To all Redzoners - I don't post often, but I hope that this post will resonate with many who feel like I do. I'd like to think I sacrifice quantity in favor of quality.
I woke up early on that December morning in 2002 and fired up the Internet so that I could watch the implosion of Riverfront Stadium. Having been born in the late seventies, I was one of those Reds fans whose entire concept of Reds baseball was relegated to artificial turf and the notorious cookie cutter by the river. Like many fans, I will admit to a tingling spine and a tear or two when Riverfront Stadium went down. I remember driving by the old beloved toilet bowl one day just weeks before the implosion, and it was clear that Riverfront was so gutted that she had been reduced to a hallowed shell of her former self Ė the one that housed the Big Red Machine, Pete Roseís hit, Tom Seaverís no-hitter, Browningís perfect game, and the 1990 World Series winners. Gone were the office furniture, the seats, the clubhouse equipment, the scoreboard Ė a few items that were moved to Great American BallPark, a few that were not.
It is only June of 2005 and yet the Reds are already winding down their third season at Great American BallPark. It finally occurs to me that something must have been left at Riverfront Stadium. Something very important that must have been destroyed, or at least damaged. Something that most certainly didnít get moved to Great American BallPark. Itís that fire that made those Riverfront Reds teams so memorable. A fire that just hasnít existed at Great American BallPark.
This fire was an intangible element. It was an abstract noun. But if you ever experienced it or felt it, then you can understand what Iím talking about. It was that same fire that made Sparky Anderson get in the face of any umpire he so desired. It was the same fire that made Pete Rose dive headfirst, collide with Ray Fosse, rumble with Buddy Harrelson, and shove Dave Pallone. It was that same fire that made Paul OíNeill make a fuss about every third strike that was ever called on him, and it was the same fire that made him kick a ball back towards the infield in the summer of 1989 when he thought the game was over and the Reds had lost. It was the same fire that made Lou Piniella throw first base into the outfield, that made Norm Charlton bowl over Mike Scoscia, that made Rob Dibble throw a ball into the green seats and throw a bat up against the backstop when he surrendered a game-winning hit to Terry Pendleton. It was a fire borne of ballplayers and managers, maintained by ballplayers and managers, who wanted to win. Who expected to win, and who hated losing. These were players and coaches and staff who came from a culture of winning and in turn demanded to win.
This fire lent itself to winning National League pennants and World Series titles. It lent itself, in many years, to full houses at Riverfront Stadium and a mad love affair between a team and its fans. It lent itself to a Cincinnati that was boasting with pride about its Reds. It was perhaps the most important ingredient that we, the fans, came to cherish at Riverfront Stadium.
And yet this most important ingredient wasnít moved to Great American BallPark. Instead the magical fire of yesteryear was engulfed by the remote-controlled fire that brought down Riverfront Stadium. Whose job was it to move that fire? Why wasnít that on Bernie Stoweís checklist? With the flick of a switch, it was gone. And it appears as though it wonít be rediscovered for many years. The current culture of Reds baseball seems to be a losing one, one that has become complacent. Just as winning breeds winners, so too does losing breed losers, I guess.
I am a Reds fan by birth and I am a Reds fan for life. That wonít change. What will change - has changed - is how many ballgames I go to per year, and how many times I watch them on television. What has changed is how many times Iíll sit in my bedroom with my homemade scorecard and listening to 700WLW. After all, when Marty says ďfor those of you keeping score at home,Ē he must be talking to fans like me. Rooting for the Reds just isnít what is used to be. The victories arenít there. The pride and hustle isnít there. The attitude of expecting to win and not accepting a loss isnít there. Simply put, that fire is gone.
Sadly, rooting for the Reds these days is so painful it hurts. When I hear every caller on every talk show and every poster on every message board calling for someoneís job, it hurts. When I hear everyone second guessing a manager who has clearly lost the respect of the fans and his authority over the players, and when every lineup he puts out there is different and fundamentally wrong in some respect, it hurts. There I go Ė I just second guessed Dave Miley, myself. When everyone is critical of an owner who is a philanthropist if ever Cincinnati has known one, it hurts. When it has become so abundantly clear that the front office is on different pages and that the approach is so scatterbrained that even the national media is taking its jabs, it hurts. When itís nearly public knowledge that the team president doesnít want the general manager who doesnít want the field manager, it hurts. When I hear every draft pick getting criticized before he has a chance to fizzle out in the minors, when I see young, unproven players acting like it is their right to be in the big leagues rather than their privilege, and then going to the plate to take called third strikes every night, it hurts. When I constantly see pitchers who never learn to pitch, hitters who never learn to adjust their hitting, fielders who canít play the field, runners who canít run the bases, it hurts. When our veterans and supposed team leaders are either injured, on the trading block, or just plain unwilling to be leaders, it hurts. When the Bengals are for real and the Reds are the punchline to jokes, it hurts. When Iíve been wondering for six years now, ďWhen is it going to get any better than this?Ē it hurts.
All of this hurt has created a wound that gets deeper every week. Just once I want to see Dave Miley throw a tantrum. I want to see a pitcher throw inside, a batter charge the mound, or a player slam his helmet and get in the umpireís face on a play at third base, like Mariano Duncan would do. That, at least, would show there is a pulse, albeit a shallow one.
I donít expect the Reds to go to the playoffs every year. But I also donít expect them to finish below .500 five years in a row and go ten years without making it to the playoffs. A friend of mine who knows something about coaching in high school once explained the difference between the big leagues and high schoolers. He said, ďIn the big leagues you play to win. In high school you play to not lose.Ē Thatís what the Reds have been doing these past several years, is playing to not lose. They take the field in April and hope to somehow remain in the playoff picture until June or July, and then if that happens, theyíll suddenly get serious and play for real Ė with fire. In addition to being a woefully flawed philsophy in Redsland, thatís not how itís done anywhere in the big leagues. To win in the big leagues, you play with fire from game one.
As a result of all this mess, I find myself feeling like Winstonís character in 1984: I am feeling so brainwashed by all the politics and propoganda of the dystopia that surrounds me that I canít hold my own anymore, at least not where the Reds are concerned. Iím getting to the point where I donít miss going to the ballpark. Instead of watching the Reds on TV or listening to them on radio, I read a book instead. Or just find anything else to do. I still root for the Reds, but as a distanced observer. As a casual fan rather than a passionate fan. Iím waiting for someone Ė anyone Ė to make the Cincinnati Reds fun again. Someone who can undo the damage caused by putting fire on fire. Someone who can help me rediscover why I ever called this team a lifelong passion. Until then, all that I know of the current Cincinnati Reds is double-plus ungood.