Cincinnati Reds Opening Day 2020

Opening day [of baseball] in Cincinnati has always been a time of hope and optimism, a time to look forward to, a time to enjoy being with family and friends, a time to enjoy looking at the forsythia and daffodils heralding spring, to walk across the Ohio River on the Roebling bridge, to take in the annual Findlay Market Parade, and to hear the umpire (or Marty and Joe on the radio) say “Play Ball.” I am declaring today my personal “Opening Day 2020”

Figure 1: In Yankee Stadium

Figure 1: In Yankee Stadium

1 Personal History

I started following the Cincinnati Reds in’74 and went to my first game in 1975. In part, this was as a way to retain some connection with my Grandfather who died early in ‘74. My first baseball memory is of watching the final out of the ‘72 world series against Oakland with him.

The mid-70s were a good time to start following the Reds. “The Big Red Machine” (Rose, Bench, Perez, etc) had been in the series in ‘70 and ‘72 and wound up as World Champions in ‘75 (RedSox, 7 games, lots of drama) and ‘76 (swept the Yankees in 4 games). I was in the stands for one game in each of those series. Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards, Foster had an amazing 52 home run year in ‘77. There was more than hope there. There was accomplishment to admire by one of the best teams in the history of the game.

Figure 2: The Big Red Machine

Figure 2: The Big Red Machine

Then there was Pete (Rose). Mr. Cincinnati, “Charlie Hustle”, “The Hit King”, batting champion, MVP, a 44 game hitting streak in ‘78. He eventually passed Ty Cobb’s all-time hit count dumping a single in to right on September 11, 1985 (and THAT for me will, will always be THE event of 9/11). I was there and had driven 3 straight nights from Columbus to be in the stands for the event.

Figure 3: Statue of Charlie Hustle in action

Figure 3: Statue of Charlie Hustle in action

I was in the stands again for another series victory in 1990 over the A’s, which helped mitigate some of the pain caused by, shall we say, Pete yielding to his competitive spirit a little too much the previous year and as a result being banned for life from the game.

There have been good times (see above) and bad times including the early 80s after Dick Wagner prematurely dismantled the Big Red Machine, and the last 5 years where the Reds have finished last. But opening day was always a day of hope. A clean slate. A new start.

2 Traditions

Baseball is (was?) a game of traditions. Cincinnati had always been accorded the privilege of having the first opening game of the season in honor of their being the first professional baseball team (undefeated in 1869) and having, to some degree, inspired the birth of professional baseball itself. That tradition ended sometime in the 80s or 90s in favor of increased revenue to MLB from TV contracts having other teams open.

I had my own traditions. I attended 27 straight opening day games from 1976-2002. That streak ended the year I moved to Virginia, not because it was too far, but because the event had become a zoo and it became more of a crowd/media event than a time for fun and relaxation. Since then, I’ve attended at least one game every year running that streak to 46 years. That tradition too is in jeopardy if there turns out to be no 2020 season due to COVID-19.

And then there are the obligatory pre-game stops at Skyline Chili for coneys and chili-spaghetti before the game and Greater’s ice cream after the game. If you’re from Cincinnati, you know.

Figure 4: The One True Game Day Food

Figure 4: The One True Game Day Food

The sound of the Reds broadcasters, “Marty and Joe” (and later others after Joe retired), has been the backdrop to so many of our lives. Listening on the radio, in the car, out in the yard, late at night. Joe signing off with is signature “Rounding third and heading for home”, and Marty’s call “And this one belongs to the Reds” after every victory. Marty retired last year.

Figure 5: Marty

Figure 5: Marty

And then there were the friends and family that went with me. Dad took us to my first game against his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. Mom was in the stands with me the night Pete got 4192. I think my brother Mark was there the night Seaver pitched a no-hitter. My (future) wife Stephanie learned quickly that this was part of life. Son Daniel still has a life-long streak of one game a year going. And my friend Ken (two whom this missive is dedicated) has been to games with me for something like 40 years, including 20 or so opening games. And for the record, the Davy Concepcion was a better shortstop than Larry Bowa :-)

Figure 6: Family at GABP

Figure 6: Family at GABP

Figure 7: Uncle and Cousin at GABP

Figure 7: Uncle and Cousin at GABP

3 What now?

I was mentally gearing up to give Tommy Thrall a chance. He was to slated to replace Marty this year. The Reds spent significant money in the off-season building a team to get out of the cellar and back into contention. I was willing to hope again.

I was already toying with ending my 46 year streak this year anyhow. A few years ago baseball started using TSA-style metal detectors at the ballpark. Just as Opening Day became a zoo, there is something “too corporate” about MLB games these days, in contrast with, say, local minor league games. “Money-ball” has turned the game into a series computer/stats driven calculations where it is impossible to second-guess the manager without your own data analysis infrastructure and machine learning models. I no longer understand the basic stats, and I do data analysis for a living. My friend Ken refuses to carry a smart phone and it becoming nearly impossible to get/use paper tickets anymore. Add to that the possibility of having to wear masks and practice social distancing in stadiums designed for anything but that and it feels to me like the “national pass-time” will have transformed into some kind of Orwellian panopticon. No thank you. I wish major league baseball the best. It’s been a wonderful part of my life.

4 Moving forward together

Life moves on. We can get stuck in the past or remember it fondly (or not), learn from it, and move forward.

Figure 8: Dogwood, herald of spring

Figure 8: Dogwood, herald of spring

The “national pass-time” may never be back, unless you count socially-distanced people staring at their cell phones not talking to each other as a “pass-time”. People don’t walk or drive their horse-and-buggy to the “ball-field” anymore. People don’t sit on their front porch waving at passers-by. You can’t just play hooky from school or take the day off work for a relaxing afternoon in the sun forgetting your problems watching the “Mudville Nine” and cheering on the Mighty Casey.

So we (I at least) will enjoy the memory of what was, and look for new ways to slow down, new ways to enjoy life, and new ways to spend time with family and friends. To all those who’ve enjoyed a game or two or thirty with me, thanks. I enjoyed your company.

Look me up if there’s some kids headed out to the pasture on the “back 40” for a pick-up game, a local little league game or a church softball tournament. Let’s spend time together. Let’s enjoy life together.

Figure 9: Opening Day Baseball

Figure 9: Opening Day Baseball


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