COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the start of a championship series between two teams whose respective championship droughts have lasted a combined 176 years, the Cleveland Indians will host the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series tonight.
More than 140 miles south in Columbus, Ohio, one of the home team’s most famous fans will be keeping tabs.
“I’m a huge Tribe fan,” Urban Meyer said last Wednesday as the Indians were in the midst of their American League Championship Series-clinching win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Moments earlier, the Ohio State head coach had asked for a score update.
“It’s the ninth inning,” a reporter responded.
“I know,” Meyer said, making it clear he had already been keeping track. “But what’s the [situation]? Any outs?”
Sure, that’s what he’s supposed to say and the Buckeyes’ preparations for their own Illinois-based opponent in Northwestern this weekend will likely prevent Meyer from taking in a full nine-inning game, let alone attend one. The University of Cincinnati grad may have moonlighted as a Reds fan in the past, but make no mistake, the enthusiasm he’s shown for Cleveland sports since arriving at Ohio State five years ago has been nothing short of authentic.
— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) October 25, 2016
Apparently, that passion has permeated throughout the Buckeyes locker room. As players left the practice field following last Wednesday’s practice, some could be seen celebrating the Indians’ ALCS-clinching win.
“Go Tribe” yelled Ohio State linebacker and Cleveland native Chris Worley. “Cleveland Windians, baby!”
There’s something to be said for the sense of community enjoying a postseason run can create, especially on a roster with no shortage of Northeast Ohio natives to be found. Raised 60 miles east of Cleveland in Ashtabula, Ohio, nobody knows that better than Meyer, who insists he grew up a fan of the Indians, Cavs and Browns.
“I’m very proud of where I came from,” Meyer said this past July at the annual youth camp he hosts in his hometown. “I’m very proud of the Cavs, very proud of the Tribe. I teared up when [Kyrie Irving] hit that [game-winning] shot [in the NBA Finals].”
Of course, as Meyer witnessed this past summer, it never hurts to associate with a winner.
As Cleveland hosted its first championship parade in 52 years, one of the first few floats to follow the route from Huron Road to East 6th Street didn’t possess LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but rather the Ohio State head coach who had brought a championship of his own to the Buckeye State 18 months prior.
Riding alongside Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta and athletic director Gene Smith, Meyer was more of a mascot than anything else on June 22, but he didn’t mind. For a lifelong Cavaliers fan, this was a moment he’d never forget.
“To see a million people come support their team and to see them win, no longer is Cleveland — the drought’s over and we’re champions,” Meyer told Fox Sports Ohio. “The sense of pride that [LeBron] brought a championship back to the great state of Ohio, it takes your breath away.”
Meyer’s relationship with the Cavaliers superstar dates back nearly two decades to the former Notre Dame wide receivers coach’s failed recruitment of James and has been well-documented. And while the friendship between Ohio’s two biggest sports stars is both mutual and authentic, it also comes with its benefits — especially from Meyer’s perspective.
“He means a lot in recruiting,” Meyer said of James at Big Ten media days in 2014, less than a month after the four-time NBA MVP announced his return to the Cavaliers. “You can’t measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game. He truly loves Ohio State.”
With the Indians, it’s a little different. Manager Terry Francona or star shortstop Francisco Lindor probably aren’t moving the needle as much with the 5 and 4-star prospects the Buckeyes so often target on the recruiting trail. But if Indians do go on to end their 68-year championship drought, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Francona — who Meyer has dubbed a “good friend” — make a trip to Columbus to speak to the Ohio State football team, just as Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue did two days before the Tribe punched its World Series ticket.
While introducing Lue, the Buckeyes head coach opted to pander to his Cleveland-area players while also paying homage to his own Northeast Ohio roots.
“There are two types of people in the world,” Meyer said. “Those from Cleveland and those who wish they were.”
Meyer would know.