Every night, as a kid, I listened to the Reds on 700 WLW. Every night. Without fail.
Some nights, particularly those when the Reds played teams on the west coast, my parents would tell me to go to bed round about the sixth or seventh inning, just as things were getting good.
“Awww, Mom! Come on! Eric Davis is up first next inning. Can’t I just stay up till then?”
“No. Bedtime. Get upstairs.”
It was all a ruse, of course. I had found an abandoned radio in a parking lot down the hill from my house when I was probably too young to be hanging out in old parking lots by myself. All I had to do was clean it up and plug it in, and Marty and Joe would talk me through the remainder of the games my parents insisted I miss, provided I kept the lights out and the volume dialed low enough. The argument and the subsequent sulking was enough to throw them off my scent. Or so I believed.
My bedroom was a shrine to the Reds back then. Poster boards with crudely-drawn baseball diamonds covered the walls with a baseball card for each Reds player affixed to the requisite position for each season from 1983 – 1990, with two extras for the Big Red Machine World Series teams in 1975 and 1976. I had a poster board with the flier from Johnny Bench day at Riverfront his last year; a collection of the little reds helmets in which they used to serve ice cream at Reds games, and a ball I had stolen from my friend, Sean Hinken. The rumor was that Dave Parker his ownself had hit the ball to the outfield red seats during batting practice, all of this at Sean’s request. Was that the truth? I don’t know. Sean had a way of exaggerating words enough to make you suspect he was fibbing. But you never really knew for sure.
I’d curl into a ball on my bed beneath the covers, with the radio tuned to 700, listening as Marty and Joe called the games, spun stories about years past, and took calls on the banana phone during rain delays.
This one day, when the Reds were out west playing the Dodgers, they took it to extra innings and Dave Parker came up to bat in the bottom of the umpteenth inning with two out and one on. You could FEEL the tension through Marty’s voice as he called each pitch. On a 2-2 count, Parker hit a line shot over the right field wall to win the game and I exploded from my bed, out into the hallway, waking everyone up in the process.
“This One Belongs To The Reds!” I shouted, right along with Marty. It was well past 2:00 A.M. at that point, but I didn’t care. I was grounded for two weeks after that. My parents didn’t take away my radio, though. They knew better than to do that.
As much as we like to argue about the efficacy of one player over another or a managerial decision that makes no sense to us (Bob Boone’s double switches from the early ‘00s come to mind), as much as we tout the memories of Jay Bruce’s homerun in 2010, Pete’s hit, Tom Browning’s perfect game, or even True Creature’s near-perfect game, nothing has been more quintessentially “Reds” for the better part of the last 40 years than Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall sharing their thoughts and their passions about everyone’s favorite team nearly every night every summer, day after week after month after year.
I was at work when Joe Nuxhall passed away. I sat down in my cube, opened up a news site to see what had happened overnight, and there it was, the headline “Longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster dies” right next to an ad for mattresses and a story about rising interest rates. I’d heard he was sick, but I didn’t realize HOW sick. All those late nights, curled up underneath my blankets, listening as the Reds fought bravely to secure a victory so we call celebrate with Marty’s signature phrase came flooding back. Marty and Joe had always been there, would ALWAYS be there, and the realization that it was over, that things would change and somehow lessen, was almost too much to bear.
I had to walk outside for a few minutes. My eyes were starting to sweat.
I still listen when I can. I don’t have any special internet or Sirius packages, but I can catch a signal all the way down here in Florida most nights. If the weather is clear. Marty hasn’t been the same since the ‘Ol Lefthander finally made it home after rounding third all those years. He’s still top notch. He’s still one of the greats, but there’s a certain JOY missing from the games. Still, there’s something special about hearing him call the lineups, hearing him share his stories, hoping we get to hear another Red’s victory.
Marty Brennaman is Marty Brennaman, and everything else is just radio.
Marty hasn’t decided to hang it up yet, as far as I know. But it can’t be too much longer. Five years? Ten? Who knows? And where will we be then? I like the Cowboy, and I think Thom Brenneman does a fine job. He sounds like his father, but he isn’t the same; just like Marty hasn’t been the same without Joe.
Soon – sooner than most of us would like to admit – Marty will no longer be the voice of the Cincinnati Reds, and with him will pass the longest era in Reds history and one of the longest in professional sports. Our hometown team has something special in Marty. He might be a bit curmudgeonly, and he might cross lines many of us with our modern sensibilities might not like, but he’s still special.
So as this Red’s season mercifully makes its way to an inevitable close, make sure to take a few moments – whether on the back porch with your favorite drink, or underneath your covers in your bedroom – to enjoy the magic a few more times.
Because once it’s gone, it’s gone.