The search for the Ohio Cup
The quest began innocently enough. Who knew it would lead me through a seemingly endless web of hushed insiders and secret sources, deep into the bowels of the basement of Progressive Field?
It began, you see, in Dusty Baker’s office before Monday’s installment of the Ohio Cup — the annual Interleague series between Baker’s Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians.
Wait, why am I explaining the Ohio Cup to you? Surely, you are well aware of the history and the pageantry associated with this series of stratospheric import. Now, I’m not going to suggest that the Ohio Cup is somehow commensurate with the Stanley Cup or the World Cup. Those trophies naturally have the benefit of time on their side — something the Ohio Cup, officially instituted in 2008, does not yet possess.
But if you’re compiling your Cup rankings, I’d go ahead and slot the Ohio Cup somewhere in between the Stanley and, say, badmitton’s coveted Ibrahim Rahimatillah Challenger Cup.
Long story short: It’s a big deal.
Anyway, back to Baker’s office. He was asked if this Reds-Indians series can be classified as a rivalry.
“Anytime they give a trophy away,” Baker said with a smile, “it’s automatically a rivalry.”
That was cute. It made for a good notebook-filling quote. But it got me thinking:
Where, exactly, is the Ohio Cup, anyway?
Understand, I am, perhaps a bit begrudgingly, an Ohio Cup expert. Having covered both the Indians and Reds, I’ve seen it in all iterations (the “Showdown of Ohio” and the “Battle of Ohio” were forebears to the “Ohio Cup” classification). I’ve voted for the annual Ohio Cup MVP. I’ve been there when, tongue planted in cheek or otherwise, players have discussed the Cup’s importance. I even once missed one of my best friend’s bachelor parties to attend the Ohio Cup. My dedication to the Cup is not in question.
The thought dawned on me, however: I’ve never actually seen the Ohio Cup. Not in person, anyway.
I knew it existed. Or at least, once existed. I remembered, vaguely, a photo of the great Reds PR man Rob Butcher and Adam Dunn standing by the Cup, gazing in admiration at its wild wonder. Well, either that, or just smiling for the camera.
Yes, a Google search quickly confirmed, that photo was not a figment of my imagination. Here it is:
“We don’t use it anymore,” a reliable Tribe front-office source informed me.
The Ohio Lottery, this source informed me, is no longer a sponsor of the Cup, and so it was placed into retirement on that great mantle in the sky.
No, no. This could not be. Next you’ll tell me there’s no Santa Claus. Surely, the Cup must exist.
Undaunted, I pressed for more info.
“That’s news to me,” an equally reliable Reds source said when told of this supposed sponsorship situation. “I was under the assumption that the Indians have it.”
The Indians, you see, took five of six games from the Reds last season. The Cup is rightly theirs, for the time being. And according to this Reds source, it was delivered to the Indians this spring in Goodyear, Ariz., where the two clubs share a Spring Training home.
A flight to Phoenix is contemplated. Even if I can’t find the Cup, I figure, I can grab dinner at Raul and Theresa’s.
But just when it appears a long-distance commute will be necessary to find the Cup and assess its many mysteries (for the life of me, I can’t seem to remember who won the 2009 season series), another Progressive Field insider drops the biggest bombshell of all.
“The Cup,” this source says matter-of-factly, “is here!”
Allegedly, it arrived rather recently, shipped in a large metal trunk from Goodyear. It has been documented in the Indians’ incoming deliveries log — the one Major League Baseball began monitoring after the Mitchell Report was released to ensure that no performance-enhancing drugs are shipped to clubhouses. (I suppose you could make the argument that the Ohio Cup is a performance-enhancer, given the competitive fire it certainly fuels… but I digress.)
My source points me toward another member of Progressive Field operations, who also must remain anonymous, for security reasons.
“I’ve always wanted to be an anonymous source,” the anonymous source says.
He takes me to a hidden chamber of the facility (well, actually, it’s not all that hidden… it’s right behind the left-field wall). There, through a locked gate, I see the case, framed by a small sign with the unmistakable Ohio Cup logo, recognized worldwide.
Now, in order to protect my source, this part of the tale must remain a bit murky. Maybe I merely got a look at the case without unprecedented access to its contents, and the above photo is as close as I — or any mere pedestrian peasant — will come to holding it in my hands.
Or maybe, unconvinced that the Cup was actually inside the case and therefore unfulfilled in my quest, I prompted my secret source to let me in the delivery room. Maybe we pried open the case, which weighs about as much as, well, three Adam Dunns. Maybe we hoisted the Cup out of the case and gasped in awe at the remarkable craftsmanship that went into its production (noting, however, that the season-by-season results haven’t been updated since 2010).
Unfortunately, I can’t reveal which scenario is, in fact, reality. As my source, fearful of retribution from the baseball gods, said, “They tried to take the Holy Grail out of temple in ‘Indiana Jones’ and look what happened.”
But suffice to say that if I had seen, touched and smelled the rich mahogany of the Ohio Cup for myself, this would be my artist’s rendering: