Could there be an all-Ohio World Series?
Maybe it is the water in Goodyear, Ariz. Maybe it is the fresh, clean air in Goodyear. Maybe it is both.
Whatever it is, two teams that share a spring training ballpark in Goodyear are drinking and smelling early success — the Cincinnati Reds drinking the first-place water in the National League Central and the Cleveland Indians sniffing the fresh, clean first-place air of the American League Central.
Can you say O-HI-O and spell it out with your arms? Can you dream, even if it is a far-out daydream, of an all-Ohio World Series, something that has never happened in the long, long, long history of major league baseball?
For nearly three decades, the Reds and the Indians had to dream up their own mini-World Series. They called it The Ohio Cup.
It started when the Reds and Indians ended spring training every year in Columbus, Ohio, halfway between the two cities, with an exhibition game. The winner received the Ohio Cup.
Neither team much cared about it. Former Reds pitcher Tim Birtsas was to start the Ohio Cup game one spring. Asked if he were excited about, he said, “the Ohio Cup? What’s that, a boat race on the Ohio River?”
Former owner Marge Schott cared, though. Schott was distraught when her Reds didn’t win and put the Ohio Cup on the bus for the ride from Columbus to Cincinnati.
When the Reds lost one game 1-0 in less than two hours on a cold day marked by snow flurries, Schott was angry. She thought her boys didn’t try hard enough. One year, the rotating Ohio Cup disappeared from the trophy case in old Riverfront Stadium. It was found in Schott’s house.
When interleague play evolved to each team having a natural rival, the Reds and Indians began playing six games each year, three at home and three away. Whoever won the most games carted home the Ohio Cup.
That has been even further diluted by the Reds and Indians sharing a spring training site and playing several exhibition games against each other every spring.
But what is happening now actually means something. First place for each team.
For the Reds, it is as expected. They won the NL Central last year, and most baseball aficionados predicted another title for 2011. Everywhere the Reds went, manager Dusty Baker heard, “You have a really good team, and you should win the division.”
So when they started the season 5-0, nobody flinched, nobody blanched. It was the Reds being the Reds.
For the Indians, it is as unexpected as finding a bag of gold bars on Ninth Street outside the ballpark. Everywhere the Indians went this spring, manager Manny Acta heard writers and scouts say: “Man, it is going to be a long year in Cleveland. That’s a bad team.”
And when the Indians lost their first two games, heads nodded in agreement all over the land — the Indians just being the Indians. Then they won eight straight, took over first place in the AL Central, and heads were being scratched all over the land. OK, who sold his soul the way Joe Hardy did in "Damn Yankees"?
The Reds hadn’t had a winning season in nine years when they moved their spring camp from Sarasota, Fla. to Goodyear last year. Not only did they finally climb over the .500 wall, they won their division. It was their first postseason appearance since 1995.
The Indians have been mostly lower-echelon inhabitants of the AL Central in the past decade, making the playoffs only twice (2001, '07). They moved from Winter Haven, Fla., to Goodyear two years ago, and maybe the change of venue for them is just kicking in.
Sure, sure. It is only two weeks into what former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan called "The Long Season," the title of his book about the 1961 season. But two weeks turns into four weeks, and four weeks turns into two months, and two months turns into four months.
It could happen, you know? The Mets and Yankees have met in an all-New York World Series. The Royals and Cardinals have met in an all-Missouri World Series. California has had several all-California World Series — San Francisco-Oakland, San Francisco-Anaheim, Los Angeles-Oakland.
Isn’t it Ohio’s turn?