Has big taste
Join Date: Sep 2005
Re: September 1st, 2010
I actually wrote some things down about this late last night and this morning. This is the date I have been waiting for this season. This is definitely a personal indulgence...I know I've talked about my grampa on this board before, and I wonder if anybody is having similar realizations as the season progresses.
September 1 was the deadline I set as my official "excitement date" for my hometown Cincinnati Reds. They've been playing gloriously and prompting hyperbole through much of the season, but this team has teased me as recently as August 2006, when they ended up finishing under .500 for the sixth of nine consecutive losing seasons only to watch the 83-game-winning St. Louis Cardinals take the division title and ultimately the World Series. Like a perennially jilted lover, I refused to allow my heart breathing room this time. I promised myself early this year that if the Reds were contending on September 1, the date that Major League Baseball takes seriously enough to grant its teams playoff-sized rosters, then and only then would I allow myself to consider their supersized roster a potential playoff one.
I arrived in Cincinnati yesterday just in time to watch the Reds play their final game of August. Living in East Coast American League country, my Reds fix is usually limited to my pirated MLB audio subscription. So perhaps the sweat and the cheers I was able to experience in magical high-def form were just part of a run-of-the-mill game for this year's Reds. Three RBIs by Joey Votto, who makes a better case for MVP every time he skulks up to bat; an attractive two-run double by the Red cut from classic baseball player mold, Scott Rolen. A couple of eye-popping defensive plays between the two of them to end the game. The return of a workhorse starter in decent form. And a blink-and-you-missed-it eighth inning thrown by the most ballyhooed acquisition of the off-season in his stunning debut. With the flailing Cardinals busy building ant farms in the Houston heat this week, the Reds now have a season-high seven-game lead in the NL Central. If this is standard operating procedure for my team, I'll take it. And with September 1 now 10 hours in, I'll go so far as to believe it's the real thing.
What didn't occur to me when I set this deadline for myself was how bittersweet it would be if the Reds actually reached it in fine form. This time of year now carries personal weight for my family and me, as it was two years ago this September 6 that my grandfather passed away. There's not a human being living or dead with whom I'd rather celebrate my excitement date milestone. My grampa loved baseball and had an impressive collection of red wishbone garb hanging neatly in the sports section of his closet. He understood the finer points of the sport and he's likely the one who taught me all the rules of the game when I was very young. But my grampa was a unquestionably a football fan. In my grandparents' house, there was usually a Reds cap lounging around somewhere, but the man seated in the armchair always sported a green Notre Dame sweatshirt. If a Reds game made it onto network television on a weekend during football season, it wasn't going to make it into my grandparents' living room. The day before cancer started to turn his brain into mush, my grandpa sat in a wheelchair and rattled off almost every Heisman Trophy winner since the award's inception, naming each year's winner and his position and school along with the occasional factoid about a given player's personal life or career. He missed maybe two.
In metaphorical terms, football was my grampa's wife, and the Cincinnati Reds are a brutal and flippant mistress. But as the child of Italian immigrants growing up in the West End in the early part of the 20th century, he learned to speak sports before he learned to speak English, and baseball was a required part of the vernacular he needed to ingratiate himself into schoolboy life. Too riddled with health problems to become the athlete he dreamed of being, he instead turned his efforts toward becoming a knowledgeable superfan and developed his resourcefulness in ways that allowed him his own place in sports.
Professional sports in Cincinnati at this time began and ended with the Reds, and so this is where my grampa built a lot of his stories by default. And these were some incredible stories. He attended his first Reds game, he once told me, at the behest of movie star/cowboy Tom Mix ("Was he an actor or a cowboy, Grampa?" "He was an actor who was a cowboy." "You mean an actor playing a cowboy?" "No. An actor cowboy.") Mix hosted an event for underprivileged children at Redland Field, and the only thing my grampa remembered is that the actor cowboy rode around the field on a horse before the game. Grampa estimated that he was fix or six years old at the time; he was born in 1917, so this was likely during the early 1920s. The World Series was a couple of decades old and Babe Ruth was just hitting his prime.
As a teenager, obsessed with a new dream of becoming a sports broadcaster, he wrote a letter to Red Barber asking if he might allow him to observe him calling a game sometime. Barber sent an obliging letter back, and somewhere in the archives of WLW radio lies a recording of a game during which my grampa sat silently in the booth for an inning or two. Spurned on by his early success in the broadcasting industry, he sent letters to stations across the country looking for jobs; one responded asking him to send sample recordings. Thus ended my grampa's sports broadcasting career. His teenage years also contained in its entirety his equally brief career as a runaway, during which he and a friend spent one night in the dugout of the wide-open home of the Bloomington Bluebirds in Indiana, a story which always particularly delighted me despite causing my grampa great consternation at the thought of the pain this career must have caused his mother.
He was in attendance for baseball's first night game at Crosley Field, when FDR “flipped a switch” in Washington to illuminate the stadium. He took his youngest son, my Uncle Paul, to the first game played at Riverfront Stadium, after which Paul infamously returned home to his six clamoring siblings and reported, wide-eyed, that being in the stadium made one feel "like a Cheerio". There exists a picture of my grampa clad in a sharp business suit standing next to a uniformed Wally Post; I've no idea of the circumstances in which this photo was taken, but I keep it in my wallet just in case I ever run into anyone who might, and also just because it seems like a good thing to keep in a wallet.
Such stories, such run-ins with professional sports, always boggled my mind. In an age where every sports moment on or off the field is potentially capturable or recordable via sophisticated stats and audio-visual equipment, it seems nonetheless increasingly impossible for a baseball fan like me to have her own shot at a Red Barber or a first night game. All of my grampa's impressive stories were always that much more impressive to me because he wasn't first and foremost a baseball fan. What he was was a Cincinnati kid through and through.
The reason that my grampa was able to witness so many moments that have a legitimate claim to references in books is because his history, the Cincinnati Reds' history, is tied up with the history of baseball. The franchise is not a legendary one like the Yankees or even a consistently good one like the Cardinals. It's not the preferred team of a lot of Cincinnati sports fans. People like to believe this is a baseball town. It isn't. Cincinnati, like my grampa, likes its mistress Reds very much. It pays her solid attention and steady lip service. It perks up a bit when the mistress wears a pretty dress and shells out a bit more money when she's in top form. But Pete Rose shattered this city as a baseball town, both by his transgressions and by the unreachable bar he set for scrappy hometown legends. Cincinnati is married to football, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the Reds are nonetheless a bedrock solid staple of life here, just as they were an undeniable presence throughout my grampa's entire life, and while the team may not have the most illustrious history, it does lay claim to a disproportionate amount of illustrious moments, if nothing else by virtue of the fact that it was a baseball team here before any other team was a team anywhere else. You can count the team's World Series wins on one hand, but one of them may just be the best one anyone will ever see. The team doesn't hold many records, but the ones it has may never be broken. Every baseball stadium now has lights for night games, but it's unlikely that an American president will ever be called upon to flip them on again.
With August 31 on the books, I'm allowing myself to believe that this team may at least have a shot at postseason glory and a chance to elevate its standing in Cincinnati life and maybe even in history. If I am lucky enough to witness this, I will be doing so without a bedrock solid staple in my life, and turning myself over to my excitement date and to this thrilling team means facing the reality of experiencing postseason possibilities without my grampa. This is a sad realization, of course, but more than that it’s just difficult for me to wrap my head around. The Reds have never played a postseason game that my grampa wasn't alive and in the city to witness. He was a toddler during the Black Sox series, a dapper young adult at the time of the McKechnie championship, a middle-aged family man through the run of the Big Red Machine, and a brand-new retiree for the Oakland sweep. To me, he’s always seemed as intrinsic to this team’s existence as the team is to the city, not out of dedication or karma as much as a sheer sense of inevitability. But these 2010 Cincinnati Reds are starting to have an air of inevitability all their own. Perhaps it's time for a new kind of history for the team and for Cincinnati. My grampa was a traditionalist, but I feel comfortable saying I think he would have been absolutely fine with that. I'm going to keep his picture close at hand throughout September, just because that seems like a good thing to do for a postseason run.
There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.
Last edited by vaticanplum; 09-01-2010 at 11:27 AM.