AKRON If you’re a diehard Northeast Ohio Sports fan, you might not like Akron RubberDucks utility man Joe Sever.
No, it’s not his play on the field that might rub you the wrong way. He’s batting .277 with 29 RBI, has played multiple positions on the field and delivered some key hits this season. The reason Sever could offend someone with Cleveland sports loyalties is because of where he’s from and which Cleveland sports nemesis resides in his family tree.
Sever, a native of San Jose, Calif., is a diehard Golden State Warriors fan and his uncle just so happens to be John Elway, who along with Michael Jordan is one of the most despised sports figures within the 216 area code. Sever’s mother is Elway’s sister and playing in the region where his uncle broke so many hearts on the football field nearly 30 years ago and where his favorite NBA team has won two of the last three championships over the hometown Cavaliers has been an interesting, but positive experience.
“It’s a little interesting, but I’ve gotten used to it for the last five years now. Coming in, being drafted by the Indians, I knew a lot of Cleveland fans weren’t going to like the past history of my family in Cleveland sports, but other than that, I love it,” Sever said. “They’re very passionate fans and they love their teams … you expect that. Being a lonely Warriors fan, it’s tough fighting off everyone, but it always provides for some fun clubhouse times.”
Before being drafted by the Indians in the 21st round of the 2012 draft, Sever’s only previous trip to Northeast Ohio came as a teenager when Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was a bizarre day for local football fans to be sure, seeing one of the game’s all-time greats recognized while also recalling his two playoff wins over the Browns in the 1980s.
Elway played minor league baseball for one short-season campaign with the New York Yankees organization, but wisely made the choice to lock in on football as his lone sport. Sever ended up making the opposite choice after playing football growing up, but realizing that his chances to succeed on the diamond were much higher - and safer.
“I stopped my senior year of high school … I thought about playing football in college, but I got banged up in high school, broke my collarbone my freshman year, hurt my ankle and had surgery my sophomore year, bruised spleen as a junior, just a lot of injuries,” Sever said. “I was always a smaller guy, so I figured I could play in college but I didn’t want to risk it and I saw my future in baseball.”
Even though he and Elway played different primary sports, having an uncle who knows the business of professional sports and a grandfather who coached the game and the worked in the front office for an NFL team gave Sever what he describes as “what to expect and how to be a professional, how to work hard and go about your business.”
With the RubberDucks, Sever has learned that versatility could be his ticket to continuing to progress toward the majors. This season alone, he’s played multiple games at first base, third base, right field and left field. During his five-plus seasons in the minors, he’s played every position except catcher, shortstop and center field.
“I got the sense early in my career that would be a tool, not being a big prospect necessarily that’s going to have a spot in the lineup every day, so having the ability to play more than one position … at first I was a little bitter about it, especially when I was younger, but I kind of opened up to it and realized it was going to get me at-bats,” Sever said. “I started playing first, third … don’t even play second base anymore, which is what I was drafted as, but I talked to (manager Mike) Bud(Zinski) and said I could play outfield. Anywhere they can get me innings, that’s a good tool to have and if it gets me in the game, I’m happy doing it.”
Being versatile and not insisting on playing one position all the time could make him more appealing to the organization in the long run and the goal is to reach the majors and be able to make his own mark beyond his family history. If he stays with the Indians organization and reaches the majors, Sever would play games a long line drive away from Quicken Loans Arena, where his favorite NBA team his public enemy No. 1 these days.
After watching NBA Finals games at local sports bars with RubberDucks teammates the past couple seasons and managing to avoid too much trouble from Cavs fans, Sever knows that should be become a Cleveland Indian, he may not be able to don Warriors blue and gold and attend a Finals game in Cleveland.
“If I do play for the Indians one day, I don’t think I can go to a (NBA) Finals game and wear my Warriors stuff, so I might have to convert over, but I’ve thought about it and I think it would still be fun. I do want to go to a Browns game here some time and hopefully mend some wounds,” Sever said. I always tease the reporters who come in here because I’m always wearing my Warriors stuff and people in the front office with the RubberDucks. I don’t know if most fans know or not yet, but I actually lost a bet last year with our strength coach and I had to change my walk-up song to ’Til I Die’ by (Cleveland native rapper) MGK … but definitely around the RubberDucks front office, I get teased.”
While local fans may not want to sit beside Sever at their local sports bar the next time the Cavs and Warriors square off, if his versatility and hitting help the RubberDucks to another Eastern League title this season, odds are he’ll still hear cheers when he strides to the plate or takes his spot in the field - wherever that may be.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB