I love the Cincinnati Reds.
I shouldn’t actually have to say that, since I’ve been writing about the Reds — and demonstrating my obsession with this infernal team — nearly every single day here at Redleg Nation for the last nine seasons. But make no mistake: I love the Cincinnati Reds National League Baseball Club, and sometimes, I don’t know why. But here’s a fact: I will still love this team long after Ryan Ludwick has left town.
Indulge me for a moment here. This is my blog, and I want to ramble about my favorite team. The Reds have frustrated me this year, and I’ve already told you why I think they will ultimately break our hearts. But I can’t express to you how much I hope they don’t break our collective hearts. I want to celebrate with this team. I want a parade through downtown Cincinnati at the end of the season.
I’m an old guy, but not quite old enough to have been a fan during the Big Red Machine years. My father was a Reds fan at that time. My grandfather — who was the single biggest influence on my baseball fandom — had loved the Reds as far back as the legendary 1939-40 Reds teams, and he passed that love on to me.
Despite the grand history of this club, however, I came of age during a time that the Reds were awful. Remember those early 80s teams? Paul Householder and Alex Trevino and Cesar Cedeno and Mike LaCoss and Russ Nixon and Rafael Landestoy and Kelly Paris and Skeeter Barnes and Steve Christmas. I loved those guys!
I was so excited to get Eddie Milner’s autograph on my baseball glove, although I left that glove out in the rain and the autograph was washed away.
I remember the first Reds game I ever attended. For weeks, I had been bouncing off the walls, excited to see Johnny Bench play (he was mostly a third baseman at that point, in the final season of his brilliant career). Until the day I die, I won’t forget what it was like to walk into Riverfront Stadium for the first time, seeing that green astroturf and thinking I was in heaven. Also, I will never forget the disappointment I felt when I saw that Wayne Krenchicki was starting at third instead of Bench on that day. That’s a brutal blow to a kid.
But I remember how excited I was when Gary Redus stole home in that game, and when the Reds won.
I remember playing wiffle ball with my brother in the front yard. Whenever I pitched, I was Mario Soto. When I batted, I was Bench. Later, when I hit a homer, I was Dave Parker.
In Little League, I played catcher and wore #5.
Now I have a son, and he plays second base and wears #4. The cycle continues. We are Reds fans.
This is my team. Sure, we’re just rooting for laundry, but this will always be my team. For most of my life, the Reds haven’t been very competitive, but I stuck with them. Heck, I started Redleg Nation back when the Reds had no hope of fielding a competitive team. I didn’t care. I wanted to talk about the Reds! I still enjoy talking about the Reds.
So, Ryan Ludwick, you need to understand this: this team means more to us than it will ever mean to you. We have lived and died with the Cincinnati Reds, and we will continue to do so long after you have retired and started attending events in St. Louis as a former Cardinal. Maybe you think the fans haven’t cheered loud enough this season, and maybe you are even correct in that assessment. But maybe you should also look in the mirror. Maybe there’s a reason Reds fans are frustrated with this team. Maybe your uninspired play has a little to do with it. Maybe?
From my perspective, it seems that Reds fans have set a Great American Ballpark attendance record this season. If, somehow, the Reds make it past the one-game Wild Card playoff, GAB will be packed for the National League Division Series. It will be packed with fans who were there when Jimmy Haynes was the ace of the team. It will be packed with fans who loved the Reds long before Ludwick signed his multi-million dollar contract. And it will be packed with Reds fans who will be there for the next decade, and the decade after that.
And, despite my conviction that this team will probably break my heart, my son and I will be in the stadium, as well. Because we can always hope. And because this is my team. And my son’s team. And his son’s team, someday.
I’m sorry we aren’t good enough for you, Ryan Ludwick. But I really don’t care what you think. We were here before you, and we’ll be here after you are gone.
We love the Cincinnati Reds. And we always will, no matter who is wearing the jersey.
(NB: Please forgive the dated Welcome Back, Kotter reference.)