Thursday, April 7

Downtown Report: Opening Day

While it's hard for me to write a true Downtown Report when I've been spending most of my time in the mountains of West Virginia, I did get to spend a recent week back in the Buckeye State, a week that included the Indians' bizarre Opening Day loss but also plenty of Downtown shenanigans.

Thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs, I've been able to monitor closely our favorite clubs from a distance, and I see a certain sense of optimism on the Cleveland sports front, despite the woes our three major teams have experienced of late. The start of a new Indians campaign always brings hope, whether the club is expected to contend or not (the Indians are: not). The Cavs are cellar-dwellers, but on the way up. The Monsters are headed for their first playoff berth. And we might not have to be subjected to another season of Browns football! Let's get to the details.

Opening Day turned out to be every bit as awesomely fun and logistically unmanageable as I expected. The Erie crowd came in on Thursday, and Sporcles were the order of the evening - we ended up playing so many sports quizzes that we forgot to even go to Pacers! Crazy stuff. That evening also saw me ask no one in particular "how is babby formed?" for the first of about 10000 times over the weekend. For the record, I rocked the Indians Opening Day lineups quiz, Figgs and I tied the general Opening Day quiz (or did you win by one?), and Figgs and Nick crushed Beards and I at NFL Drafts while we cruised in NBA drafts. Figgs took top honors in the "Name All NFL Teams' Leading Passer, Rusher, and Receiver." Good times.

Friday saw a wide variety of characters filtering in and out of my joint all day long. Those around around 1 pm saw arguably the most epic game of RBI Baseball ever between Milkey and me. Our man from the 'Nati Light brought his hitting shoes, posting a nine-spot in the top of the first inning and putting me in a serious hole. Three times I had to score in my half of an inning just to avoid the 10-run forfeit rule, but eventually started clawing my way back and stiffening up the defense, tying the contest at 23 heading into the 9th (36 total runs!) A walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the 9th later, this version of the Impossible Return was complete.

But more generally, if you like cheap beer, cheaper whisky, Bop-It, Major League (which gets better every time I see it), and toy drum demonstrations, Reserve Square was the place to be. Of course, when 3 pm rolled around, there was the matter of the Tribe opener to attend to.

Fausto Carmona took a page right out of my book in Cleveland's first game against the Ninja Blacksox, getting ripped for 10 ER in 3 IP. RHP Carmona (0-1, 30.00) should look nice on the preview of Thursday's game. Just in case there was any rumors about the Tribe rallying, Justin Germano came in and put a few more bullets in the corpse, running the count to an unfathomable 14-0.

As the sunshine warmed up the fans, the Indians made a valiant rally. Could they pull off what I had done just hours earlier with fat San Francisco Giant players? Nope. They did outscore the Chicagolanders 10-1 over the final 5 frames, but still absorbed a 15-10 defeat to start the 2011 campaign. Inspired by Carmona's outing, Carlos Carrasco tried to follow up as best he could, giving up five runs almost immediately to Cleveland's foes. Once again, the Wahoos never recovered, dropping to 0-2 with the 8-3 loss.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 0-162: starting pitching. The Tribe rotation is filled with "question marks," but in their season debuts, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin turned those into exclamation points with a pair of strong outings, helping the Tribe salvage the Chicago series with a 7-1 victory (JM) and open the Boston set with a 3-1 win (JT). The starting pitcher is still the most important player in baseball, and as Phil Davison would say, "IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN...AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE." Let's hope that going forward the rest of the staff finds the magic that Masterson and Tomlin brought to their first starts. And now I bring you, one line summaries of the Indians through four games.

Michael Brantley
Keep getting on base, son.

Asdrubal Cabrera
Already notched his annual triple play.

Orlando Cabrera
Clutch hits in the two wins are gravy atop his strong defense.

Carlos Santana
Let's keep him.

Travis Hafner
Fingers crossed...

Matt LaPorta
All the signs of a bust, despite FCF's sponsorship.

Jack Hannahan
The Zookeeper is raking so far.

Shin-Soo Choo
Do not, repeat, do not worry about this man. He will be fine. (I wrote this before his home run against Boston).

Austin Kearns
These games count, you know.

I'm just excited that the Tribe is back. Baseball is about more than just the game - it's about the fact that Spring might actually show up, that we get to go watch games outdoors, and that we have something else to fall back on besides basketball. Go Tribe!

I might be the only one who feels this way, but it there happens to not be an NFL season in 2011, I won't be bothered one bit. I'll save the dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars I would have spent backing another 6-10 campaign from the Brownies - surely I can find something productive to do with my fall Sundays.

That having been said, if there is a season, I'm all in.

I'm aware that the NFL Draft is coming up sometime in April, and because of the looming lockout, my interest in this event has dropped from zero My high school buddy Neil Stein has an opposite view, having devoted basically his entire website to the draft and scheduling some appearances on local radio programs. Good luck, Neil!

I still think the NFL Draft is an utter and complete waste of time, and can't understand why people get into it. In particular, I hate the mentality that this is one of the better days of the year for the Browns since they've been so bad over the past decade. Please. The games are the thing, whether the club is good or not. There's no chance to win with the Draft - every one is the same unsatisfying conclusion - we got some new players, and it'll be 1-3 years before we know if they're any good. Wake me up in August.

Now that I'm thinking about it, shouldn't the NBA Draft be more popular? It doesn't take nearly as long, and lottery picks really have a chance to turn around a team's fortunes in a hurry. Seems to me this should be the event with all the hoopla.

The more I reflect on the Jim Tressel violation, the more I wonder what the hell he was thinking. I mean, he knew what he was doing was wrong, and did it anyway. For a guy that cultivates such a persona of integrity and sportsmanship, this seems very out of character, and is really a difficult thing to accept and come to terms with. Hopefully it's the last time.

But hey, the Buckeyes basketball team got one first-place vote! It's not clear to me why the AP bothers to have a poll after the season - I didn't even realize they did this until I saw the story about Northern Arizona's coach awarding his first-place vote to Ohio State. I see the guy's point, and not just because I'm a Buckeye fan - in general, they indeed had a better season than either Butler or UConn. Big ups to the coach for revealing himself as well - the vote could have remained anonymous.

As fun and entertaining as the NCAA Tournament is, it is clearly not an ideal way to decide a champion given the volatility of basketball. Contrast the tournament with the NBA Playoffs - the best team damn sure wins that tournament. The regular season is almost totally devalued in the current college system - I don't know if there's a better balance that can be reached, but one-loss-and-done favors the little guys a bit too much.

While I'm on the subject of one-and-dones, what purpose does the practice of having a guy play one year at a college and leave serve? Doesn't that kind of suck? Yes, it does.

At 16-61, the Cavs are one win away from tying the 17-65 mark they posted in 2002-03, paving the way for that fateful lottery ball and...oops, lost my train of thought. Let's move along.

The Cavs are basement-dwellers, for sure, but I feel like they're forming a new bond with fans - witness (awful word choice by me there) the delirious fans during the wins over the Clippers (to break the streak), Knicks, and yes, the despicable Heat. We're down, but on the rise. Both the experience of a year in Byron Scott's system and the influx of players veteran (Varejao, Jamison) and rookie (welcome lottery pick #1 and lottery pick #2) should almost certainly produce a superior Cavaliers team in 2011-12.

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