For the first half of my Nashville childhood, my television-viewing options were limited to just six channels – the local affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS, as well as two independent stations that showed a variety of syndicated programs, reruns and old movies. As our local minor league team was affiliated with the Reds at the time, one of the independent networks (which later became a Fox affiliate) also used to broadcast Reds games on a semi-regular basis.
One night near the beginning of second grade, I was watching TV at a friend’s house. He was a Cubs fan who had chosen Ryne Sandberg as his favorite player, and I remember him asking me who my favorite player was as we changed channels and came across a Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game that was tied in the 9th inning.
With two outs, Eric Davis came to bat with the bases loaded. The first pitch from Pittsburgh’s Don Robinson was a fastball, and Davis launched it over the wall for not only the first grand slam of his major league career, but his first grand slam, period. (“It’s my first one since I [sic] been playing this game,” Davis told the Enquirer. “Since Little League, since ever.”) Suddenly, I had a favorite player too.
From that point, I rarely missed a local Reds broadcast – and after the cable guy expanded our channel offerings from six to 35 (including WTBS and WGN), I was able to see the team play when they visited Atlanta and Chicago as well, not to mention occasional national games-of-the-week. When the other 34 channels failed me and I wasn’t able to watch a game, I’d tune into ESPN and wait for their ticker to appear and provide an update on the score.
Nearly three decades later, it’s difficult to fully remember just how hard it used to be to follow a team from a distance. Today, you can receive automatic notifications on your smart phone when something notable transpires in a game, but once upon a time, it was hard work being a fan of an out-of-market team. I don’t mean to sound like a grumpy old man who used to have to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, but pre-cable, I remember having no choice but to call local TV stations’ sports desks if I wanted to know the score of that night’s Reds game. Later, I’d scream in frustration whenever ESPN went to commercial just as the NL scores were about to start scrolling on their ticker, and I’d toss the sports section of the morning paper in the trash if it said “Cincinnati at San Diego/San Francisco/Los Angeles, late” instead of the scores of games played during West Coast road trips.
In 1990, ESPN – who that same year started broadcasting major league games, further increasing my chances of catching a Reds game on TV – premiered Baseball Tonight, which I began watching religiously. Suddenly, I was guaranteed not only the chance to learn the scores of games I couldn’t watch for myself, but also see highlights! The timing couldn’t have been better, as ESPN kept me plugged in during the Reds’ historic pennant chase that year.
After the 1992 season, the Nashville Sounds became affiliated with the White Sox, and cable became my only way to keep up with the Reds. That remained the status quo until I gained internet access as a college student. I believe it was then that I started following games-in-progress via Yahoo! Sports, which essentially offered text-based updates that auto-refreshed every few seconds.
I stuck with Yahoo! Sports for years, even after there were flashier (pun intended!) options to choose from. Eventually, though, I began using Gameday, ESPN’s Gamecast, Twitter and various phone apps – most notably, At Bat. Although I was tempted to sign up for to At Bat Premium, I always stuck with the free version, as I didn’t want to consume too much cellular data listening to radio broadcasts. As for MLB.tv, as I wrote earlier this year, I hesitated to subscribe because most Reds games start around 4 p.m. Pacific time, and bosses typically frown on their employees watching sports while they’re on the clock.
Late last year, however, Wendy’s ran a promotion that offered free MLB.tv subscriptions for the remainder of the regular season if you posted a picture of a Frosty. I played along, and even though I’m not sure if I ever watched a game online from start to finish, I loved being able to see or listen to the Reds play whenever I wanted for the first time in my life. I realize that might seem quaint to those of you who have Fox Sports Ohio or live in a market that’s part of the Reds Radio Network, but for me, it erased geographic boundaries completely and made it feel like the Reds were my home team too.
At the beginning of the 2017 season, I fought the urge to resubscribe to MLB.tv, even though it was far less fun reverting to Twitter and Gameday to follow games. I even refrained when they offered 50% off, but when they ran a one-day $10 flash sale in late June, I couldn’t resist. Aside from one I recapped, I’m still not sure I’ve watched a game from start to finish, but over the past 11 weeks, I’ve seen portions of dozens. It’s been a blast to witness the maturation of the team’s rookie starters with my own eyes rather than through others’ tweets and recaps, and despite their record, I find myself more invested than I’ve been in years.
My favorite moments, however, have come when my son watches with me. Perhaps he’ll get to see someone hit a game-winning grand slam and end up with a new favorite player too.