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For 50 years, Howard Wilkinson has been covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals, and business of politics on a local, state and national level. He's interviewed mayors, council members, county commissioners, governors, senators, and representatives. With so many years covering so many politicians, there must be stories to tell, right?

These 2 Politicians Are The Only Ones Who Really *Know* Baseball

sherrod brown mike dewine baseball
Amy Sancetta, Gary Landers
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown at a Cleveland Indians game in 2010; and Gov. Mike DeWine at a Cincinnati Reds game in 2019.

Most people who know me well know that I am not just a political junkie who has made a living for decades covering candidates and elections for newspapers and radio.

I am as big a fan of baseball, America's game, as exists anywhere; and a fan in particular of my beloved Cincinnati Reds. And the Reds' minor league affiliate in my hometown, the Dayton Dragons.

There are those who will tell you I know more about baseball than politics. I'm not prepared to argue the point.

But I can tell you this: Since I began covering politics in the mid-1970s, nearly every politician I have encountered – from township trustees to American presidents – has figured out my love for baseball and tried to engage me in good-natured baseball banter before we get down to brass tacks and talk politics.

Almost every single one of them.

Some of them know enough baseball to hold a coherent conversation, up to a point. Others know next to nothing; they couldn't tell you the difference between a sacrifice fly and a fielder's choice.

But I've seen many of them stand there and struggle to make sense, thinking that if they can talk baseball with me and make themselves understood, they will get some kind of "in" with the politics writer.

There are some good baseball fans in the world of politics, but if I had to pick the most knowledgeable, it would come down to two – one Democrat and one Republican who have, in the fairly recent past, run against each other.  

They are Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio; and Sherrod Brown, the Democrat who is Ohio's senior senator.

Brown, born and raised in Mansfield, the county seat of Richland County in northern Ohio, is a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Indians, Ohio's American League team.

DeWine, from the farm country of Greene County, is a dyed-in-the-wool Cincinnati Reds fan – so much so that he and some of his Greene County friends have shared season tickets to the Reds for decades in both Riverfront Stadium and Great American Ball Park.

Two politicians, from opposite ends of the state, each cheering on one of Ohio's two major league ball clubs.

DeWine and Brown faced off head-to-head in 2006, when DeWine was serving in the U.S. Senate and Brown ran against him. The Democrat ended up winning that contest, up-ending the GOP incumbent. The score in 2006 was Cleveland Indians 1, Cincinnati Reds 0.

I covered that race. My dream story was to take the two of them, buy tickets to a Reds-Indians game, either here or in Cleveland, and have the two of them sit side by side. There would be only one ground rule – no politics talk, only baseball.

Unfortunately, I could never pull it off.

I've known Sherrod Brown since the 1970s and I can't recall ever having a conversation with him which did not began with some baseball chatter, usually about the current fortunes of the Reds and Indians.

sherrod brown baseball
Credit Amy Sancetta / AP
Brown watches at Washington Nationals third baseman Alberto Gonzalez tries to catch a pop foul by Cleveland Indians batter Russell Branyan in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Cleveland, Sunday, June 13, 2010.

Everyone knew of Brown's passion for the Cleveland ball club. But when he was in southwest Ohio for campaign events, he would almost always go out of his way to tell the crowd (made up mostly of Reds fans) that he remembers coming down to Cincinnati with his folks as a kid and going to Crosley Field, where he got to see Reds legends like Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Jim Maloney and others play ball.

Last summer, after the Indians dropped their longtime logo mascot, Chief Wahoo – a grinning, idiotic looking caricature that was highly offensive to many Native Americans, the club said it would ponder changing the name of the team itself.

"We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,'' the club ownership said in a tweet aimed at fans.

Brown immediately jumped on board, calling the Dolan family, the owners of the Indians, and suggesting they adopt the name The Cleveland Buckeyes. That was the name of a highly successful Negro League team in the 1940s that won the league championship in 1945.

It was a tribute to Cleveland's history as a leader in civil rights, Brown said, pointing out that Larry Doby of the Indians was the first African-American in the American League in 1947, and only the second in baseball, just behind Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I thought it was a great idea, but it didn't get a very good reaction from those who said "Buckeyes" now belonged to Ohio State University (I refused to call them by the pretentious name they have adopted in recent years, The Ohio State University).

So the Cleveland team is still called the Indians, at least for now. And the Reds start a three-game series with them Friday night at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

DeWine's passion for the Reds matches the passion of Brown for the Indians. It comes from his father, Richard DeWine, a World War II veteran who helped liberate concentrate camps and ran a successful seed business in Greene County for many years.

mike dewine matt bevin
Credit Gary Landers / AP
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and then-Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin meet on the field before an opening day baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Cincinnati.

Richard DeWine passed away in 2008 at the age of 85. He had retired to Sarasota, Florida, which was where the Reds held spring training from 1997 through 2009.

I used to go to Sarasota every spring for Reds baseball, sunshine and palm trees waving in the breeze. Several years, I ran into Mike DeWine and his dad at Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium. His son had gone to Florida to share the fun of spring training with his father.

It was always a very touching sight. So, too, was this entry Mike DeWine posted this year on his Facebook page on Feb. 18, his late father's birthday:

"My dad would have been 98 today," the governor wrote. "He loved baseball, and specifically the Cincinnati Reds. Dad was always so proud and excited that pitchers and catchers reported to spring training each year on his birthday.

"Well, this year they reported the day before, but he still would have been cheering on the Reds. As a 16 year-old boy, he waited in line 16 hours to buy a ticket for the 1939 World Series in Cincinnati. When I was a boy, a few times a season, he and my mother and I would make the then two-hour drive from our home to Crosley Field to see Wally Post, Gus Bell, Frankie Robinson, Johnny Temple, and the other 1950's Reds play. He married his high school sweetheart, ran a grain elevator in Sabina, Ohio, when he was just 18, and saw combat in Europe in World War II.

"He returned from the War to run the family seed company and expand it to a major exporter of seeds around the world. He and my mother were married for 65 years and died within three days of each other. But on this February 18, with the Reds pitchers and catchers having reported to spring training yesterday, I like to picture him in Sarasota, with a hot dog and a beer, watching his Reds. He loved spring training, when there is always hope for a Championship season, when spring in Ohio is coming soon, and his beloved fruit trees would soon be in bloom. Happy birthday, Dad!"

Mike DeWine gets it. So does Sherrod Brown. That's what baseball does – create memories to pass down from generation to generation.

tales from the trail
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Tales from the Trail" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.