When I stepped into an elevator and headed toward the Riverfront Stadium turf for the first time, I was a bit antsy, unsure of where I was going and whom I might encounter. Then the elevator stopped, the door opened, and a large man stepped in.
“Hello, young man. What’s your name and when are you from?” the big man asked with a welcoming smile.
When I told him I was from Hillsboro, the smile widened. He said he knew Hillsboro well, asked if I knew Sug (I am not sure of the spelling) Stanforth, and told me about how he and some of his Cincinnati Reds teammates used to come to Hillsboro after a game and play cards at Sug’s tavern.
I was fortunate enough to chat with the late Joe Nuxhall, the longtime Reds radio broadcaster and youngest person to ever play Major League Baseball, several other times during my years as a sports reporter, more often than not at golf outings right here in Highland County. And every time, just like that first time on the elevator, the Ol’ Lefthander put me at ease and made me feel welcome.
With Reds opening day approaching next week, the other day while listening to a spring training game I was thinking about Joe and Marty Brennaman on the radio, and some of my other exploits at old Riverfront Stadium.
There was one time I was down on the field for Hillsboro Night at the Reds. Hillsboro residents were involved in lots of pregame activities on the field, like throwing out the first pitch and singing the national anthem. I was trying to capture it all in pictures, and since the newspaper did not have a zoom lens back in those days, when the girl stepped to the microphone to sing the national anthem, I inched my way really close to her to get some good shots.
Once I had shot a few photos from my knees, I realized that everyone in the stadium was standing, and that I should probably do likewise. Remember now, I was pretty young, and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, despite the fact that I was located where everyone in the stadium could clearly see me. When I stood, I was suddenly struck with a dilemma — should I walk away quietly while the national anthem was still being played, or stand at attention like I had been taught my entire life was the proper thing to do.
So, wanting to be especially respectful since I had accidentally placed myself on center stage, I rose to me feet and stood at attention — just a few feet from the singer, until she finished the song.
The whole time I was standing there — and it seemed like a really long time — I kept thinking that other people must be wondering who the moron is standing so close to the girl singing the national anthem.
For a long time afterward, I wondered if maybe it would have been better if I just took my photos and walked out of the spotlight. But, looking back on more recent developments during the national anthem at professional sporting events, I am certain I made the proper choice.
When reporters were on the Riverfront field for pregame ceremonies, there were places they were allowed to go and places they were not supposed to go. Sometimes, when you’re looking through a camera lens, it’s hard to tell exactly where the line between those places is. And that is exactly where I found myself another time down on the field during pregame warmups when I saw Eric Davis and Dave Parker, the two greatest Reds players at the time, jogging straight toward me. I wanted a good shot of the pair together, so I took a few steps to get myself in better position.
About that time a baseball zinged past my head, close enough that I could hear it.
Without realizing it, I had wandered into the area between the first baseline and the dugout where the Reds throw warmup tosses before the game. It was one of those areas I was not supposed to enter.
When I turned to see where the ball had come from, Reds catcher Bo Diaz was having a good laugh at my expense. I was only a few feet outside my designated area, and you’d think maybe someone would have warned me before they sent a baseball whistling past my head. Not Bo Diaz. I never liked the guy much after that.
There were other times at Reds games, like the time in the press box when I was in my circle of VIPs listening to a conversation during a commercial break. I should have kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed the experience. The Reds were losing by like six runs early in the game, and in my ignorance I made a comment about them maybe rallying to win. Hall of Fame announcer Marty Brennaman shot me down real quick, and made me feel about two feet tall.
Give Mr. Brennaman his due. He is arguably the best baseball broadcaster of his time, and summer evenings listening the Reds on the radio will never be the same when he retires after this season.
Maybe I got what I deserved for an ill-conceived comment. Joe Nuxhall would have found more noble words.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.