Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wet in Cleveland: A travelogue

Flew into Cleveland during a hailstorm. I was there to broadcast the weekend series between the Mariners and the Indians for Seattle radio – assuming I survived both the landing and cab ride into the city. Happy to say the power blackout that caused the skyline to go completely dark lasted only a minute or two. Play ball!

Cleveland is making a valiant comeback I’m happy to report. Not every major city can recover from the utter devastation of losing LeBron James. The downtown area has been given a facelift, you can feel a new vibrancy, but still you look at the faces of Clevelanders, proud and plucky as they may be, and their eyes are crying out “Please, let anybody eliminate Miami in the NBA Playoffs. I hate that son of a bitch.”

Cleveland of course is known for the Cuyahoga River that caught on fire, Drew Carey, the 38th sitcom starring Betty White, the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Patricia Heaton (whose dad was a sportswriter and is in the Football Hall of Fame), the house from CHRISTMAS STORY, Don King, the Randy Newman song (“Cleveland -- city of lights, city of magic”), Paul Newman, the great Kaye Ballard, its ranking as the 7th most dangerous city in the country, Halle Berry, Bob Hope, and great sports teams like the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers… forget that collectively they haven’t won a world championship since their presidential namesake was in office.

Dined at Lola’s Bistro. Michael Symon, the founder and also an IRON CHEF. Everything was delicious and I can see why he's on that show. So many creative uses of iron! And Fat Fish Blue is why you think of Cleveland first when you think of Cajun food. Best Creole on Lake Erie.

Cyndi Lauper was staying at the team hotel. Either she was in town for the opening of the new “Women in Rock” exhibit at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame or she’s a Mariners’ groupie. The team returns to Detroit next month. If she’s in that lobby then we’ll know.

Speaking of the Hall, I made my first trek there. Thanks to radio titan, Mike McVay, I got in and didn’t have to tag along on any of the elementary school tours! I’m sure the wee tykes really enjoyed the “roots of rock” display featuring all their favorites – Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. Bruce Springsteen’s 1960 Chevy Corvette is on display and one of the kids asked, “Is that Batman’s car?”

There are guitars everywhere. Imagine a Hard Rock CafĂ© without food and bad service. Also saw a lot of costumes worn by the various rock stars, proving that talent is in reverse proportion to fashion sense. I wonder if that same little kid looked at Lady Gaga’s costume and said, “Is that Batman’s suit?”

As you enter the building, on the glass door there is a symbol stating “no guns”. Right away that told me they had a “Hip Hop” section, and indeed it is quite impressive. All that’s missing are the mug shots.

In a salute to rock radio there are listening stations where you can sample the great Top 40 d.j.’s of yesteryear (minus me). Too bad none of the headphones work and you can’t hear a thing. How are we going to expose the impressionable youth of today to Cousin Brucie?

All in all, the museum is extraordinary and worth a trip to Cleveland for that alone. Some features that I found particularly fascinating:

-- Jimi Hendrix was a terrific artist and they have sketches he made of PAC 10 football teams…
-- there is the letter from RSO records rejecting U2 (but hey, they’re no Andy Gibb)…
-- handwritten lyrics for such songs as Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”…
-- and an entire room devoted to Les Paul whose innovations in sound recording are to Rock n’ Roll what Edison is to electricity.

Also, while it’s showing, do check out the “Women in Rock” exhibit. Everything is there except Lesley Gore’s hair spray can. When that same little kid saw the recent photo of Cher I wonder if he asked, “Is that Batman after putting on his mask?”

Most touching for me was a display honoring my dear friend, the late Ellie Greenwich.

For those who remember when the Indians used to play in cavernous empty Municipal Stadium, their new ballpark, Progressive Field is a wonder. When I broadcast from Municipal Stadium I once said on the air, “If I was out on a date Saturday night and wanted to take my girl somewhere dark where we could be alone, I’d take her to an Indians game”.

The new (I say “new”, it’s almost 20 years old now) park has all the amenities and combines the tradition of old school luxury suites with the convenience of modern-day luxury suites.

The visiting clubhouse guy is one of the most amazing artists I’ve ever seen. His name is Wayne and he makes unbelievable portraits of ballplayers … in Legos. This is not a joke. This is a very unique talent. Michelangelo couldn’t build a little car for shit with those bricks.
Attendance this year is way down despite the fact that the surprising Indians have the best record in the American League. Well, Friday night, with the Mighty Mariners in town, they got the second biggest crowd since Opening Day and their second biggest walk-up attendance in the park’s history. You’re welcome. Okay, so it was also “Dollar Dog Night” with all hot dogs selling for a buck apiece. They sold 33,000 tickets and over 55,000 wieners. HOT (dogs) IN CLEVELAND.

My broadcast partner on the radio all weekend was Ron Fairly. As a kid growing up in LA, he was one of my favorite Dodgers so how cool to be working side-by-side with someone I idolized until he was traded to the Expos! We had great fun on the air and I got to call a very thrilling and dramatic ninth inning. If only it didn’t end with Travis Hafner of the Sons of the Wigwam hitting a two-run walk-off home run with two outs to beat my beloved M’s 5-4.

Saturday’s game began on time. But ten minutes later this was our call: “There are a few raindrops. A couple of umbrellas are sprouting and… Whoa! We got a flood! They just halted play.”

Picture God with a power washer.

Fans always wonder what we announcers do during rain delays. In this case, we wrung out towels for two hours. The windows in the press box leaked. I wondered if Barbra Streisand had any sandbags left from the big Malibu storm a few years ago. Can’t you just picture Babs with a burlap sack and a shovel? There’s another exhibit for the Hall: “Women of Rock During Relief Efforts”. The Doppler map had more colors than the suit Jimi Hendrix was buried in. After two hours the game was mercifully called.

And Sunday was no better. Woke up to fog and rain and a local news anchor who looked like Urkel grown up. Checked out of the hotel and was relieved not to see Cyndi Lauper in the lobby trolling for player autographs. Got to the park by avoiding the Cleveland Marathon. I think it was the Cleveland Marathon. Could have just been thousands of people fleeing to Akron.

Like the day before, the rain just didn’t stop. I really felt bad for the Indians’ mascot, Slider. After entertaining the sparse crowd for ten minutes in the downpour that big bulbous furry suit had to weigh 300 pounds. Kinda like what Sly Stone must’ve experienced performing at Woodstock.

Unlike the day before, Sunday was frigid cold with winds strong enough to blow the tarpaulin into Cincinnati. Once it was determined by Doppler radar that this rain was going to continue until June 11th, they cancelled this game, too. The Mariners come back in August and must now play five games in three days. So the weekend was pretty much a washout. Two postponements and a heartbreaking defeat. Oh, and we had to take off from a smaller airport because the winds were too high at Cleveland International.

Still, I had a great time. I love my traveling companions (thanks Kev, Rico, Ron, Blow, and Shan), love the guys on the team (especially now that Milton Bradley has been dumped), and where else can you see Cyndi Lauper in the lobby and Andy Pettite in Legos? Cleveland Rocks!

WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED -- a collection of my travelogues is still available at prices that would destroy most publishing companies.  Check it out here.  

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