June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Ending ‘the curse’

By LISA HLAVINKA | Staff Writer

LAFAYETTE TWP. — Developers of the former Chippewa Lake Amusement Park are hoping the curse is lifted: They’ve named Indians great Rocky Colavito spokesperson for Chippewa Landing Resort and Cottages.

Colavito, 74, met with Chippewa Lake Partners LLC at The Oaks Restaurant on Tuesday night after a tour of what will become Chippewa Landing, a multi-faceted resort with a 100-room hotel, member cottages and a day spa.

“I got a tour today, and I tell you, it’s a beautiful place,” Colavito said.

Former Cleveland Indians player Rocky Colavito is the official spokesman for the Chippewa Landing Resort and Cottages to be built on land in Lafayette and Westfield townships that once was home to Chippewa Lake Amusement Park. (Andrew Dolph | Staff Photographer)

In April, Chippewa Partners will break ground on the 95-acre parcel of land, which lies along the east side of Chippewa Lake in Lafayette and Westfield townships.

When it is completed, the resort will have a 500-student culinary institute, a Biltmore-style “manor house” and a health and wellness center overseen by Akron General Partners. The resort also will be home to 10 pool houses, 86 boat houses and 36 Japanese-themed Tatami suites.

A portion of the property used to be Chippewa Lake Amusement Park, which opened in 1875 and closed more than 100 years later.

Chippewa Lake Partners hope the project will bring the old Chippewa Amusement Park back to life. Developers draw parallels between its closing in 1979 and the supposed “Curse of Rocky Colavito.”

Colavito was the LeBron James of his time, an immensely popular slugger who played right field for the Cleveland Indians. In 1960, however, he was traded for another player, Harvey Kuene, and was sent to play for the Detroit Tigers. There was an enormous outcry among Cleveland fans, who preferred Colavito’s crushing home runs to Kuene’s consistent hits.

In 1994, Plain Dealer reporter Terry Pluto wrote a book titled “The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty Year Slump” correlating the heartbreaking trade to the Indians’ failure to win the World Series or come close in the running for three decades.

For Chippewa Partners, bringing Colavito back to Northeast Ohio means lifting the curse.

Colavito himself said he thinks there never was a curse on Cleveland.

He said he thinks the development will be good for Medina County, especially because it will create hundreds of jobs.

“It (the park) was on the down slide and now somebody’s talking about uplifting it, putting it on the map so to speak,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

The project’s theme is to “Catch a Dream,” one Colavito said reminded him of growing up in The Bronx, N.Y., where he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player.

“My friends … they wanted to be a fireman, a policeman, a railroad guy — not me. I always wanted to be a Major League Baseball player,” he said.

Colavito recalled a cafeteria across from Yankee Stadium, where he and his childhood friends would eat french toast on late nights. One winter night, Colavito told his friends he was sure he would grow up to be a professional ballplayer.

“It was late at night and it was snowing, and I made a snowball,” he said. “And I threw it up over the stadium, and I said, ‘I’m gonna play there some day.’ ”

Years later, he played at that stadium, but for the Cleveland Indians.

“When I first walked into that stadium, for the first time ever, it was like, ‘I’m here,’ ” he said.

Just as he was confident in his ability to play ball, Colavito said he is confident in Chippewa Landing’s potential.

“I never involve myself in something I don’t think has a good chance,” he said.

He acknowledged that times are tough economically, but he’s always been a fighter, and referenced his baseball career as an example.

By his own admission, Colavito was in a slump when he became the first Cleveland Indian to hit four home runs in four straight at-bats on June 10, 1959.

“I went into that game 3 for 28, so I wasn’t doing too well,” he said.

After he walked on his first at-bat, he retired to right field, where he caught a line drive from the Baltimore Orioles’ Albie Pearson.

It was an impossible-looking barehanded catch, caught almost at the wall of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.

One fan was so bitter about the catch, he threw beer at Colavito.

“The guy was so disappointed that I caught the ball, he threw a cup of beer right in my face,” Colavito said.

He and the man exchanged words, but in the end, Colavito let his next four at-bats do the talking.

After three home runs in a row, Colavito said he could see the man cheering with the rest of the impressed Baltimore fans in Memorial Stadium.

“I said, eh, forget about beating the hell out of him,” Colavito said, laughing.

Colavito might never have hit that fourth home run without the tough-love encouragement of his best friend, Indians sportscaster Herb Score.

Colavito said he and Score called one another “roomie” because they were roommates at the time Score was pitching for the Indians.

“Before I went up for my fourth at-bat, Herbie was sitting at the edge of the dugout,” Colavito said. “And, he said, ‘Hey roomie, now don’t fool around, go up and hit the fourth run.’ ”

Colavito replied he’d be happy with a single at that point, but Score pointed firmly to the plate and said, “Go up and do it, roomie.”

“I said, ‘all right, roomie’,” Colavito recalled.

Colavito smashed the fourth home run in a row. Overall, Colavito was only the fourth major-league player to hit four consecutive home runs in the post-war era.

Colavito said his greatest lesson in baseball was to “always give 100 percent effort, no matter what the circumstances are. And don’t take any problems you have onto the field when you’re playing the game.”

Colavito said what he took from baseball he will put into representing Chippewa Landing.

“I loved to play baseball. I loved doing it. I loved to be a Major League Baseball player,” he said. “And I’m sure I’ll love being a spokesperson for Chippewa Landing.”

Hlavinka may be reached at 330-721-4048 or lhlavinka@ohio.net.