Keep Kluber; I’m going to watch Boyle pitch
Vince Guerrieri | On 30, Sep 2015
I’m going to Saturday’s Indians game. Corey Kluber’s supposed to start for the Indians, but I’m going to see Joe Boyle pitch.
Joe’s my friend and mentor, a teacher at Waite High School, father to three children, wife to Katie and a Cleveland sports fan. He’s also light one kidney, a casualty of a fight against cancer that’s nearing five years.
I met Joe at Bowling Green State University. As we like to remind you at this website, 1995 was the Greatest Summer Ever, and it settled into the most exciting fall in Cleveland sports in decades. The Indians moved into a shimmering new ballpark the year before, and were taking all comers on the way to 100 wins in a shortened season.
I was starting college. Mike Brandyberry, who recruited me to write for this website (so blame him for this), refers to BG as “Clearview West,” because of its high percentage of students from the Cleveland area. And I can bear witness to that fact. The place was full of Indians fans – from the long-suffering Tribe fans getting their first taste of victory to bandwagon hoppers (we viewed them skeptically).
Joe fell into the first category. He’s a native of Northwest Ohio, but his roots are in Cleveland – and inextricably intertwined with the Indians. His great grandfather was owner and namesake of W.J. Roblin Co., a carriage builder and blacksmith shop on East 66th Street across from League Park. And another great grandfather owned a gunsmith shop on what is now the plaza between Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field.
But after the Indians lost to the Braves in the World Series, the bottom dropped out for Cleveland fans. Word got out that Art Modell was moving the Browns to Baltimore. The day classes started, I went to work for the BG News, the student paper. Staff meetings were Sunday nights. The Sunday after the move became public information, a tall man with mirror aviator sunglasses and a shaved head (channeling his inner Hunter Thompson; he had no cigarette holder as far as I know) stood outside 210 West Hall passing out leaflets with Modell in crosshairs, with the caption, “Modell must die! Just say no to Baltimore!” That’s the first memory I have of Joe Boyle.
He was a lunatic – which isn’t necessarily a character flaw to me. I pick my friends out based on their entertainment value, and haven’t been let down yet. He found a website to get ordained for free, and paid the extra $20 for a doctorate of divinity. I still refer to him as the Rev. Dr. Joe Boyle.
He once set out to prove that indifference to student government elections was so pronounced, any idiot could win a write-in election – and he was determined to be that idiot. He never took his seat after being elected, but after a particularly obnoxious student senator proposed a bill to ban animal testing on campus, he took it a step further and announced he would propose a ban on nuclear testing on campus.
But like his idol, Dr. Gonzo, the insanity hid an important fact: He was also a hell of a journalist. He chased stories that went beyond campus – sometimes at his own personal risk. His passion, really, was photography. He took pictures of them tearing down Cleveland Municipal Stadium. A photo he took before a 1997 American League Championship Series game still sits on my desk. And he took the picture for what remains my crowning achievement as a journalist: My initial review of the men’s rooms on campus.
Joe graduated from college and went to work in journalism. It wasn’t his true calling. I had an inkling even then. I was his first student, at the BG News. Eventually, he went back to school, got a teaching certificate, and started teaching high school history in the Toledo Public Schools. (I tried to get out of newspapers; it didn’t take.)
He was a history major in college. His marked indifference to grades, going to class or going to class sober kept him out of the journalism program (I told him once, “I always got the feeling I was the only person at the BG News who cared about grades.” He said, “That’s because you WERE the only person at the BG News who cared about grades”). Teaching history was natural for him, even more effortless than being a journalist looked.
I feel a little ownership for him being a historian. We took the capstone history class together, and I sat next to him as he said, “Hey, I think I’m going to do some research on my Uncle Paul.” Paul Boyle was a soldier in the European Theater of World War II. He went from PFC to sergeant in a little over six weeks as his unit was decimated with casualties from the landing at Normandy to fighting through France. Paul was killed in action by a sniper near the hedgerows of St. Lo. Joe went from researching him in college to making the trip to Normandy as part of the Normandy Institute. It took a year longer than expected.
Joe was supposed to go in the summer of 2011. But that spring, he went to the hospital with abdominal distress. For reasons we still don’t fully understand, they gave him an MRI. Afterwards, they asked, “What’s this on your kidney?” He said, “What’s WHAT on my kidney?” They didn’t wait for an answer. A week later, he’s on a table at the Cleveland Clinic having the kidney removed. It was cancerous. (His Christmas card letters take on the persona of someone else. One year it was his child swimming around in utero; one year is was the new dog. The year his kidney came out, the Christmas card letter was from his one remaining kidney, who said, “I never liked that other guy.”)
He’s sustained a couple blood clots – one in each leg. His life goal included running a marathon, and on Super Bowl Sunday in 2014, he did just that – between bouts of treatment for cancer. Every other week (he’ll do this tomorrow), he drives to Cleveland, gets treated at the Cleveland Clinic, stops at Hot Sauce Williams for a pork shoulder sandwich, and goes home to Bowling Green. He’s an active parent to three children, and his wife still loves him … even on NFL Sundays (he still swears she’s got an ironclad divorce case against him if she ever wants it. They met in 1996 and married in 1999 – the three years the Browns were on hiatus).
He was supposed to run the 50-mile race in Mohican this summer, but stress fractures in his legs precluded that. But his story got picked up nationally. He and his family appeared on the Today Show on Father’s Day. They met Chris Evans on the set of the new Captain America movie (Joe explained to his children that chemo is his Super Soldier Serum). And he’s going to throw out a first pitch Saturday. He’ll have a cheering section, 200 strong, in section 555.
He’ll be the first to admit he’s not that special. And in one sense, he’s right. There are plenty of people facing the same long odds he is, who try to live their lives in the face of adversity.
But I still believe he’s a great man. More than that, he’s a good man. And that does make him special.
See you at the game.