[This post was written by John Ring, who is the Nation's correspondent from Afghanistan, where he is serving the entire nation.]
I’d been stationed in Afghanistan for about two weeks when I went over to use the ATM at the site on Base where the Afghans have their markets. It was about a mile walk and the ATM was broke more than it worked but I was I need of some cash to buy some things at the PX that features mostly empty shelves.
The ATM was, of course, out of service. You notice that immediately because of the lack of a long line. So I was unable to acquire a hundred bucks (if it works, the ATM dispenses only hundred dollar bills) and I turned to walk back to the barracks and it was then that something caught my eye.
There in front of me, hanging up in a sports shop, was a Johnny Bench replica 1976 Cincinnati Reds home jersey. The bridal white with red trim jersey with the #5 and the centennial patch on the sleeve. And 1976 was the pinnacle, the high water mark for the Big Red Machine that culminated with a perfect postseason record (7-0) a second consecutive World Series championship and Bench being named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series after hitting a pair of home runs in the Game 4 victory against the Yankees.
The jersey wasn’t a thing of quality; you wouldn’t see it at Macy’s or the Reds Gift Shop. The price on it was marked for $20. But to see even cheap Reds merchandise in Kabul was an eye-opener.
Thanks to the internet— when it works here— it’s still fairly easy to follow the Reds. I hit the usual sports web sites, read Lance McAlister’s blog and discovered Redleg Nation. I cringed a little when I would see Dusty’s lineups. I cringed a lot when Joey Votto got hurt. I threw my size 12 combat boot up against the wall when Joey had a second surgical procedure done.
But there was the emergence of Todd Frazier, the steady play of Zack Cozart, Aroldis Maximus coming out of the bullpen, great starting pitching (not a Jimmy Haynes or Paul Wilson to be found) and a no- hitter by Homer Bailey and the Reds cruised to a division title.
I was able to listen to WLW when I got here but some changes were made and the ability to pick up US radio stations on the ‘net disappeared. MLB.com doesn’t work here so that option is gone. My brother even tried to send a Sports Illustrated subscription to me but SI doesn’t send them here, probably because of the annual swimsuit issue and the “sensitivity” of our hosts here.
The best we can get is to watch live games (usually on the west coast) early in the morning because of the time difference or tape delayed broadcasts. But we have no days off here (a three-star general didn’t like our “battle rhythm” — whatever that is) so there isn’t a lot of time off to watch sports. One plus—we don’t see the commercials you do. One minus—we have to watch the commercials on the Air Force Network (AFN) which are even worse. Imagine watching one PSA (Public Service Announcement) after another.
On R and R in October, I was unfortunately a part of the most disastrous sports month in Cincinnati history in the last generation by watching the Reds collapse in the playoffs and the Bengals plod through a midseason losing streak. Like most of you, I was in a haze after Matt Latos’ implosion in Game 5 against the Giants for about a week.
I was finishing off a Michelob during Jay Bruce’s at-bat in the 9th inning of Game 5. I swear, it was the best at-bat of his career. He fought off tough pitches and stayed alive. My mind flashed back to that memorable game against Houston in 2010 when Bruce blasted a home run to win the NL Central Division.
But Bruce flew out to left field, Scott Rolen struck out and Redleg Nation was stunned. So I had a few more drinks, well more than a few— can’t have any over here—and flew back to Afghanistan with a severe hangover and kept thinking back to Johnny Cueto’s injury and the blown opportunities during Game 3, the one I watched at GABP.
The 2013 baseball season will be my last one over here. Depressing as it sounds, I hope to get Opening Day tickets in 2014. Maybe that day the Reds will hoist their first championship banner since 1990. There was a war going on in Southwest Asia then, too. Let’s see, that was two wars ago.
Writing for Redleg Nation will be a good opportunity for me. I’ve been on a sabbatical from writing since the publisher of the newspaper I wrote for passed away from cancer two years ago. He gave me a terrific opportunity and I had a twenty year run as a sports editor in Illinois. Like many of you reading this, my passion runs deep for the Cincinnati Reds. I hope in a small way to contribute to this website and join a team of writers that hope to cover a Reds team in 2013 that smashes down the last barriers in the way to reaching the World Series.