I've been a lifelong baseball fan...tested the waters by collecting baseball cards in a shoebox, put my toes in with Lou Brock and Bob Gibson when the Cardinals won the World Series in 1964, and jumped in feet first when Roger Maris arrived in St. Louis a couple years later to help the Cardinals to two more pennants. After college, I found myself in Ohio, and continued to follow the Cardinals from afar, but I also developed an affection for the Reds. When the Reds went wire-to-wire in 1990, my conversion began. By the time I experienced the one-game playoff with the Mets for the 1999 Wild Card position, I was diving in...I was a full-fledged Reds fan.
But then began the lost decade. Players, managers, owners coming and going...fans jumping on and off the bandwagon...griping, complaining, second-guessing...but still the faithful followed. Last night was for the faithful.
As I watched the game unfold, I looked and listened to those around me. It was a cross-section of what baseball is all about. I sat with family...the same as I had done so often through the years. Next to me was a young couple, barely old enough to buy a beer but certainly doing more than their share of drinking, sitting with the young man's father. I overheard references to Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo, and others. They were there to remember and compare. In front of me sat a mother with her 10 or 11 year old son. They were dressed in full Reds regalia and knew every Reds player by name. The boy was too excited to sit down most of the night, and his mom cheered as loudly as anyone in our section. They had definitely planned to be there to witness Reds history. On their right sat a 70ish gentleman, alone, with a Cleveland Indians hat. He charted every pitch in a ringed scorebook, and we found out he was from Albuquerque, NM and on a pilgrimage of sorts to visit various ballparks. He was, by chance, at Great American Ball Park last night. On the other side of the mother and son, sat an African-American man, mid-thirties and alone. He arrived in about the third inning and carried his bicycle helmet. We found out later that he had recently moved to Cincinnati from Alabama, and he decided this game was the place to be. He told us how happy he was that he had chosen to move here THIS year. Across the aisle, two men in their forties drank Coke all night and yet were so intoxicated with the excitement of the night, they stood and danced and high-fived like it was New Year's Eve and they were teenagers. Behind us was a group of 7 or 8 professionals, but 3 or 4 of them were speaking French. It was obvious that the visitors had never seen a baseball game. Their hosts explained foul balls, bunts, and innings to the curious guests. Again, a chance occurrence that the first game seen by the Frenchmen would mean so much to the Americans.
This was baseball as it was meant to be. Young and old, seasoned and casual fans alike, some who had planned to be there and others who just happened to have a ticket...all lucky enough to be in the same place at the same time to share a special Cincinnati sports moment...together as a community. It couldn't have been scripted any better.