Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Life is good!"

That was my son's reaction to today's Cincinnati Reds extra-innings win over the Philadelphia Phillies, coupled with the Saint Louis Cardinals' sweep-clinching loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That combination of events puts the scrappy Reds, wanderers through the Baseball wilderness for more than a decade-and-a-half, just a game-and-a-half behind the Cards in the National League Central Division race. The Reds are now heading for Saint Louis for a three-game series that starts on Tuesday.

The Reds also have a tenuous hold on first place in the NL Wild Card race.

I became a Reds fan back in the Summer of '69. I was fifteen at the time. Our family took weekend camping trips to Rocky Fork State Park and I took my gargantuan six-band radio along. Late at night by the campfire, I listened to Reds games.

That same summer, my uncle, who lived in the Dupage County suburbs of Chicago, took my cousin and me to Wrigley Field during a weeklong stay I had there. The Reds played the Cubs that day. I don't remember the score. But I do remember that we sat on the first base side, almost on top of Pete Rose, then playing in right field. We were surrounded by members of the Rosie Reds, the longest-extant traveling fan club in the Major Leagues.

The Reds had the nucleus of a team which would go to the World Series the next year, when they would lose to the Baltimore Orioles. And just a few years after that, during 1975 and 1976, the Reds fielded what many Baseball aficionados consider the greatest National League teams ever. Those '70s-teams are known as the Big Red Machine and even kids in Cincinnati born decades after the Reds of that era played, venerate them. I've been a fan for thirty-seven years, through thick and thin, glad to say that I followed the Reds before they tore the cover off the National League in the Machine era.

Of course, Philip has been a fan since birth. On the day he was born, my wife's late step-father brought a gift to the hospital: a small bat with Johnny Bench's engraved signature.

When in July, 1990, I was called from the church I was serving in northwestern Ohio in order to start a new congregation in the Cincinnati area, my son was wary. When I told him how much easier it would be for us to Reds games here, he was a bit more reconciled to the notion.

That fall, to my amazement, the wire-to-wire Reds, who had been in first place in their division every game of the season, went on to sweep both the Pittsburgh Pirates for the National League title and the Oakland A's for the world championship. I'll never forget how, on the night the Reds won the Series, people in our new neighborhoold went out onto the street with brooms and buckets, making lots of noise to celebrate the win.

The Reds are still in the 2006 race for the championship because of scrappiness, an explosive offense, the contributions of everyone on the bench, and a pitching staff put together by a combination of the wiliness of a shrewd general manager and lots and lots of duct tape.
But it's a fun sight to see our team in contention in mid-August. Life is good!


Matt Brown said...

Go, Reds! I'll always remember a time my father took me to a Reds game. It was sometime in the late 1970's, just after the Big Red Machine was in full swing. George Foster hit a homerun. We were sitting in the outfield, close to the grass. When Foster returned to the outfield in the next inning, my father yelled out to him something like, "Way to go, George!" Foster looked up our way and smiled.

Mark Daniels said...

That's a cool memory, Matt!

Foster comes to Cincinnati from time to time and whenever he's interviewed, he shows such a great sense of humor.

That's a real contrast to his old persona. He always seemed so serious back in the '70s, giving polysyllabic replies to reporters' questions. But he was a fabulous player, a splendid splinter who loved playing with the heads of opposing pitchers by constantly backing out of the batter's box.