I went to four different stores before I found the latest SI with Joey Votto on the cover. It made me realize that something has fundamentally changed: that the Reds, who have always been my favorite team, are important to me again, important enough that I would go out of my way to find the magazine.
Baseball became a real thing for me in 1987 with a pack of Topps and a Pete Rose card. Baseball became an everlasting memory for me when I watched Todd Benzinger catch the final out of a phenomenal 1990 season. And baseball had become a continual aching for me during the seasons that followed. And today, baseball returned to a place of prominence that a winning, exciting team deserves.
I held my Joey Votto SI like I used to hold brand new comic books, not wanting to crease it. I read the article but held the magazine by the edges, lightly on my fingertips. The last SI issue I bought? October 29, 1990: Chris Sabo and Red October. I still have it. And after that we still had Barry, for awhile, and then the return of the Kid! To be a Reds fan meant an easy answer to the favorite player question, even if our seasons were lost by August. When I met Bobby Valentine in Japan, the first thing I said to him was how he beat my Reds in 1999. He remembered the game, but it obviously wasn't as important to him as it was to me.
Don't get me wrong, I was a Reds fan during the lean years as much as the good ones. But the excitement wasn't there, the incessant need to check the scores, to see if there isn't some bit of news about the latest call-up, maybe even a trade! There was a fear that this was another false start, another "Austin Kearns is the next big thing and will change the face of Cincinnati baseball forever" moment. But it isn't.
West coast road trips at the end of August? 2006's 2-8 defined them. Not anymore. There's something infinitely satisfying about saying "the Reds salvaged a 6-3 road trip by pulling out a crazy win over the Giants." 6-3! This is for real, even if it isn't 1990, because this is the beginning.
On my desk at work, I've got a baseball autographed by Pete Rose and the special edition Maker's Mark with Johnny Bench on the label. And now I'll have a framed SI with Joey Votto on the cover. The Reds are back, and so am I.