I learned something Wednesday night that I should have known years ago. When you're a sports reporter, you lead with your eyes and ears and intellect. When you're a sports fan, you lead with your heart.
Sometimes your heart breaks, and sometimes your heart swells with joy.
Those who know me are aware I've always been a Cleveland Indians fan. The first season I remember was 1959 when they challenged the White Sox for the pennant. Those were the Rocky Colavito, Vic Power, Woodie Held, Minnie Minoso and Tito Francona Indians. The pitching staff had such legends as Cal McLish, Gary "Ding Dong" Bell and Mudcat Grant.
That was a high-water mark for the Indians. After that season, they went on to lead the majors in futility for the next 30 years. These were the "Sudden" Sam McDowell, Bubba Phillips, Al Luplow, "Super Joe" Charboneau and "Thunder" Thornton Indians.
But I still loved them. They routinely started fast and strong but by mid-season routinely had moved into a tailspin. My mom questioned my allegiance. "They'll just break your heart," she warned. And she was right.
But that's what a sports fan lives with. Disappointment is part of the deal. I don't think you can ever truly appreciate the pleasure unless you experience the pain.
Truth is I have a great affinity for the Reds, Bengals, Bearcats and Musketeers since relocating to Cincinnati 37 years ago. Teams that win give you a great ride and a great write. I have always tried to stay neutral on the air, but privately, I root for the Reds and Bengals to hit it big. This town is a lot more fun when that happens.
But while I've learned to like my teams in Cincinnati, I've never had the same emotional attachment that I have with the Indians. I was afflicted with the Cleveland thing from birth, 65 years ago. I've heard people say you never forget your first love. I guess the Indians were my first love.
So Wednesday night was really difficult. I paced and I squirmed as the Indians worked on squeezing out a win to reach the World Series. When I sat, I was jittery. I thought it was the coffee. No, maybe it was the approaching hail storm. Not that either. Maybe it was just the work I needed to get done. Wrong again. Then I realized my stomach was in a knot because the game was on. I used to feel that way when I was 10. Fifty-five years later, it was a familiar feeling.
Then there were my brothers and sisters. I have five of them, and four feel the same as I do about the Indians. The other one couldn't care less, but she tolerates us. So when the Indians are locked in a playoff chase, my phone dings every couple of seconds with my sib's play-by-play comments. We're scattered in several different cities, but our common bond is baseball and texts.
Actually, I don't think I'm much different than any other devoted sports fan. I understand how Bengals fans are struggling with their slump and how Reds fans are disappointed at their downturn. We all want our teams to be successful, but they fail more often than not. So when they do win, our spirits soar.
When the final out was recorded Wednesday night, I smacked my hands and gave out a little cheer. I was in the newsroom, which was dealing with a tornado warning, so it was no time for acting stupid. But then I fell into my chair and started to sob. I couldn't help it. Why do we cry when we feel so good? Never understood that. But I quickly recalled the last time it happened. It was 30 years ago this week when I was driving our newborn son Matthew home in the back of a Honda. I kept glancing at him sleeping in the backseat, and I couldn't believe how wonderful he looked. I was 35 years old and crying like a baby and trying to steer the car.
Wednesday felt the same way. I sent a text to my sibs. Then I called my wife to make sure she was watching. The fact that our house was being bombarded by a storm seemed secondary. We were going to the World Series. I wanted to make sure she knew. I barely could speak, I was quivering and my voice was cracking. My mouth opened, but jibberish came out. More than normal.
Being a sports reporter has been a great way to make a living. I've done things and gone places I'd never imagined. But being a sports fan is much much better. Like they used to say in those old Navy recruiting ads, "it's not a job. It's an adventure."
And just imagine that adventure if the Indians win the World Series. They've never done that in my lifetime. I can't fathom what a wonderful feeling that would be. But just a warning. If you call me, don't expect someone cool, calm and collected on the other end.
And I'll probably be standing in a puddle of tears.