Nearing the End (18 Game Capsule #8)

Do you know the exact moment you became a Reds fan? I do. It was April 14, 1947, nearly 30 years before I was born. A teenage boy, with a group of friends, camped out overnight at Crosley Field for the right to be the first to buy Opening Day tickets. The local newspaper was sure to memorialize the occasion, printing pictures and a small story celebrating the group's fanaticism. Three decades later, the boy became a grandfather. I am his grandson.

Not too long ago, I got to see the newspaper clipping for the first time. I had heard the camping-out story once or twice before, but what caught my eye in the yellowed scrapbook was the game story, recounting the day's starting lineups. The visitors were the St. Louis Cardinals, fresh off a World's Championship victory. The home team had struggled through the early post-war years, and finished 1946 twenty games below .500. If you've had any type of exposure to baseball history, I am confident that one Opening Day lineup will stand out more than the other (advance apologies for any formatting issues):

Red Schoendienst, 2B Frank Baumholtz, RF

Harry Walker, CF Bobby Adams, 2B

Stan Musial, 1B Grady Hatton, 3B

Enos Slaughter, RF Clyde Vollmer, CF

Whitey Kurowski, 3B Augie Galan, LF

Dick Sisler, LF Ray Lamanno, C

Marty Marion, SS Bert Haas, 1B

Joe Garagiola, C Eddie Miller, SS

Howie Pollet, P Ewell Blackwell, P

I consider myself reasonably well versed in Reds history, yet I don't recognize 3 or 4 of the names on the right hand side. The point is this: to attend the mismatched game is one thing. To sleep on the sidewalk to do it is altogether another. That's the kind of dedication that gets inherited. And so, it's the night I became a fan.

By the way, one of my favorite things about the game is the way it tends to confound the wise. The Reds won the game, 3-1.

Thirty autumns later, my mom rested in a hospital bed, recovering from her first childbirth. I was, presumably, resting from the experience as well, when Grandma and Grandpa came to visit for the first time. All was deemed to be right with the world, save for one very important detail. There was no TV in the room, and Game 1 of the '76 series was looming later that night. Grandpa rectified the injustice. Mom was likely looking forward to a night sans baseball, but her objections were either kept silent or were overruled. Through DNA I was already a fan; my fanhood was now being reinforced. And the Reds won that game too, don't ‘ya know.

Most of my childhood, I lived many miles from my first hometown, so I got to know Grandpa through summer vacation visits, infrequent phone calls, and care packages usually stuffed with clipped articles from the Enquirer about the Reds. Some things I never grew to understand, such as his eccentric collection of baseball cards depicting managers, or his counting of Paul Householder as a favorite player. Others I grasped instinctually, namely the love of his part-time role as an umpire--a hobby which he maintained well into his 70s.

This story is already a bit out of place on a blog like this, so let's cut to the punchline. Grandpa was put in a convalescent home last week. He can't remember much and is completely unaware of the cancer aggressively attacking his body. I use this place as an outlet to write stuff I want to write about, so here we are. I'll do my best to avoid the trite and sappy clichés that baseball and family can sometimes elicit. Real life deserves better than that.

As my grandfather has slipped into the earthly purgatory which is dementia, I struggle with how to think of him. Is he really still there or not? I visited in 2010, and he asked how school was going, unable to reconcile the decade-plus since I last sat in a classroom. This year while in town, I was just a stranger who happened to walk through his living room now and again.

Unburdened with the daily care-giving tasks, I disengage, preferring to remember him as he used to live. And understand, there are no calls for sympathy here. Grandpa has lived long and well and my memories are fond ones. But I am struck by the cruel ironies of old age. The man who, as a school administrator, dedicated his professional life to the strengthening and disciplining of young minds can no longer rely on his own. Fiercely independent and committed to a strong work ethic, and yet all but the simplest of tasks no longer belong to him. We will all face life's end on our own, but for many of us it'll be the only thing left we can still do ourselves.

One morning last week my dad checked my grandfather in to the nursing home, then later that day took himself to the ballpark, from where he called me after my son's favorite player hit the game-winning homer. It's a great game that can make such bittersweet and generation-connecting sentences possible. Grandpa, thanks for planting the seeds. We'll have a game of catch on the Other Side.

Life is fragile, memories are fleeting: Let's go Reds.

*******************************************************

2012 Reds, Capsule 8

(All stats, opinions, and buffoonery through Wednesday's games)

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 11 - 7

Strength of Schedule: .484 (15th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .487, 14th most difficult in NL; 28th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .514 (3rd best in NL; 9th best in ML)

[Prev: .516, 3rd best in NL; 7th best in ML]

Cool Standings postseason odds: 100% [Prev: 99.9%]

Cool Standings division odds: 97.4% [Prev: 93.3%]

Offense:

  • .251/.311/.390 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .256/.319/.401
  • The regulars, as defined by plate appearances: Hanigan, Frazier, Phillips, Cozart, Rolen, Ludwick, Stubbs, Bruce
  • Welcome back, Joey Votto: the power's not quite there yet (one XBH in 21 AB), but the eye never left (9 BB, .516 OBP)
  • The heavy lifter, as you know, for this period was Jay Boss: .266/.347/.672, 7 HR, 17 RBI
  • Honorable mention to new leadoff man Brandon Phillips: .329/.363/.553. In true leadoff fashion, BP was good for 4 dingers and 2 walks.
  • Speaking of, Phillips was the only player with more than one stolen base in this stretch (4), but as a team: 10 SB, 0 CS.
  • Power outages from Ludwick, Frazier, and Stubbs who combined for...zero home runs, 4 doubles and 1 triple. Ludwick, to his credit, hit enough singles to be semi-valuable. The others didn't.
  • Drew Stubbs, in fact, didn't have a single extra base hit or RBI and struck out in 21 of 51 plate appearances while posting a 305 OPS.
  • I'm still not convinced it's entirely sustainable (take a walk, Chris!), but Chris Heisey threw down a .333/.349/.619 period. This late in the season, the centerfield torch has probably been passed.
  • Dioneer Navarro needs just 8 extra base hits to catch Devin Mesoraco in that category for the season.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.24, against league average of 3.86.
  • The race for the #4 starter is over. Homer Bailey: 4 starts, 27.7 IP, 4 BB, 25 K, 3 HR, 2.92 ERA. Mike Leake: 4 starts, 22 IP, 4 BB, 13 K, 6 HR, 5.32 ERA.
  • Johnny Cueto has likely lost all chances at a 20 win season, by gorking two of his three starts. The 16-to-2 K/BB ratio is pretty, but a few too many balls fell in the gaps. He'll miss a start or two in prep for October.
  • Goodroyo, keep doing what you do (2-0, 1.89 ERA, .221 batting average against). I don't get it either, but who am I to argue?
  • You could tell that something was wrong with Aroldis Chapman, since he only struck out 7 batters in 5.7 innings. F'reals, better to have the tired arm now that 4 weeks from now. All pitchers have their ups and downs; Chapman's are a bit more noticeable since his ups are stratospheric.
  • Playing the part of A-Chap this stretch was Sam LeCure, who allowed just two hits (and 0 walks) over 7.7 IP, while fanning 8. Competition for the final couple bullpen slots is going to be very interesting.
  • Team DER bounced from .693 (YTD as of last period end) to .696.

The next 18:

  • 6 games at home, 12 on the road
  • 12 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 3 of the 18 against projected 2012 playoff teams
  • .480 average winning percentage (2012) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • Division clinching on...September 21.
  • Ugly lineups that no one will care about.
  • That said, it is intriguing that the Reds' final 12 games are against teams who are all in the wild card hunt. While this may make it rather difficult to catch the Nats for best record in the NL, there will be an option to "play favorites" in the name of resting the regulars for the postseason. Personally, I'd be rather fond of designating Sept. 28-30 (Pirates) as "rest weekend", and Oct. 1-3 (Cardinals) as the "tune up series".
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