I know how Robert E. Lee felt.
But compared to us Cleveland Indians fans, Robert E. Lee had it easy. The South fell in a few years. The Indians--baseball's own "Lost Cause"--have been hanging around the American League cellar since 1954.
Look in the dictionary under suffering. First definition: a Cleveland Indians fan.
We Indians fans make Job look like he just won the lottery.
Rooting for the Indians is a little like going to the horse races and betting on a three-legged pony.
Rooting for the Indians is like cheering for your hamster as it takes on an alley cat.
My father got me hooked on the Indians. He was 14 years old in 1954, the last time Cleveland appeared in the World Series. He always told great tales of the Cleveland glory days.
I grew up in East Cleveland. My father and I went to Indians games twice a week. (My mother, who is quick to abandon losing causes--she shunned George McGovern early in 1972--occasionally accompanied us.) I went to Bat Day, Ball Day, Photo Day, Parka Day, Frisbee Day, Fire works Day, Book Bag Day and any other days the Indians' publicity department devised.
I owned Indians caps, cups, mugs, mittens, magazines and every other trinket that would fit in my closet.
My friend Paul Constantine used to be an Indians fan, until he discovered the Oakland A's. The A's were winners. They had won the World Series in both 1973 and 1974.
Paul Constantine loved my cousin, too, which created a problem. My cousin was an Indians fan. When the three of us shuffled off to an Indians-A's game when I was six years old or so and my cousin and Paul (wearing his newly-purchased A's cap) were 10, my cousin ignored him.
She said she didn't talk to people who abandon their teams.
Paul hung on for about five innings, munching his popcorn, glancing at me and my cousin furtively, cheering when the A's got a hit. Then, his cheers got less boisterous. Finally, he announced, "What the heck, I love the Indians. I was just joking."
In the bottom half of the ninth inning--when Buddy Bell smashed a home run over the left field wall to give the Indians a victory--my cousin forgave Paul. We were all Indians fans and we were happy.
My family moved to Washington, D.C., when I was eight years old. My father took me to Baltimore Orioles games. We rooted for the Orioles. But only half-heartedly.
For my father and me, the Indians are a language. They are a secret ritual by which we renew our heritage, our connection to each other. The Indians are our cause. Even if the cause is lost.
Whatever the time of year, whatever the circumstance, I'll say to my father, "How 'bout them Indians?"
And he'll respond, "Yah, how 'bout them Indians?"
A language of sweet suffering.