He's not really a pro athlete yet -- at least not that we know of -- but let's not quibble over semantics. His games are sold out long in advance. Visiting NBA players make the trip to Akron to see what all the talk is about. He's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. ESPN is even considering televising St. Vincent-St. Mary's games. And to think the guy has yet to play his senior year. In a city that suddenly finds itself with a paucity of name-brand players -- Thome and Omar excluded -- LeBron is quite simply The Man. Here's hoping the Cavs throw the season and keep him down on the farm with the top lottery pick.
If athletes really looked like the cities they played for, we'd have a whole team of Thomes. A bear's shoulders, meaty mitts, and power belly -- just like the steelworkers we know. Thome makes millions swatting baseballs, but he offered to take a pay cut to stay in Cleveland. What in the name of Shawn Kemp is with this guy? Add to that his marriage to a weather babe and his appreciation for canned alcohol; Mr. Thome, we doff our cap to you.
A couple of times a year, the Indians trot out Jaret Wright as if by popular demand. "He can't pitch," Tribe management seems to believe, "but the fans love him." Not really. Wright's place in our fickle hearts has been filled by the dashing Danys Baez. The 25-year-old is a natural athlete, with flickering, intelligent eyes. (In Cuba, he studied to be a physics teacher.) He has handled the transition from Castro to Shapiro with remarkable grace. Why the Indians don't promote him more is a mystery.
An AM radio staple since the late 1980s, WTAM's Mike Snyder is the discriminating fan's sports guru, an anomaly in Clear Channel's predictable, cookie-cutter programming schedule. Snyder's modulated, baritone pipes run perpendicular to Mike Trivisonno's gravelly, diction-free tirades during afternoon drive. Above all else, Snyder knows his stuff. He locked up an exclusive interview with Art Modell when the former Browns owner bolted for Baltimore. He's known on a first-name basis to virtually every Tribesman past and present. That's why you don't need instant replay to figure out why Snyder was elected to the Ohio Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2000.
It's hard to remember, but Cleveland was once home to some of the best radio in the country. No matter what your interests or political persuasion, there was always something worth tuning in: Gary Dee, Pete Franklin, Merle Pollis. Even Imus did a stint here. Those days, however, are long gone. Now it's a whole lot of news, traffic, and syndicated teeth spasms from the fashionably idiotic Glenn Beck. Thank God for Drennan. As morning host on all-sports station WKNR, Drennan could probably get away with yapping about Danys Baez for three hours. It's to his credit that he's fashioned something akin to a real talk show. He chews on sports, of course, but he's equally obsessed with movies, Broadway musicals, and Swingo's on the Lake. Where else would callers check in to learn whether Cats is appropriate fare for their kids? Where else does the host open each show by singing a show tune? Cleveland radio may not be what it once was, but Drennan, at least, reminds us what it could be.
Ahhh, that voice. At first listen, you want to kill Chuck Booms, to actually thrust your fist through the radio, grab him by the throat, and shake that piercing, whiny little tone out of the bastard's voice. But then an odd thing happens. You listen, and you realize his show, Kiley and Booms, works. Indeed, it succeeds in a way that no locally produced yap-fest ever does. At times it's fast and smart, at times idiotic and irresistible. It turns out that Booms -- a touring comedian who does the show from Independence while Kiley sits in Washington -- is damn funny. There's just one problem: The show is heard each weekday on WTOU 1350, an AM station out of Akron that is seemingly powered by a hamster and treadmill. Says Booms: "I don't think you can get reception in the station's parking lot." Such is the state of Cleveland radio that the best local talent can barely be heard here.
Going to the gym these days often seems to be about everything but lifting weights. Too many exercise facilities have been wussified by juice bars, spastic aerobics instructors, and friggin' yoga classes. What kind of shit is that? Do you think Schwarzenegger ever got into the lotus position before squat-thrusting a pile of iron heavier than a Yugo? Of course not, and the folks at Pro Fitness know it. This gym boasts no sauna, no steam room, no masseuse -- just one of the best and biggest selections of weights in all of Cleveland spread out over two floors, ridiculously low rates, no initiation fee, no contracts, and best of all, no frills.
The circa-1950s decor still sparkles at Meszar's, an intimate mom-and-pop operation, after all these years in the same family. Owner Ann Meszar keeps the chrome lunch counter shiny and collects the money, while her son acts as custodian and pin-chaser. Don't forget to wear your bowling shirt with "Carla" embroidered in cursive on the pocket, and be sure to bring someone who knows how to keep score with a scratchy orange pencil -- there are no automatic scorers here. It's very family-friendly, with bumper-bowling for the rugrats and prices that hark back to the Eisenhower era.
Next to the basketball courts in this small, nameless city park are a pair of three-foot-high cement pyramids, the sight of which induces a gasp in the avid skateboarder. Legend has it that the pyramids are an architectural accident, the product of a park designer who had cement leftovers. Whatever their origin, they're just the right slope and height for a range of hip tricks, which is the reason the pyramids have appeared as props in skateboarding videos from coast to coast.
If you want to run the entire towpath, be prepared for a workout: It spans 20 miles from its beginning in Valley View to the penultimate visitor's center off Smith Road in Akron. But that should be no cause for despair. Almost any piece of the crushed limestone trail makes for a good run. It's usually less crowded than Metroparks trails and, in many places, significantly more beautiful, with the Cuyahoga River edging one side and the wonderfully green Ohio & Erie Canal hugging the other.
Pity the out-of-shape runner. He slogs along, willing himself not to stop, not to give up hope, not to collapse. What does he get for it? Firmer calves, perhaps, but certainly embarrassment, should anyone he knows see him. For such a runner, the perfect course must be short (so he can complete it), shaded (so he won't melt from heatstroke), and hidden (so he'll avoid the ridicule of his peers). The Bonne Bell running track in Westlake fits all those criteria: It's short -- there are one-mile and two-mile loops -- almost entirely wooded, and blissfully quiet.