I may not have made it clear before, but a trip to GABP is a rare pilgrimage indeed for me.
My story of Reds fandom is not a linear one. My parents met in the 1970's when they were students at University of Cincinnati. 10+ years later, I was born in South Bend, Indiana. Although the Silver Hawks were a White Sox Affiliate at the time, no number of low A league games would impress me. Road trips to the grandparents' house in the Cincy suburbs would. Even after we moved to Chicago and I only got to see the Reds 2-3 times at Wrigley a year, it was always imprinted on me, "Son, don't root for the Cubs." This has led to many life decisions. In 1998 the "Cubs = Bad" imprint left me rooting for Mark McGwire and made me the subject of plenty derision. My high school love became my high school love because she lived on the South Side. When everyone else was cooing for the Wild Card Cubs, she couldn't care less. The fact that she couldn't care less about my heart was only secondary.
The first trip I took to Riverfront was 1996. My father bought me a Reggie Sanders jersey before the doubleheader, and as we came to the stadium, an usher ran up to me. "Quick!" he said, "We can't start the game until you get into right field!"
I was allowed on the astroturf, pet Schottzie, and touched Bret Boone's bat that he hit a home run with later that day. Eating Graeter's in the car ride back to Chicago sealed the deal, I was now a Reds fan.
It wasn't until I went off to college, with my sisters in New York and my parents recently moved to Cleveland, that I recently understood what being a Reds fan meant to me. It meant a forced nostalgia. Being a Reds fan was playing the 1995 APBA set with my father, flaunting the untouchable Mike Jackson in relief, and then staying up all night playing by myself the day he let me into the basement to see his 1975 set. It was his awe of Joe Morgan that became my misplaced awe for Bret Boone and my ill-advised decision to put a picture of Pokey Reese on the front cover of my 8th grade autobiography. It was driving to St. Louis in August 2009 talking to my father about Brandon Phillips' smile and his on base percentage.
The summer of 2010 will always be a melancholy one for me. My father passed away suddenly in February, his father; the September before. Unable to concentrate in school or handle the responsibility of being the damn paterfamilias, I decided to leave St. Louis and try my luck in Istanbul. And the luck did come. I was able to chase my dream of being a journalist, I got an apartment with a balcony in Arnavutkoy, and I was able to tune into day games - 7 hours ahead - to watch our Reds inch closer and closer to the playoffs. I stayed up to watch Bruce's clinching bomb and was up through the night to see the playoff games, coming to work each day just a bit grumpier than the one two days before. On the morning of October 11 I was morose as all, realizing that I just went through the best summer of my life and had nobody to share it with. It is then when I owe you all the greatest appreciation I can muster.
When I came back to this great country of ours, I had missed Spring Training and the birth of my niece. But I didn't feel home when I landed in New York, even when I was bottle-feeding the youngest of the Schoureks. Having moved around so much and having to return to some exurban hell of Cleveland, I didn't know where to turn to find geographical comfort. It is then when I had that Castellini-forged Power of Tradition to thank.
I caught a Bats-Clippers game with 3 Fast and Charlie Scrabbles the night of the 20th and drove through Columbus to rest my head in Newport that night. For those that are curious, the Newport Travelodge is the cheapest hotel in the area, and if you stay there for a night, they'll allow you to keep your car there and take the Purple People Mover to Great American.
Waking up early, I took my very first interstate run, through the park east of the Purple People Mover (all concrete? Really? Do parkitects realize what that does to a man's knees?) then hooking around, crossing the Roebling. Every time we'd visit my sisters in New York, my father would mention the Roebling, and how its the "truer" version of the Brooklyn Bridge, for whatever that means. Crossing the bridges, I finally felt home. I don't know East Side from West Side, I don't care Gold Star from Skyline, but looking down the Ohio, I feel like I belong. Wandering around Great American Ballpark, I know that I'll be taking my son on these pilgrimages, telling him about Joey Votto's stoicism and Brandon Phillips' megawattage. I'll belt out Bloodbuzz, Ohio on a rainy day while driving across southern Indiana, and I'll tell him about his great-grandfather, who was a paratrooper in World War II and used his GI Bill to get out of the Bronx. I'll tell him about his grandfather, who got one job offer out of school, in Canton, and worked 60 hour weeks to send his 3 kids to college and allow me to be mediocre at a myriad of white-collar sports.
It is very easy to mock the George Wills and Paul Daughertys who use baseball to enforce their sepia view of an antiseptic America. And I'll mock along with them. But stepping into the ballpark on a sunny day, watching Joey Votto crack one of those home runs that seems to want to join a flock of wrens before it decides to obey gravity, and helping a precocious child understand how to score a game, even knowing he'll never play APBA? The tropes have become our catechism, and I will embrace them with the nostalgia and credulity they demand, even as I explain OPS to a dude in white glasses and a jersey personalized with TOAD as he shoves a meat-lovers dog down his gullet.
But to the players? For them it's just another day in the park. Here's my view on what they experience.
On the way to the game, I followed obc's and The Finest Muffins' advice and went to Paula's Cafe. Great chicken salad, not so much tuna salad. Next door is the Dixie Terminal, which I never knew existed but is truly quite pretty.
I've lost most of my notes I took at the game, unfortunately. I can tell you that the Fan Store is great fun just walking around. You, too, can get a Paul Janish t-shirt! I was considering shop-lifting the Leake shirts just for irony's sake (and with that I hope I've put the final nail in the coffin at the "Mike Leake stole something" joke).
Also, I should've bought the Cueto jersey and shown up at the Busch Stadium game wearing soccer cleats. Oh well.
Finally arriving in the park, I was able to catch Sam LeCure signing autographs for the kids. He does look awfully like Josh Brolin, you all are right. And of course he's doing the whole goofy Baseball-mitt-on-head thing. Of course.
Before the game started I was able to snap a picture of the beautiful Roebling Bridge...
...and a rather sparse Great American.
I bought Sun Deck tickets and ended up in the 7th row on the third base side. They were probably some of the best seats I ever had. I wasn't able to wrangle my way into the eating section -MBP mentioned with the fancy beers, but I did get myself a Moerlein Helles for $8.50, which was actually a quite decent beer.
I caught a Businessperson's Special, which was nice for what it was. I heard a few groups of exchange students speaking Spanish and German, which was interesting. And the pregame video that stretches from 1869 to the Larkin Years was very well-done. The Reds have really impressed me recently with the professionalism they bring to their marketing.
The Big Red Machine Mural is kind of goofy, but I think that the Red Stockings one is sufficiently intimidating and awe-inspiring.
I would very much approve of the Reds wearing cadet-button jerseys one day with that "C" on front. I may even have to buy one if they do that...
As for the game itself, it was a solid affair. Mikey Rocks was solid through 7 with 6 K, 2 BB, and a little bit of gold and a pager.
Once the Reds got out to a healthy lead, it was stolid. Danny Hudson didn't look sharp, Juan Miranda may give Betancourt a run for the worst player in the league, and Miguel Cairo's sex was indeed on fire, going 1-3 with 2 RBI. It was a nice, solid, easy, win. Oh, and the Reds' batboy looks like he has to be about 17. Gomes' choice of Paradise City may be one of the most inevitable at-bat music decisions I've heard, and Joey Votto may just do enough to make me be OK with Linkin Park.
Like going to church on a Sunday morning or getting your prayer mat pointed at Mecca 5 times, a trip to Great American was the spiritual tonic I desired. Cincinnati is home, even if I know nothing about its inner workings. The ballpark is an idolotrous shrine that allows us to give homage to our ancestors while celebrating the present day. It welcomes our children and gives them role models. Of course, some choose bad role models. This man chose...poorly:
It sounds a bit strange, I realize. I've been on the run since I was 18, looking for the perfect situation to get in to, the perfect job, the perfect city, the perfect everything. I'm still young, sure, but I haven't found it. But I've also found nothing else to keep me from searching. "Family," as Zack Braff intones over a The Shins soundtrack in Garden State, "is a group of people who miss the same imaginary place." If this movie came out when you were 17, it would hit you like a ton of bricks too. Because my point is, 1975 ain't coming back, 1990 ain't coming back, and even the odds of 2010 happening again rest largely on a shoulder of Scott Rolen.
I never liked the concept of "Red Sox Nation" or "Cardinals Nation" - not only does it have vaguely fascist undertones, but it cruelly mocks the disparity of a group of sports fans. We here at this corner of the internet disagree on politics, on hamburgers, and on who should be starting at shortstop. We spread across the 50 states, and a Johnny Bench handful of countries. We are no tribe of bloodthirsty heathens, no matter how much #groupthink occurs here. It's why I find the "Reds Country" moniker far more palatable. We don't always like each other, we don't ever agree with each other, but we're all in locked arms surrounding a beating heart of green grass on the north bank of the Ohio River. It's this geographical balance, this homing beacon that sits on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone, that I share with you and I was able to visit last Thursday. And I thank you all for letting me do that.