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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

Tribe fans savor chance to put inferiority complex to rest

ALLOW me to gloat, to high-five anybody and everybody I meet today, to yell Wahoo! as loud as I please while driving, to bite my fingernails down to the nubs in the 11th inning and walk around in exhausted heaven the next day, to give insincere condolences to glum Yankees fans, to feel just a bit superior for taking on the best team money can buy and humiliating them in front of the home crowd, to smile nonstop.

Thank you. If it all ends God forbid in a Boston sweep, Cleveland Indians fans can still savor the drubbing their gutsy team gave New York, New York. What makes the win so deeply gratifying is that the Tribe did it not with a cavalcade of baseball s highest paid stars but a bunch of young ball players without bloated egos who acted like they belonged in the spotlight.

They weren t just kids from Cleveland taking on George Steinbrenner s best, they were adults dealing with the pressure, the problems, the patronizing boors in the Bronx.

But Sunday s game was tough to watch.

With their home field advantage, their manager s job on the line, and no fortuitous plague of insects to drive them nuts, the Yankees really showed their pinstripes. They all kicked it up a notch Phil Hughes, A-Rod, Johnny Damon. And when New York scored two runs on a clumsy error by Indians right fielder Trot Nixon, Tribe fans like me lost it. We re prone to panic, anyway.

For an instant the Indians looked like they were starring in Major League again. Not funny. Not with the Yankees.

The more astute baseball enthusiast I live with muttered something profane about Nixon, under his breath so the kids wouldn t hear, and urged his hyper wife to calm down. All is not lost in one inning, he said with the stoicism of one far more learned about the game than any nail-biting, ulcer-developing, postseason cheerleader.

Yet in my defense, when you hail from a city whose World Series drought is second only to that of the Chicago Cubs, it s hard not to be emotional when your venerable team advances, retreats, clinches, and makes you forget to breathe. The Indians are a team you bond with for life. For better or for worse.

Generations of Cleveland fans who endured years of embarrassingly bad baseball still came to cheer their Tribe on at the old Muny stadium.

My grandfather never missed a game. When he wasn t sitting in the bleachers he was hunched over a radio at his small kitchen table, listening for hours to every pitch and strikeout. I couldn t understand it then, but I do now.

Long-time residents of Rust Belt cities are predisposed to inferiority complexes. They re inclined to be apologetic to outsiders about their hometowns almost as a pre-emptive move against high expectations.

The hapless profile of the Cleveland Indians fit the dismal prospects of the day perfectly. We d caution newcomers at the start of each season that the most they could hope for is that some other team would lose more games than us.

The Tribe was a national joke. On an opening day years ago, late-night TV comedian David Letterman somberly announced that the Indians had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Badda bing. Before the team began to transform itself in the 1980s and roaring 1990s, it made a terrific punch line. Just like its hometown.

But the bad old days are history. The Indians are red-hot and their fans are feeling pretty good about themselves. We wear T-shirts proclaiming It s Tribe Time Now, and believe it.

Lingering below the prevailing jubilation are doubts rooted in the past that whisper we re not good enough.

But we shall overcome our birthright skepticism with arguably the best pitching staff in baseball and a batting lineup that does us proud.

Cleveland is alive and kicking in the playoffs, baby. Lebron, that traitorous fool, can eat his cap and Yankee fans can blast Frank Sinatra s signature victory song to a deserted stadium.

With the grit and determination that Rust Belt Ohioans can relate to, the Indians did it their way, New York, New York. And after being the butt of jokes for so long, nothing felt better than to give the mighty Yankees an October reality check.

Tonight, of course, I ll be a nervous wreck. Fenway Park could be fearsome. One pitch at a time, I ll tell myself. All is not lost in an inning, my husband will remind me, passing the Rolaids.

But until Game 1 of the American League Championship Series starts, allow me to gloat, to dream about winning the World Series, to put an inferiority complex to rest for good.



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