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The Seven Year Itch

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I go bowling maybe twice a year. That stretches to three times if I’m looking for a cheap way to take my wife out on a date. In other words, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pro. I mean, I’ve had my fair share of strikes (I once started out a game with 5 in a row), but those are just fleeting moments here and there. What I can call myself is a competitive person. I’m not a fan of losing. I actually can’t wait to have kids so that I can destroy them in sports–teaching them the valuable lesson of not always being able to win, of course. To lose in a bowling competition seven years in a row was more frustrating than trying to get a cow to walk down steps (they won’t do it, by the way).

The Cleveland Indians and The Cleveland Browns have been competing in a charity event called “Bowl for Kid’s Sake” for the past eleven years. The event raises money for Big Brothers Big Sisters, while at the same time, allows both front offices to show off their bowling skills. For the past seven years, the Browns have beaten us. And for the past seven years, they have had bragging rights over us. That all stopped on May 2, 2013 when the Cleveland Indians put together the beast of all teams and beat the Browns by almost 7,000 pins to capture the championship! Helping us to that victory were Indians players Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, Yan Gomes, Bryan Shaw and Indians wives, Meryl Masterson, Jenny Gomes, Kristen Shaw, Kathleen Reynolds, Amanda Kluber, Melanie Perez, and Meredith Chisenhall (Lonnie stayed home to watch the kids).

Now, of course, the real winners involved here are the kids. Over $10,000 was raised at the event to support Big Brothers Big Sisters. Their mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. (www.bbbs.org/cleveland)

As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 9 through 18, in communities across the country (www.bbbs.org/cleveland).

I was able to catch up to one of the front office employees at the Indians, Matt Gay, who is actually a “Big” in his spare time. He was nice enough to take part in my new blog segment that I’m calling “The 3 Main Questions.”

1.) How long have you been a Big Brother?
I officially have been a “Big” here in Cleveland since December of 2012, a process that started in June of last year, as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program does a great job of making sure that each Big/Little match is the right fit. Some matches take a little bit longer than others to set up.

2.) What made you want to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters?
I had attended a Summer Day Camp growing up, and had the opportunity to work as a Counselor for several years at the same camp that I attended since the age of 9 in Connecticut. I worked there in different capacities from the age of 15-20, which really showed me the joys of working with children and being able to make an impact in their lives. While I attended Syracuse University I was a part of their Big Brothers Big Sisters program for three years (Sophomore-Senior). This was essentially a weekly after-school program at a local Middle School where I would go with fellow students and we would help our Littles with their homework, do arts and crafts and run around outside. I always say that I am still just a big kid so it makes it easier to just have fun and connect.

3.) You work for the Cleveland Indians. What does it mean to you knowing that they support Big Brothers Big Sisters?
Knowing that the Cleveland Indians support Big Brothers Big Sisters, just gives me another reason to take pride in sporting the Block C or Chief Wahoo, because I work for a company that continually gives back to the community and understands the importance of serving others.

Long story short, our bowling championship drought is finally over. All it took was a little hard work and patience. Throughout these seven years, I’ve fallen back on the same quote over and over to get me through the hard losses: “With patience and saliva, the ant will eventually eat the elephant.” I don’t know who said it, but it really is a powerful quote. I’m not saying that we are going to start winning every year, because that isn’t a safe bet. I am saying that we will continue to win with our off the field efforts and supporting great organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. And that is all I really need (since I now have my victory over the Browns)!

“You Play Like A GIRL!”

So many great quotes to choose from “The Sandlot” for this blog entry. It was between the current title of the blog and “Oh yeah, the Great Bambino. Of course! I thought you said the Great Bambi.” Ha! Ham responds, “That wimpy deer?” What a great flick! That movie came out just as I was getting in to Junior High School. Oddly enough, it came out just after I stopped playing baseball. I reached a certain age where my hand-eye coordination just decided to stop and I couldn’t connect the bat with the ball to save my life. So I took up running and became the stud that I am.

Anyway, there was nothing better than playing baseball in an old park, on a dusty field in the middle of a hot, 90 degree summer evening. You always knew that you would go get ice cream after the game, even if you lost. Comedian Brian Regan did a funny bit on that. You should check it out.

Cleveland Indians Charities has access to a little sandlot of their own in the form of Progressive Field and, every year, they invite local high school baseball teams to come and participate in the High School Hardball Classic. The two-day event is in its 10th year and helps raise money, not only for Cleveland Indians Charities, but also for the high school team participating. Each team (10 teams this year) is required to sell 300 tickets to a 2013 Indians game at a discounted rate. They then re-sell those tickets at regular price and keep the difference as part of their fundraiser. The money raised from ticket sales into the Hardball Classic event, goes to Cleveland Indians Charities.

Teams have the opportunity to play their game on Progressive Field, as well as use the batting cages, the bullpen and the dugouts. Their lineups are posted on the scoreboard and names are announced as they come up to bat. It is a big-league experience for some of these future pro ball players! The game, then, counts towards their regular season schedule. Volunteers from the Indians front office help put on the event and I was lucky enough to be a team liaison for Rocky River High School. Basically, my job was to hang out with the team and escort them to where they needed to be. I was able to catch up with team captain and catcher/infielder, Jake Nicholson to ask him three important questions:

What does this mean to you to be able to stand in the same dugout as numerous Hall of Fame caliber players?
It means a lot. I looked up to those past Indians players a lot. This is just a great experience.

What are your thoughts on the Hardball Classic event as a whole?
It’s a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to play hockey here a couple years ago during Snow Days, but this experience is a lot more fun. To be able to play on the actual field (instead of ice) is pretty cool.

And finally, do you realize you are standing in the same spot that Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and even myself have spit?
Ha! For sure (as he spits on the ground to show he spit here too).

With that, I’ll leave you with some pictures from the Classic. And, while “The Sandlot” celebrates it’s 20th Anniversary, I have to reiterate that Cleveland Indians Charities (CIC) is celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary. For more information on other great events that CIC puts on, go to http://www.indians.com and click on the “Community” tab. You’ll also find out how your high school baseball team can participate in the 2014 Hardball Classic! Thanks to all of the teams that participated this year and good luck with the rest of your season!

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“The House That Built Me”

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I had an amazing blog entry written today, but I just erased it all. Why? Because I tried to get too wordy and too “deep” and that just caused the blog to seem fake. It might have won me a Pulitzer, but it didn’t fit my normal writing mood. I know if my mood changes, then my fans and followers would get upset and I would be stuck writing a blog that no one ever looks at anymore. I did keep the title of my blog entry the same, just so you can see how poetic I was probably going to get had I kept the original text. To be honest, I have no story or historic event in my life that could even relate to our recent Indians in the Community event held at Providence House. To try to create one just for point of reference would simply be an injustice to what the great people at Providence House stand for.

And with that…

The Cleveland Indians continued their April Indians in the Community program by volunteering at Providence House in Cleveland. Providence House is an organization that fights to end child abuse and neglect by protecting at-risk families, empowering families in crisis and building safe communities for every child. Located in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, Providence House serves kids ranging from infants to 10 years old. Their hope is that children everywhere are raised in safe, loving families free from abuse and neglect. Since the creation of Providence House 31 years ago, they have become more than an emergency shelter for children; including case management and supportive services for both the children and their families.

The Indians front office volunteers included staff from varioius departments as well as Meryl Masterson (wife of Indians pitcher Justin Masterson), Jenna Gomes and her husband Yan Gomes (Indians catcher). We started off our morning touring the facility. From there, we were split into two groups. One group assembled intake bags, which are kitted items that each child receives upon arrival at Providence House and takes home when he or she leaves (toothbrush, 5+sets of clothes, shoes, etc.). The other group was able to play with the kids who are staying at Providence House on their new playground at the newly remodeled and expanded House.

The volunteer event took place just days after Indians 1B Nick Swisher and his wife Joanna generously donated $75,000 to Providence House during the pre-game ceremonies of Opening Day. The Swishers, known for their charitable efforts and contributions, have clearly brought their philanthropic ways here to Cleveland with them and for that, we thank them.

If you’d like to learn more about Providence House or would like to volunteer, visit http://www.provhouse.org. Thank you again to all who helped out and to the players and their wives for spending time volunteering on one of their few, precious off days!

“Good News Everyone: Arts and Crafts Time Has Been Extended 3 Hours Today!”

I was only about a day old when I got my first blanket. I know for a fact that I was a beautiful baby right from the beginning and wanted to show off my body, but my parents thought it’d be best to cover me up. I’m guessing it was because I was born in late December and they didn’t want me to catch a cold. Either way, I still have that blanket to this day and it is one of my favorites. Obviously, I never use it because it’s only big enough to cover up my feet, but I hold on to it for sentimental value. To others, that blanket may have been just a piece of fabric, but to me it was so much more than that. It offered me comfort, warmth, security and confidence (when I used it as a Superman cape).

The Cleveland Indians decided it was time to blanket the community (pun) with their generosity and make a few blankets of their own. With help from Jo-Ann Fabrics who graciously donated the special Chief Wahoo designed fabric, 18 front office employees got together and began to show off their sewing skills. Luckily, there was no sewing involved with these as they are the types of blankets where you just cut the fabric and then knot the ends together. In a period of 4 hours, about 68 blankets were measured, cut and knotted together.

The blankets will be donated to Providence House so that local kids will be able to enjoy the same comfort, warmth and security that we all did when we were younger (and still do today)! And they may even help create a new Superman here and there!

Providence House is Ohio’s first licensed crisis nursery, offering free, voluntary (non-custodial) placements for emergency shelter to children newborn through six years old, actively living in crisis situations which place them at risk of abuse or neglect (www.provhouse.org).

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“Cheer Up, Dude…It’s Christmas!”

I never liked getting Christmas lists from family or friends, nor did I like giving them a Christmas list.  Why bother telling me what you want?  Can’t you just get it yourself?  I’ll give you the cash for it. Oh you want to get me something too?  How about we just exchange $20 bills and call it even?

Yes, I did just have a conversation with myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I love giving presents at Christmas.  I LOVE it!  I just like surprising people with gifts more than giving them what they ask for.  I would rather get someone something that they mentioned they wanted in casual conversation way back in June and forgot about then getting them that blender they want just because they need to ask for something.  This is also why I don’t like giving a list.  I’m terrible at pretending to be surprised when I open a gift when I already have an idea of what it is.  “Oh cool! Socks and underwear!  Wow, I really needed these…which is why they were on my list.  I probably would have picked them up at Wal-Mart tomorrow, but this is great.” As a quick side note, I’m sorry for any family or friends reading this that are giving me a gift that was on my list this Christmas.

IndiansVisit 017No, no. The surprise of gift giving is much better! Which is why I was incredibly happy when our new Indians manager, Terry Francona called me up and wanted to give some surprise presents to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, Shaker Campus.  Terry set us up with his friends at New Balance and they were nice enough to donate 23 pairs of brand new shoes to the kids at the Children’s Hospital!  The kids ranged in age from a couple of months old up to about 15 years old.  Slider dressed up in his Santa outfit and delivered the presents to each child just in time for Christmas!  The kids loved it and I’m pretty sure they were not expecting something like that at all. 

That’s what this crazy season is all about–giving gifts and expecting nothing in return except for the joy of watching them open the present with shock on their face.  A very special thank you to New Balance for stepping up and donating all of the shoes and shipping them to us quick enough to do this before Christmas.  Also thank you to Terry Francona, who has been our manager for what? A month and a half?  And he is already looking out for our community.  Finally, thank you to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, Shaker Campus who gave us the opportunity to meet these children. Thank you!

To all of you who read my blog (Mom, I’ll see you in a few days) have a great Christmas and Holiday season and a fantastic New Year.  Cheers to 2012 and a great 2013!

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Video Killed the Radio Star…

Okay, maybe I’m not a radio star but I am definitely a blogging star.  Just ask my mom.  Technology is slowly creeping up on all of us and this new concept of moving images on a screen to create a story seems like it is all the rage! 

I suppose it is a good thing because I don’t think I could really put into words everything that the Cleveland Indians do in the community throughout the year.  I guess I technically did put it into words if you look through my blog and see all of the past blogs I wrote, but that’s neither here nor there.  Let’s just agree on me being too lazy to write a year-long summary and instead, just watch the tiny television box set below.

Why Did the Tyson Chicken Cross the Road?

A lot of people don’t know this, but chickens are beautiful creatures.  Think about it.  What other animal has a soft, golden brown coat of feathers, large talons, exceptional speed, a beak that can pierce your skin, a monstrous cluck and beady little eyes that won’t hold a stare for longer than .25 seconds? If that isn’t beauty then I’m going to have to raise my bar a little bit higher!  

The Cleveland Indians teamed up with Tyson Foods, Inc. and Lift Up America to once again provide 30,000 pounds of protein (various types of meat) to local food agencies in the city of Cleveland.  The Cleveland Foodbank assists in making sure each food agency gets a certain poundage of protein based on their size and their reach.  This is the fifth year that the Indians have hosted the event and each year the need grows more and more.

Eddy, the Tyson truck driver, parked his tractor-trailer right on the Gateway Plaza outside of Progressive Field as the backdrop of the distribution.  Over the past decade, Tyson has donated more than 88 million pounds of food–roughly 352 million meals.  With the help of 70 volunteers including employees from Insurance Partners Agency, the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Foodbank and Lift Up America the 30,000 pounds of food was distributed to 30 agencies in about 20 minutes! 

“There are millions of hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are faced with the realities of hunger,” said Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, Inc. “We want to make a difference in these people’s lives by helping them provide nutritious food for themselves and their families.”

So while we may not know which came first, the chicken or the egg, I think we finally have an answer as to why the chicken crossed the road.  Obviously, it was to get into the Tyson Foods truck so that it can be brought to Progressive Field and passed out to local food agencies.  It’s not the best punch line for a joke, but like the food distribution, it’s all about the delivery!

“Dream on. Dream until your dreams come true.”

I’ve worked for the Indians for close to 6 years now and I have to admit that every time I go up the steps behind home plate to get to the field, or make the turn in the lower level to walk out the elephant doors in left field, I still have that moment of awe.  There is nothing like the feeling you get when you are about to go onto a professional sports team’s field.  It’s a feeling of excitement and calmness mixed in with heart pounding joy.  I get to do it every day and anytime I want, yet that feeling never fades.  What makes it even cooler is when I can take someone out to the field who would have never dreamed they would have the chance to be that close.

Fabian Washington being interviewed by Fox 8 News about his Dream Day experience

Fabian Washington from Cleveland, Ohio was able to experience the sensation on an even grander scale at his recent trip to Progressive Field.  The Cleveland Indians teamed up with Strike Force Baseball Academy and the Diamond Boys Organization to hold a “Dream Day” at Progressive Field. The two groups worked together to put on a baseball clinic for children and adults with developmental disabilities who have never really had the chance to play sports. 

 “I learned how to hold a baseball properly, I learned how to hold it across the ‘U’ and not just hold it any sort of way.  It’s just awesome to come down here.  I”m having lots of fun just playing around on the field…and I love the fresh grass,” says Fabian.

Invited to the event were members of Our Lady of the Wayside and also Rising Star.*  Meg Downey, who is the Director of Specialized Services at Our Lady of the Wayside and helped put on the event, probably summed up the event the best.  “The best part of yesterday’s Dream Day Clinic was that Gino, who lives at The Wayside’s Lake Home, believes he pitches for the Cleveland Indians … John who attends The Wayside’s Day Program, believes that he hit a home run … and every consumer participating did what so many of us take for granted – they played ball.”

The day ended with an intrasquad game before they broke for lunch.  The participants used the skills they learned to play their very own game of baseball.  They played on the same field where their heroes play.  The helmets were the same ones that past Indians players have used. The balls were Major League baseballs and the grass–well, like Fabian said–it was “fresh”…just like the pros play on.

To learn more about Our Lady of the Wayside and Rising Star, visit their websites at www.thewayside.org and www.risingstarlc.org respectively.

“I’m just ahead of the curve…”

I was taught how to throw a baseball by the great Jason Ream.  Jason Ream, as you all know, was a pitcher and he taught me the basics of how to throw a four and a two seam fastball.  He also tried to teach me how to throw a knuckleball, but the end result just has me throwing the ball about 2 feet before it hit the ground.  Truth be told, I don’t think Jason even knew how to throw a knuckleball–I’m sorry, I was just informed by my editor that no one will know who this Jason Ream fellow is.  For those that don’t know, Jason is one of my best friends and we grew up together out in Burton.  He now works in Chicago for a bank and has never played professional baseball.  He just happened to be a pitcher on a little league team.  I’m sorry for any confusion, I just really wanted to tell you all who taught me how to pitch because it’s a great memory. 

At the Cleveland Indians, we are big on creating memories.  I bet if you ask J.T. Taylor who taught him how to pitch he would probably tell you his dad and his baseball coach (obviously).  But if you asked him who else taught him, he would say Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez.  J.T. won a pitching lesson with Chris Perez through the Cleveland Indians Wives Association charity auction.  Player’s wives donate unique items to the auction to raise money for Cleveland Indians Charities and Providence House.*

J.T. was “psyched to see Chris…and have a lesson by him.”  Perez spent about 30 minutes going over different pitches, but in the end, all J.T. really wanted to learn was how to throw the curveball.  When asked what his best tip he learned was, he simply replied, “The curveball.  I’ve never learned how throw a curveball.”

Of course, Perez knows that everyone wants to learn the curveball.  This is the 2nd year he has given a pitching lesson and both kids immediately asked him to teach them the curve.  He is quick to point out (and he proves it every time he is out there on the field) “it all revolves around the fastball.  Hopefully he takes some of the stuff I taught him and goes out and helps himself become a better pitcher.”

*Providence House was founded in 1981 by Sr. Hope Greener, CSJ, as Ohio’s first licensed crisis nursery, offering free, voluntary (non-custodial) placements for emergency shelter to children newborn through six years old, actively living in crisis situations which place them at risk of abuse or neglect.  For more information visit www.provhouse.org

“I believe it’s jogging or yogging. it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.”

Eighteen years ago I got into this “runner craze” that was taking over.  I shouldn’t say it was taking over because in actuality I was probably in the minority choosing running as my sport instead of football or baseball or basketball.  I like to say that running was only for the cool kids back then.  I mean, I run and how cool am I?  I had one famous runner to look up to (Steve Prefontaine) instead of having to worry about remembering all of those other big sport athletes’ names like Michael Bird of the Boston Bulls or Brett Montana of the famous Green Bay 49ers. 

As I grew older and got out of school, I noticed that all of the people who used to make fun of us cool runner kids were actually starting to run themselves (I was definitely ahead of my time with this sport and knew it would take off one day).  Guys who used to play football were now running 30 or 40 miles a week.  Lazy people from my school are now running in the same road races as I do!  It got me thinking…what if there was a race that was not only competitive, but also enjoyable for all of those former football, baseball and basketball players who have now taken up running?  A race where Joe Fan and Lazy Larry could get a workout in, while at the same time experience something that not many people get to experience (and I’m not talking about Runner’s Nirvana).

My quest to create such a race came full circle on July 15, 2012 when Cleveland Indians Charities, Cleveland Browns Foundation and the Cavaliers Youth Fund joined forces for the first time ever and put on the Inaugural FANtastic 4-Miler!  The race, presented by the Cleveland Clinic Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute, took runners into Cleveland Browns Stadium and around the football field, into the “Q” Arena across the Cavs court area and finished on the warning track of Progressive Field.  All proceeds were split between the three sports teams’ charitable foundations.

The race sold out at 1,000 runners.  We saw the overall male and female runners finish in 20:41 (Mike Capriolo) and 23:22 (Kelly Green).  The overall winners received an experience package from each team and the top 3 winners in each age group received either a pair of Indians, Browns or Cavs tickets. 

The race drew the likes of former Indians pitcher and Sports Time Ohio pregame host, Jason Stanford, and his fellow STO co-workers Dave Chudowsky and Katie Witham.  All three competed in the race, while Browns alumni Reggie Langhorne and Cavs alumni Campy Russell cheered on the runners from the sidelines.

 Of course, for the non-runners out there, the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital stepped up and sponsored a post-race family walk around the warning track.  It was a nice way for the runners and their families to cool down, burn some calories and share their race stories while walking around Progressive Field!

Congratulations to all the participated and thank you  to all of the sponsors who helped make this race a success!

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