The Optimist

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Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! My nom de guerre is “Optimist” – and if it’s the 259th day of the Gregorian calendar, you can believe that another action-packed installment of News … Around … The … League is bursting from the strained seams of

Last week’s episode of N.A.T.L. was a serious one – focusing on the anniversary of September 11th and my inability to re-heat leftover rigatoni as a result of those tragic events. I might’ve even shed a few tears in last week’s column, which doesn’t sound like me at all. I must’ve had something in my eye.

Either way, I’m back on emotional terra firma now. And you nerds needn’t worry about either of us bursting into waterworks this week – unless you’re a complete wuss or maybe John Boehner.

That was last column, Mr. Speaker.
Today, it’s back to spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. And we’ll be covering the big three.

In today’s column, we’ll clean out our Tribe locker for the winter. We’ll discuss our beloved Brownies’ heartbreaking loss in the opener against Cincinnati – and look ahead to this Sunday’s battle in Indy. And finally, we’ll preview a Friday night matchup on the hardwood, featuring me and some classic Cavaliers taking on a group of proud Olympians.

Extensive sports coverage like that will definitely restrict us from the usual smorgasbord of subjects.

That means no historic observations – like the recognition of Papua New Guinea’s independence
from Australia.

We can forget about trying to celebrate a gaggle of celebrity birthdays, led by former Cavalier Ron Brewer and former Tribe ace Orel Hershiser but not excluding Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, American actor Mickey Rourke, Bengali sitar player Sanjoy Bandopadhyay and the “John Gotti of Japan” – Tadamasa Goto.

And maybe most unfortunately, we simply don’t have the column space to cover this week’s myriad events from the animal kingdom.

That means tough luck if you tuned in hoping to read about the drunk moose in Sweden who ate too many fermented apples and wound up in a tree. You definitely won’t be reading about Shirley, the smoking Malaysian orangutan. We don’t even have time to report on the two heroic lobsters who crawled inside a man’s shorts in an unsuccessful attempt to escape a grocery store in Mississippi.

I’m sorry, readers. Maybe we’ll cover those hard-hitting issues another week. We’re just double-stuffed on sports right now. So let’s clear some inventory, gird up and get on with this week’s episode of News … Around … The … League, shall we?

Wait Til Next Year (Seriously) – In professional baseball, your team has two regular season dates to look forward to at the start of the year.

One is the day your squad clinches the Playoffs, if you’re lucky. The other is a little something we like to call “Mathematical Elimination” – the date your team is officially out of the running. This year, teams like the Pirates and Orioles were able to stave off this dreaded date well past April for the first time in decades. The surprising Indians finally capitulated last night in Texas.

As a natural-born optimist, I’d always rather light a candle than curse the darkness. So I’m certainly not going to give the Tribe any guff about their recent struggles.

But I also know when to leave the party. The Indians themselves still have a couple more weeks remaining before they bring their uniforms home for mom to wash and put in the attic. But in terms of N.A.T.L. coverage, I’m going to call it a campaign from this end.

The Tribe should be extremely proud with what they achieved this summer.

They had a slew of walk-off winners. They sent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and reliever Kenny Powers to the All-Star Game in Arizona. In terms of postseason honors, Manny Acta will receive a boatload of votes for Manager of the Year and left fielder Shelley Duncan will probably make major league history, winning a Gold Glove based on 1 1/3 innings of baseball.

Cleveland competed longer than anyone could’ve predicted. But the injury bug bit hard and the Tigers went on a 12-game win streak that left the entire Division in the dust.

I’m a simple man, and I like simple things. And all I ask of the Indians each year is to stay competitive long enough to get me into Browns season. A run at the pennant is gravy.

Manny Acta’s men did their job this summer. Next year, they’ll have a strong rotation, the returning Bullpen Mafia, a healthy outfield and a pair of promising young guns in Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Enjoy “Snow Days” at Progressive Field and please be ready to roll when pitchers and catchers report in late February.

Dawg Day Afternoon – Last week, I called for a Browns double-digit victory and instead got a double-digit defeat – at the hands of Bruce Gradkowski and the lowly Bengals, no less!

It wasn’t pretty. The Browns committed seven penalties in the first quarter and didn’t clean up much from there. Colt McCoy and Co. overcame a 13-point deficit only to see the Bengals re-take the lead on a controversial fourth-quarter play.

Browns officials implored the league office to take another look at said play, claiming that when the Browns defense asked the Bengals “Punt or Gain?” they dawdled around for a minute without answering, then hiked the ball and hit rookie A.J. Green for a 41-yard touchdown pass. Several O-linemen also claimed that DE Carlos Dunlap wasn’t counting full “Mississippi’s” before rushing the quarterback.

The play in question was only third down. But still, cheaters never prosper – and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis should know that. But it’s still hard to let the Browns off the hook for this one.

One big concern that I had about the Browns going from Eric Mangini’s East Coast Offense to Pat Shurmur’s West Coast Offense is that Cleveland would get pass-happy, exspecially in short-yardage situations. And that was the case on Sunday.

This Sunday, our beloved Pumpkinheads travel to face the Peyton Manning-less Colts at gargantuan Lucas Oil Stadium, which lords over the city of Indianapolis like the big, gross spaceship did over Johannesburg in “District 9.”

The Colts need this one bad. But my Brownies need it badder. So I’m hoping for a healthy dose of Hillis and Hardesty – and a victory to even things up in the early-going.

The Wheel Deal – On Friday night, several Cavaliers staffers and myself will travel to Geneva’s SPIRE Institute – where the U.S. Men’s Olympic Wheelchair Basketball Team is preparing for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

SPIRE Institute is one the world's largest and most unique training, competition, education and wellness complexes with Olympic caliber facilities. On Friday, the sprawling complex will host a pair of great events.

First, Byron Scott and his staff will treat young basketball players of all ages and abilities at a Kids Clinic.

Following the clinic, I will join Coach Scott, GM Chris Grant and a team of Cavs legends – including Austin Carr, Campy Russell and Larry Nance – in a scrimmage against the U.S Men’s Olympic Wheelchair Basketball team in a charity match. Proceeds from the event will go to benefit the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team as they prepare for London in 2012.

When I play in any sporting event, I prefer to dominate. So I got in touch with my old pal – and former Wheelchair Cavalier standout, Juan Woidtke – to ask for some advice.

Woidtke has traveled with the Wheelchair Cavaliers, playing in tournaments across the country, taking time to speak with and inspire youngsters. One message he always tells the kids is “next time you see a person with a disability don't focus on their disability and focus on their ability."

Juan – pictured, left, at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans – no longer plays with the Wheelchair Cavaliers. He currently lives out in sunny California and is probably tearing up the Catalina Wine Mixer as we speak.

So, I asked Juan if he had any tips for me on Friday night. And he gave me the following, in no particular order.

One: “when you push your chair, push with your rim and the tire at the same time to get more speed.” Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Two, like in regular basketball: “work the pick and roll.” Again, solid advice. Then we get to No. 3: “Try to look for the weak players and try to take advantage of their weakness.”

Juan!! What the cuss are you talking about?!

I mean, I like to win and all – but come on!! I was just looking for a way to shoot the ball and not fall out of my chair.

Besides, these are Olympic-level hoopsters. They’ll probably identify me as the weak player and fight over which of them gets to drop a double-nickel on my arse.

Either way, it should be a fun evening, and it definitely goes toward an excellent cause. If you’ve got nothing big brewing, come out to Geneva and show your support.

Even if you can’t come out to Geneva on Friday, I still hope you dug today’s rendition of News … Around … The …League.

"Think you're better
than me?!"
Enjoy another Caligulan feast of high school, college and pro football this weekend. I know I will.

And, as always, remember to find a designated driver – even if you’re just looking to get blotto on a bunch of fermented apples like some drunken Swedish tree-moose. Almost all of today’s “supercops” are equipped with S.C.M.O.D.S. (State County Municipal Offender Data System). And they will pull you over.

Peace be with you, sports fans. We will reconvene in exactly seven days. While you pine away the hours, you can pass the time in an attempt to …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

One love,
The Optimist