More Than a Game

Cleveland sports teams have always been a part of my life. A big part. As a kid, some of my favorite memories were getting to go to games with my dad. It was usually the most time I got to spend with him one-on-one, since my brother and sister didn’t care much about sports. The teams were solid in the 90s and I enjoyed a lot of hot dogs and staying up past bedtime.

The Browns have always been my favorite, except that they were taken from me when I was 12. That was okay though. It was right around this time that the Indians caught on fire and went to the World Series twice in 3 years. We'll get to the Cavs later, but for the time being they were a contender for sure.

When I met my wife Heather, I could tell she was a fan in the works. Heather is from Cleveland and about my age. She didn't know much about football, but the Indians were her favorite. Like me, she spent several school nights of her youth running around the living room and out to the yard screaming "Manny, Manny!" We frequently connected early on with our favorite memories of the mid-90s Indians.

I took Heather to several Browns games while we dated. Caught somewhere between my love for the team and my love for her, I frequently tried to explain how the game is played  (a "down" is like a "try") while always keeping one eye on the field.

We got married and Heather went to less games with me. The Browns had taken a turn for the worse and Heather just wasn't as invested. "You go with your dad." she'd say. "I heard they got a real dog as their mascot. He looks so cute." I knew maybe it was better this way. Besides, it was 2014 and I wasn't even that interested in the Bowns. The King was coming home.

We found out Heather was pregnant in December of 2015. As a first-time father, I can't even begin to tell you how that feels. Everything was off to a great start. Right around the time that the 2016 NBA Playoffs began, however, our pregnancy went off the tracks.

Holly was born May 4th, 2016, weighing 1 pound 5.2 ounces. She needed an immediate blood transfusion and was intubated for eight weeks as her lungs developed. We knew that Holly had a long road ahead. 138 days to be exact. I would have given anything to know that from the start, but I always knew that Holly was an underdog and I had been preparing for this my whole life.

The Cavs walked into the 2016 NBA Finals. They were up against a tough opponent, the Golden State Warriors. In a rematch of the 2015 NBA Finals, the Cavs lost 3 of the first 4 games. They gradually battled back and set themselves up for a pivotal game 7. Father's Day.

Holly was in bad shape right around this time. She had pulled out her breathing tube the previous day while I was holding her and it took a team of doctors and nurses to stabilize her as I watched. The city was buzzing about a potential championship, and rightfully so. At the time, Cleveland had not won a major sports championship since 1948. I went to Lorain to watch the game with my dad, but my thoughts dwelled with Holly.

This was the moment for me that an irresistible force met an immovable object. The Cavs won game 7 in dramatic fashion. I remember the city being on fire for a week after the championship, but I almost couldn't feel it. I had been waiting for this my whole life, but it didn't feel like it should. I watched the parade, the confetti, the shirtless JR Smith, but I didn't feel the weight lift.

Over the course of the next few months, Holly made progress and came home. A little more of the weight had lifted. That fall, the Indians made it to the World Series. With a healthy baby girl home, I just wanted to watch the Indians win as a family under one roof. They got to game 7, only to lose in extra innings to the Chicago Cubs. I tossed and turned that night feeling a sense of incompletion. Something wasn't right.

A couple years have passed and Holly is doing great. She has battled back from insurmountable odds to overcome something no child should have to deal with. My little underdog is growing up to be the champion I’ve always waited for.

My teams still struggle. Yesterday, the Indians were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Houston Astros. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, since Holly is still too young to remember watching her team with her mom and dad. Still, I feel the sense of incompletion.

The 2016 championship didn’t feel like I had expected it to. Then again, neither did the birth of my first child. They’re both bittersweet moments in my life that I’ll never forget, separated only by days. Maybe it turns out my team won when I needed it the most.