On a blustery day much like Thursday’s opening day at Great American Ball Park, I experienced my one and only opening day in Cincinnati.
It was a good day.
I was at work that day when I got a call from and old high school friend.
“What are you doing,” he said.
“I’m at work,” I replied.
“Well, do you think you could get away to go to opening day?” he asked.
Three thoughts ran through my mind. One was that I was at work. Another was that I had zero cash in my pocket, and little in our savings account. The third was that I had to get approval from my wife. She was pregnant at the time, less than four months from having our first child, and I was pretty sure she was not going to be thrilled about me taking off at the spur of the moment to go gallivanting with some friends to a Cincinnati Reds game, where I would no doubt spend money (even thought the ticket was free) — let alone taking some money out of our savings.
So I tackled the first thought first and went and asked my boss if I could go to the game.
“Finish up whatever you’re doing and get the heck out of here,” he said.
Then came one of the other problems — getting approval from my wife. I do not remember how that conversation went, but she conceded, although I remember her wondering where I was going to get money.
I already had that part planned. In a large potato chip tin in our bedroom closet I had been saving pennies for a rainy for a day for quite a while. So I dashed home, put on warm clothes, grabbed the tin, gave my wife a kiss and hurried to the bank to cash in the pennies then catch my ride.
The pennies came to $60-some bucks. In 1990, that was enough for some treats at the game, dinner at the Spaghetti Factory or whatever the name of that place where you ate in a train was, a few more treats later on, and some left over.
In today’s world, I probably would have been out of money before I left Riverfront Stadium.
Unlike this year’s 11-6 loss to St. Louis, on that opening day 31 years ago the Reds beat the Houston Astros 8-4. And they kept rolling. They won their first nine games, never fell out of first place, and swept the heavily-favored Oakland A’s in the World Series.
That season was a throwback to my teenage and childhood years, when the Reds were almost always in contention and I fell to sleep many nights listening to them on the radio.
Since 1990, the Reds’ successes have been few and far between. And that’s too bad. Because while I grew up infatuated with the Big Red Machine, my sons have not had anywhere close to same experience.
I was just 21 when I started helping raise the 3-year-old youngster that became my stepson. We spent lots of Sunday afternoons hitting wiffle balls and listening to the Reds on the radio, and goodness knows how many Reds games he had to endure when we were driving to one place or another. When he was a few years older, I remember him listening to a game or two with me from the balcony of a hotel room in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
I listened to almost all the Reds games on the radio back then, and I’m pretty sure he got bored enough with the whole concept that he could really care less whether he ever hears another game.
Two more sons came along later, one in 1990 and another in 1993. We played lots of ball in the backyard, too, sometimes listening to the Reds, and they both played baseball through the senior years in high school.
As they grew older, almost every Reds game was on TV. If the younger one did not have a game of his own to play, he’d be in front of the TV watching the Reds. The thing was, the Reds lost so much through much of their childhood that the older one despised watching them. When a game was on and his brother was watching, he had no problem telling him he thought he was crazy.
The older one preferred playing in the little stream out back and hunting for any wild critter he could find, or doing anything other than watching the Reds.
The younger watched them so much that I got tired of the Reds, too.
The day before opening day this year, the younger son came over for dinner. As we were talking about this and that, it dawned on us that the next day was opening day, and it had kind of sneaked up on both of us.
He was telling me that several TV service providers are not offering the Reds right now because of some squabble over money, including the service he uses. He was not happy about the situation.
“We’ll, you could listen to them on the radio like I did,” I said.
He gave me a puzzled look. And it was obvious that more than just the Reds’ fortunes have greatly changed.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.