Exactly when I became hooked I am not sure. But the first real taste I can remember came while riding in a car with my parents pulling a Columbus and Southern Ohio Electric Company float through the Fall Festival of Leaves Parade in Bainbridge.
That had to be 1970 or 1972, because the Cincinnati Reds were playing in the World Series. I don’t remember much about the parade that day, but I remember listening intently to the voices of the Reds radio broadcasters humming sweetly through the car’s radio speakers, and I was hooked.
The Reds were rarely on TV in those days, so if anyone wanted to catch the action live, they had to go a game or tune in the radio. The Reds were good in those days, and I was a Little Leaguer and a sports fanatic, so I tuned in a lot.
As the years passed I tuned in more and more, and many were the nights I feel asleep listening the relaxing words coming through the radio. I doubt in those early years that I really cared whose words they were. But as more years passed and I continued to listen, I became quite familiar with the voices of Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall, the Reds radio broadcast team for 30-plus years.
It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years since Joe left the broadcaster’s booth. He was my favorite of the two, and as I type these words I can hear his signature sign-off: “This is the ole left-hander rounding third and heading for home,” almost like I have them recorded somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
Joe gave the broadcasts color and flavor, with a little hometown spin and enthusiasm. I liked that. And I liked his stories from his days in the Major Leagues. But it was Marty who told listeners what was unfolding on the field in a tell-it-like-it-is fashion, so well that it landed him in the baseball hall of fame.
Marty was not calling the Reds game that day I was in Bainbridge. But his has been the voice coming through the radio for around 46 years, until he called his final game Thursday.
So I don’t think it would be a stretch of words to say that I grew with Marty Brennaman.
I do not listen to the Reds as much as I once did. But my family can tell you that if the Reds on the radio, and I’m in my car, the radio is likely tuned to the game. The odd thing is, at least in these more recent years, I’m often not really paying much attention to how the game is unfolding. It’s more that the drone of that familiar voice makes me comfortable, likely because it reminds me of more carefree summer evenings and afternoons from years gone by.
One day, though, the Reds, a radio and I did not find ourselves in such a carefree situation. I was in the fourth our fifth grade and the Reds were in the World Series again. The Christmas before my parents bought me this really cool and small transistor radio. It was high-tech for its time. Lots of baseball games were played in the daytime back then, and that was the case on this particular day. I had followed the Reds closely that year, if not on the radio then in the newspapers the next day, and I really wanted to listen to that afternoon game. I was disappointed that I would have to miss it, but then it struck me. If I could get away with listening to the Reds in bed at night, why could I not get away with listening to them in class?
I knew it was risky, and being a shy kid I thought it over many times. But in the end I could not resist. So I packed the radio among my things to take to school.
As it turned out, when game time rolled around, I was in Mrs. Jerri (I’m not sure of the spelling) Shannon’s class. Now, I do not know what kind of person Mrs. Shannon was away from school, but among her student she had a reputation for being strict. From time to time she would not hesitate the rap the fingers of a student that was not paying attention with a pencil. And her raspy smoker’s voice made her seem all the more intimidating.
Anyway, when game time rolled around, I quietly slipped my little radio out of its hiding place, muffled it beneath a sweat jacket or something, and turned the volume as low as I could and still hear most of the words. I didn’t have the radio on for more than a few seconds when I shuffled things around to conceal the radio a little more.
About that time lost control of the radio. It fell and hit the floor with a loud crash, and suddenly every eye in the classroom turned toward me, including Mrs. Shannon’s.
I figured I was about to die — or at least have a very sore back end.
But as calmly as could be Mrs. Shannon looked at me and said, “If you’re going to listen to it, turn it up so we can all hear it!”
Mrs. Shannon became one of my favorite teachers after that.
I don’t remember much more about that day. But I know that Marty Brennaman became a Reds announcer shortly thereafter, and from that time until now his voice has been as much a part of my summers as birds chirping in the trees.
Happy trails, Mr. Brennaman. It won’t be the same without you.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.