Hope, and other four-letter words

When it comes to Cincinnati sports, disappointment is just part of the experience

It was a Saturday I had been eagerly anticipating for weeks: May 28, 1983. For years, the Cincinnati Reds had always been a presence in the background of my life. I heard the words “Big Red Machine” before I was old enough to have any concept of what it meant. Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez…these were the names spoken in reverential tones, names that equaled greatness in the mind of an eight-year old.

Then there was Johnny Bench. Bench was the star of stars, as far as I was concerned. I doubt I had ever actually seen him play baseball, but I knew him from “The Baseball Bunch.” And I knew that he was the greatest catcher of all time, of course. Everyone knew that!

Baseball — and specifically Reds baseball — was just beginning to become an obsession for young Chadwick, and I set my sights on one goal: I had to watch Bench play. Live, in person, at Riverfront Stadium. It’s really all I wanted in the world. One problem: Bench — now mostly playing third base — was retiring at the end of the season. If we didn’t go soon, I’d never get to watch the star of stars play for my beloved Cincinnati Reds.

In the years after, my family became regular fixtures at Riverfront. But at that time, we were living about three and a half hours away, just across the Kentucky border in Virginia. My parents were raising a young family and it wasn’t easy just to take off and head to Cincinnati.

But in 1983, with a budding young Reds fan (taking cues from his father and grandfather) in the home, my parents sent off for tickets to see the Reds and Pirates on the first weekend after school let out. The final weeks of the school year dragged on interminably. How could my teachers expect me to concentrate on math or English when Johnny Bench was in my future?

Finally, the day arrived. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and I remember standing with my family outside the impossibly huge stadium, listening to a recording of a pleasant voice telling us over and over and over that cans and bottles were not permitted into the stadium. I remember jumping up and down on the rubber expansion joints; if you were a kid during the Riverfront era, you know what I’m talking about. Why was that so much fun?

After a time, the gates rattled open and we filed in. I distinctly remember walking into the stadium and seeing the Riverfront astro-turf for the first time. It was this perfect shade of green, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. (I was a kid, remember; I didn’t have a lot of reference points.) We made our way to our seats and I just sat and stared as the Reds were warming up on the field. Those were the actual Reds! Bench wasn't out there just yet, and I searched for him. Davey Concepcion was there, and Gary Redus, and Eddie Milner, who gave me my first autograph. But no Bench.

We settled in with peanuts and Cokes and tried to keep ourselves cool. Eventually, the lineup was posted on the hulking outfield scoreboard. My parents saw it first, but eventually, I became aware of what those gigantic pixels were saying to us. Soon, the voice of Reds PA announcer Paul Sommerkamp confirmed the bad news.

“Batting seventh and playing third base, Wayne Krenchicki. Krenchicki.”

Wayne Krenchicki? Who? Why wasn’t Johnny Bench in the lineup?

I was crestfallen. At such a tender age, I had experienced first-hand the well-known truth that life is not fair. The one thing I wanted in the world had been given to me…and was subsequently taken away by Reds manager Russ Nixon. I blamed Krenchicki, however. How dare he pretend to fill the shoes of the great Johnny Bench!

The Reds won 4-3 that day in an exciting contest, with Redus scoring the winning run in the bottom of the eighth on a steal of home. Krenchicki even went 2 for 3 with a double. But no matter, he was the villain. And for the first time in my life, I experienced the disappointment that comes with being a Cincinnati sports fan.

Many of my long-time readers have heard that story before. I find it to be a useful illustration of the ways that the Reds always give us hope before cruelly breaking our hearts. If you are a longtime Cincinnati sports fan, you know that it isn’t limited just to the Reds.

I was crushed on that day in 1983. And yet, my love for the Reds only deepened in the days and weeks ahead. If you’re reading this, you probably have a similar story of watching a Cincinnati team break your heart and crush your spirits…but yet, you’re still watching. You’re still living and dying with these teams.

Last week, the Reds disappointed us all once again. After a fun two-week stretch that gave us all hope, the Reds were swept out of the playoffs in historic fashion, failing even to score a single run in 22 innings of baseball. Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo were just as amazing as we expected them to be, but a flurry of weak groundouts to second base and a complete inability of the Reds offense to get a hit when it mattered resulted in yet another painful end to a season.

And yet, most of us will be back by the time the 2021 season rolls around. Perhaps we won’t be so optimistic for Year Number 8 of The Great Rebuild, but we’ll be watching anyway. We’ll be discussing the latest transactions and making predictions…and hoping.

If you went to a restaurant and got horrible service almost every single time, you probably wouldn’t keep going back, right? Would you stick with a restaurant for twenty-five years if the meals were usually inedible, just because you hope to get a great meal every seven or eight years?

So why do we stick with the Reds? For the last twenty-five years, they have been almost completely unwatchable. Sure, 1999 was fun, and the 2010-2013 teams had their moments. But pretty much every other year has been a nightmare. Even this season was filled with mostly disastrous baseball, filled with errors, bad baserunning, and a bad offense, except for a two-week stretch at the very end.

And yet, every spring, we hope. We dream. “This will be the year!” we tell ourselves.

It is never our year. And yet, we remain. Perhaps you can tell me why we stick with it, why our love for these teams is seemingly not affected by all the bitter disappointment. It’s one of the enduring mysteries of life.

Just wait ‘til next year, right?

This Week at The Magazine

Ordinarily, I would direct you to my weekly Cincinnati Magazine column. But the headline this week reads “The Reds are poised to win a playoff series.” I think we know how that turned out. So maybe read this piece about vintage spirits instead.

(Of course, if you wanted to click on the link to my column, I wouldn’t complain.)

Blast From The Past

The Big Red Machine. If you don’t remember this gem, you have my sympathy. The kids these days love RedZilla at Great American Ball Park, what with the smoke and noise and free t-shirts and all. Well, kids in the Riverfront Stadium era were blessed with the Big Red Machine. No t-shirt cannons, just the joy of watching that monster soak up water from the artificial turf and spray it over the left field fence. What a time to be alive.

Photograph from 1983.

If you have a Cincinnati sports-related picture you’d like to share here, send it my way (dotsonc@gmail.com). Only rule: it has to be a picture from before 2000.

What I’m Reading

I finished “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau this week. Not groundbreaking, but a quick and dirty read about finding your “quest” in life. Guillebeau’s quest was to visit every country on earth. My big quest in life is to attend an actual World Series game in which the Cincinnati Reds are playing. It’s starting to look like Guillebeau’s quest is far more achievable.

Wick Terrell: So, what the heck do the Cincinnati Reds do now?

Robert Weintraub: The Bengals’ Future Rests on Joe Burrow’s Shoulders

Grant Freking: FC Cincinnati’s Hyped Attacking Signings Haven’t Delivered

Doug Gray: Will Nick Castellanos return to the Cincinnati Reds?

Mo Egger: Waste of brilliant starting pitching could haunt Reds in coming years

Justin Williams: Bearcats running game is still establishing a new identity

What I’m Watching

The top two there — “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson) and “Fight Club” (David Fincher) — are in my pantheon of movies to put on in the background whenever I’m working. Every Wes Anderson movie is in that rotation.

“Drunken Angel” is an early Akira Kurosawa film, starring frequent Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune. If you haven’t seen any films by this brilliant Japanese director, you’re missing out. I wouldn’t recommend “Drunken Angel” as your first, however. Watch “Seven Samurai” or my personal favorite, “Ikiru.”

The Reggie Miller film is a 30 for 30 documentary that many of you have seen, I’m sure. I saw it years ago, but my son wanted to watch (since the Reds flamed out of the playoffs and we didn’t have much else to watch that day). It’s not the best 30 for 30, but it’s a good watch.

My personal favorite 30 for 30? “The Best That Never Was,” about Marcus Dupree.

I’ll also note here that we are about halfway through the first season of HBO Max’s “Perry Mason.” The jury is still out on whether the series is any good, but I can report that it is gorgeously produced.

The World’s Most Dangerous Podcast

Redleg Nation Radio #346: Wait…it’s over?

We talk about the Cincinnati Reds — for better or for worse — every single week on RNR. Join us for free by subscribing everywhere you find dangerous podcasts. Or any other podcast, really. And you can support the podcast here.

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