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Akron Baseball Players Welcome Home LeBron

by Matt Kardos | Posted on Saturday, July 12th, 2014

(Trenton) – The city of Cleveland emerged victorious in the biggest sweepstakes in sports history on Friday. LeBron James announced via an op-ed piece on SI.com that he was returning home to his native city to play for the Cavaliers after leaving them for dead when he bolted for Miami in the summer of 2010. When news broke of James decision to return shortly after the noon hour, it instantly became the lone topic of conversation around the globe.

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have,” James wrote in his letter. “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home..”

Those most deeply moved by the announcement were people from the Cleveland area who understand the city’s hard working people and their blue-collar roots. The Akron RubberDucks, a team representing LeBron’s hometown, rolled into Arm & Hammer Park on Friday to open a four-game set with the Thunder. Double G Sports caught up with catcher Alex Lavisky, outfielder Anthony Gallas and strength and conditioning coach Jake Sankal, all Ohio-natives, to survey their feelings on James homecoming.

“We were rooting for it the whole time,” said Lavisky, who grew up in Cleveland before moving to suburban Lakewood as a senior in high school. “I’m a huge Cleveland fan and I think him coming back is awesome and I think its given Cleveland exactly what it needs.” Lavisky added, “It was heartbreaking when he left but I cannot imagine there would be too may cities that wouldn’t take him back, so I know that we are all very excited about it.”

The Akron team bus arrived to their hotel in downtown Trenton early Friday morning after concluding their series in Richmond. When news of LeBron’s decision hit the internet at 12:15 in the afternoon, most of the guys were not yet together. “We had a group hug going today when we got in the clubhouse,” said Lavisky. “Some of the guys has been giving us a hard time saying that he was going to break our hearts again, so it was good to kind of shove it in their face when we got the news.”

Gallas, who is a Kent State alum and native of Strongsville, took LeBron’s departure four years ago much harder than Lavisky or Sankal. He admitted to nearly burning his James jersey at the time. As the King has returned to his thrown, Gallas understands that his decision to leave was based on business and success much more than casting stones at a city.

Akron players Anthony Gallas (left) and Alex Lavisky (right) talk about the return of LeBron James to Cleveland. Photo by: Matt Kardos

Akron players Anthony Gallas (left) and Alex Lavisky (right) talk about the return of LeBron James to Cleveland. Photo by: Matt Kardos

“It felt like betrayal,” said Gallas of LeBron’s exit in 2010.  “I think now having played pro-ball, you kind of understand why he did what he did. If the Yankees called  and offered the right price, you go.” Gallas added, “I was tearing up,” when speaking about James letter. “Nobody that isn’t from there knows what it’s like (to hail from Cleveland) and he understands that. It almost feels like when you were a little kid and liked a wrestler who is a good guy, and he becomes a bad guy. Now he’s a good guy again.”

Cleveland has a storybook history of losing, no team has won a championship there since the Brown won the NFL Championship 50 years ago in 1964. Their fan bases are so dedicated and so loyal to franchises who have done very little to reward them for that allegiance. As mega-star Johnny Manziel has given the Browns a jolt of excitement, fans are relying on LeBron to take them out of the depths of mediocrity to bask in championship glory.

“For so long, the Cleveland sports fans have been so die-hard and so loyal,” said Lavisky. “Everyone is so tough; there’s not a soft-soul in the city. Everyone is blue-collar and they get after it and I think that we are tired of getting snubbed and have people always talking trash on us. It feels good to be relevant again.”

In the eyes of the world, LeBron is the most talented basketball player on the planet. While that is true, in the city of Cleveland his presence transcends sports. He is a figure of hope, optimism, spirit, pride and most of all, success.

“LeBron hit the nail on the head when he said that it was about more than just basketball,” said Sankal, who currently resides in the city. “Cleveland is such a unique city because it is a big city with a small-town feel. It is almost like a brotherhood being from there and to have him come back is such a big deal to everyone. Its about more than just basketball.”

LeBron turned his back on a city four years ago and played the role of a hated villain impeccably for the last four years. With one well-written letter published on Friday, all is forgiven as LeBron returns as a hero to people in a city that have spent a lifetime yearning for one.

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