigned supreme since the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964, and they were ready to make up for lost time. When the Cavaliers came home on June 22, they paraded through a sea of 1.3 million fans lined along sidewalks, in the windows of street-side buildings and on rooftops, letting the tears flow once more.

While Cleveland got its most recent taste of success on the basketball court, the Browns delivered victory to the city in the distant past. The Browns captured four NFL Championships in 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964.

Some would say it’s baseball that has struggled the most with the city’s sports curse. This year, though, seems to be different, as the talent on the field has resulted in consistent, exciting, winning baseball. Currently sitting atop the American League Central Division by six games over the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland’s 81–58 overall record is the second best in the American League. As winning has transitioned from becoming a dream to a reality, it is fair to say that the city is more than ready to bring back its first World Series championship since 1948.

After a franchise-record 14-game winning streak that spanned from June 17–July 1, fan support for the club is at its highest. Immediately after this dominant stretch, Cleveland’s home, Progressive Field, became a coveted venue for the eyes of baseball fans. Fans pack East 4th Street before and after games sporting their red and white hats, t-shirts and jerseys, illustrating the current city-wide hype associated with the new era in Cleveland baseball.

According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, on July 9, a near-sellout crowd of 32,951 attended as Cleveland hosted the New York Yankees in a pivotal American League clash. Among all home games thus far, excluding Opening Day, Cleveland has drawn four crowds of at least 30,000 in attendance. Only two games drew those attendance figures in 2015. The average attendance in the home stand directly after the early July win streak was 28,235, a 70 percent increase from the club’s average for the first 35 home games. Single-game ticket sales are up by 30 percent and season ticket holders are up by 500 since 2015. Stadium renovations that have taken place over the past two years have been a major contributing factor sparking increased attendance.

More fans means more food, and concession purchases are on the rise at the ballpark. During this season’s July 4 and July 9 games, concession revenues were the second- and third-best for a non-opener since 2001.

But state-of-the-art seats and delicious ballpark food aren’t the only things drawing spectators to the stands. So what has caused this massive uproar in fan support for Cleveland baseball?

The team’s ability to thrive in hair-raising, high-pressure situations is primarily why fans have stayed captivated through all of the team’s 139 games. Nine walk-off wins by eight different players have brought a new hype that the city has never experienced before. Having recorded the second-most walk-off wins in Major League Baseball, Cleveland has shown a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps Cleveland’s most exciting win thus far was on Aug. 19 when Tyler Naquin hit a walk-off, inside-the-park home run in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

As the excitement continues to grow with 23 games remaining in the 2016 regular season, fans remain optimistic not only about the team making the playoffs, but also bringing home a World Series title.

Despite the newfound optimism, diehard baseball fans in Cleveland may have a difficult time forgetting devastating playoff losses from 1995-1998. In 1997, the club made it all the way to Game 6 of the World Series just to watch the Florida Marlins come back from trailing 2–1 in the ninth inning to win their first title in franchise history.

But with a new title comes new hope. The Cavaliers’ dominance instilled an expectation for success in the city, and Cleveland baseball has the talent on the field and the support of the fans to make winning a tradition. It’s time for the city to forget the dark times and remember why it is nicknamed “Believeland.”