Chansky’s Notebook: Cleveland Is, Well…

Okay, I believe Cleveland is Believeland after all.

The Cleveland Indians are, well, unbelievable. After winning their sixth straight post-season game Monday night, they were one victory away from playing in their first World Series in 20 years and winning their first world championship since 1948, 69 seasons ago.

It seems like the city whose teams have lost so much over the years has suddenly become title town, with the Indians feeding off the NBA champion Cavaliers. More important than that is manager Terry Francona, who won two World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, sweeping to the title in four games each time.

Francona left Boston after the 2011 season and one year in the broadcast booth was enough. He took over the Indians and managed one of the worst teams in baseball his first season. Since then, however, the franchise has drafted and traded wisely and put together a combination young talent and savvy veterans with Francona maximizing the ability of every player on the roster. The Indians are certainly going to the World Series and, seriously, could beat the Cubs or the Dodgers the way they are playing.

Take Monday night’s game. Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer had to leave in the first inning when his pitching pinky began bleeding profusely. Francona pieced 8 and-a-third innings together from the bullpen, depending on former Tar Heel Andrew Miller to close out the Toronto Blue Jays and take a commanding lead in the American League Championship Series.

Most of the Indians are not household names, compared to the Red Sox and Blue Jay teams they faced with more power and at least equal pitching on paper. But, like the Cavaliers did behind Labron James, this team believes it can beat the odds. The Cavs were the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and the Indians have a chance to add a second world title in 2016.

Watch the Indians play and see if you recognize more than a couple of names in their lineup. Maybe Mike Napoli, maybe Coca Crisp. But learn the rest of them. I did and now I believe in Cleveland.

Negro League Legends Return to Hillsborough for Museum

Derrick Jones’ hobby has grown so big, that he’s turned it into a traveling museum. Jones, a former educator and baseball enthusiasts, has been collecting memorabilia from the Negro Leagues for more than 20 years.

Now, he travels through Virginia and North Carolina sharing his collection of vintage jerseys, baseball mitts, cards and more.

Renee Price works with Hillsborough’s Free Spirit Freedom group, and has teamed up with Jones to help share his collection.

“One thing led to another and here we are on Fourth of July weekend talking about America’s favorite pastime.”

Jones is bringing his pop up museum to the Whitted Building in Hillsborough over the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate the Negro League’s history in the town.

“A lot of people don’t know about the Negro Leagues and I was surprised to find out that we have some stellar folks here in Hillsborough.”

Those folks include Lawrence and Richal Vanhook – a father and son who played for the negro team, the Hillsborough Allstars, in the 1950’s and 60’s.

“At five years old, I started off as the bat boy for them and I continued into the later 60’s,” Richal Vanhook said. “I came into play right at the tail end of the Negro League right before they disbanded. I started playing for them when I was 13 years old.”

Richal’s father, Lawrence Vanhook, was both a player and a coach in the Negro Leagues for more than 20 years. He remembers getting his start in rural counties before making his way to the Hillsborough team.

“I first got started in the rural areas by having a team around home. Then I went to the Hillsborough Allstars. I played there for several years and had an opportunity for the majors but just didn’t get big enough.”

Dickey Edwards is another legend of the Negro Leagues who also started his career at an early age.

“Baseball has always been my life. I graduated from high school and sort of got disappointed because I went to several tryout camps with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The two years that I tried out, it was always ‘You’re too small, you have a lot of talent, come back next year.’”

His luck changed when he tried out for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1967 at the age of 17.

“I ran upstairs, packed some clothes, and my mother said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said ‘I’m going to play ball.’ And that was my start.”

Rounding out the local legends celebrating the leagues’ history this weekend, is Horrace Johnson, who attributes his success to his killer arm.

“The catcher started talking to the batters and he came to me and said, ‘Alright Johnson, put some mustard on it and throw at his head.’ I could bring it about 95 miles an hour back then. My first pitch was at the guy’s head. He ducked. The second pitch was at his head. Then he said, ‘Put a wrinkle on it.’ Today they call it sliders or they call it sinkers. So I did, and the guy twisted around like a pretzel. You’ve never heard so much cussing in all your life.”

Those memories have stayed with Johnson years after he played in the Negro Leagues and during his time in the air force.

“Sometime I sit down at night and I talk with my grandson and my son and we have fun about it. I have pictures that I show when I played with the Monarchs. It was fun times.”

All four former players, as well as Renee Price, joined Aaron Keck on WCHL.


The men talked about legends like Hank Aaron, “Cool Papa” Bell, and of course, Jackie Robinson, who are all featured in Jones’ interactive museum. Over 100 pieces of memorabilia tell the stories of the players who paved the way for Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier.

In addition to the museum, interactive presentations and appearances from some of the Hillsborough Allstars will celebrate the league’s history. A friendly softball game is also open to the community. More information about how to get involved can be found on the town’s Facebook page.

Vs. Cancer Raises Close To One Million Dollars In 2015

Vs. Cancer, a nonprofit started by former UNC baseball player Chase Jones, has raised nearly $1 million in the past year.

“When I was diagnosed I promised to fight this disease as long as I could,” Jones said. “Point blank, we will continue to fight this disease. This year we are one million dollars closer to the bold and radical idea that we will truly end child cancer.”

As a college freshman in 2006, Jones was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. Nine years later, and cancer free, Jones is still making an impact with his Vs. Cancer foundation.

The Vs. Cancer Foundation has partnered with 64 different colleges, 7 professional baseball teams and a number of youth teams to raise awareness and funds to fight child cancer.

One of its partners is UNC Athletics, specifically baseball and lacrosse.

UNC teams raised over $30,000 during homecoming weekend in the fall.

“I didn’t play with any of these guys, which makes it even more significant that year after year both of these teams consistantly buy in,” he said.

Over the past three years, Jones said UNC baseball and lacrosse have raised over $100,000.

“This has become far more than just a feel good story for UNC athletics,” he said. “They’re providing funds that are game changing.”

That money has gone towards funding a child life specialist at UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center, a position that was part time, but thanks to Vs. Cancer, is now full time.

“It’s kind of a liaison between doctors, nurses, families and patients,” Jones said. “They coordinate all kinds of healing programs such as music therapy to art therapy to retreats, really helping kids feel like kids while they go through the process.”

For anyone who wants to donate or know more about the Vs. Cancer Foundation, click here to visit their website.

At the moment, an anonymous community member is matching all donations up to $5,000.

Former UNC Pitcher Makes It To The Major Leagues

CHAPEL HILL –  Former UNC pitcher Rob Wooten was selected on Thursday to join the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend in Colorado.

Wooten has been playing for Milwaukee’s AAA squad, the Nashville Sounds.

In 2008 Wooten was drafted in 13th round. He was selected as a Pacific Coast league All-Star earlier this month.  Tallying 20 saves for the Sounds in 2013, Wooten has an ERA of 2.94 and 45 strike outs in 52 innings.

From Pikeville, NC, Wooten helped lead UNC to the College World series during his senior year.