On November 3, 2007 I chickened out of introducing myself to Travis Hafner. The remnants of a Halloween party, I was wearing a fake mustache and green sports jacket. We were at a bar on West 6th St. I looked ridiculous.
Nearly two weeks before that, the Indians had lost Game 7 of the ALCS. I moved to Cleveland in 2006. I didn’t have a job, or a plan, or anything beyond the freedom your early 20s provide. I was an Indians fan, so I moved to Cleveland. Simpler times.
The loss in the 2007 ALCS hit me harder than nearly anything in my life before that. I had yet to lose an immediate family member. I hadn’t started a family, or worried about a job. I didn’t have a frame of reference for that feeling of disappointment beyond silly high school drama. It felt like the worst breakup I could imagine. Why would Ryan Garko do this to me? Didn’t he love me?
And there was Travis Hafner, randomly sitting in a bar in a city in which I was present only because of Travis Hafner.
I should’ve introduced myself. I should’ve told him how much that season meant to me. About how much this city loved that team. About how I had blindly moved to a city for the sole reason of cheering for a baseball team. And how that baseball team had made good on that decision.
But I chickened out of introducing myself to Travis Hafner and began talking to a cute girl sitting next to him.
I married that girl three years later.
We often think of championships as closure. This idea isn’t new, but perhaps it’s never been more evident than while we watch Cubs fans celebrate their 108-year title drought.
Championships bring a sense of finality. They provide the pay-off. The proof. The culmination of spending so much time, effort, and capital on a silly game. Martin Rickman laid out a beautiful story of the Cubs win bringing closure. Anthony Castrovince provided a heart-breaking story of how his family is still searching after the Indians loss.
The 2016 Indians season was probably my favorite season for any team ever. The comebacks, the personalities, the people I shared it with; everything. I cried when they lost. I cried the next morning. I cried when I read TD’s piece. If the generations before me are any indication, there’s a chance I’ll never get this close again my entire life. Closure can be fleeting.
We lost my father-in-law in January. He was kind, and warm, and was always sitting at the kitchen table with the sports section ready to talk. He’d tell me which players he liked and which ones were bums. He’d compare current players to guys from the past that I was fairly certain he wasn’t old enough to have seen. We gathered confetti from the Cavs’ championship parade and took it to his grave. When Michael Martinez bounced that weak grounder for the final out, he was one of the first people that came to mind. I wish I could’ve shared the Cavs championship with him. I also wish I could hear him call Michael Martinez a bum. Again, closure can be fleeting.
Five years after I chickened out of introducing myself to Travis Hafner, I received a text from my very pregnant wife.
“I met a friend for breakfast. Travis Hafner is sitting across from us.”
Our daughter was born the next day.
Hafner could’ve led the Indians to the World Series. They could’ve won it. It would’ve been an incredible moment in my life. One of the best. And yet, it wouldn’t have compared to the millions of moments that have happened since that day in November of 2007.
The 2016 Indians could’ve won the World Series. They were damn close. Maybe as close as I’ll ever get again. The moment Martinez bounced that grounder to Kris Bryant will hurt for the rest of my life.
I watched Game 7 with my wife at our home. Our daughter was in bed. You could hear the entire neighborhood screaming in pain or joy after every play. I’ll never forget celebrating with my wife after the Rajai Davis homerun. Hearing our neighbors up and down the Cleveland suburb join in. It’s a moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
So the Indians lost the World Series. Another year where they weren’t able to provide us closure.
But I can’t help but feel like it would be greedy of me to ask for any more than what they’ve already given.