Innocence is just a polite way to call someone stupid. And a lot of what a certain type of sportswriter mythologizes about the innocence of sport isn't about transporting one back to the time when they were a boy, but more about how that man on tv did a thing that make the writer clap and hoot like The Judge's Idiot.
It'd be nice to call 2005's baseball (and 2005's Red Reporter) a more innocent time, but that would smell faintly ridiculous. The value of on-base percentage was hotly debated, and pitcher wins...not so much. Adam Dunn was a talisman but also some sort of vaguely catfish-scented philosopher's stone that made every player in the clubhouse turn into more-or-less Adam Dunn. We longed for the days of Elmer Dessens.
I was just about to go to college in the summer of 2005, and I wasn't on the right parts of the internet to find out about Red Reporter. My Reds fandom was (for one) stretched to the limit and (for two) happily fed by ESPN and RedsZone (the latter of which is some archaic message board that is improbably still around and more improbably I still recognize some of you from. Hi, no1marauder!).
Draft coverage was light those days, but I remembered Bruce being a big deal (before he was simply The Deal). For whatever reason, I remember being really high on ninth-round pick Milton Loo. Nabbed two rounds before Carlos (then Charles) Fisher and 20 spots before Russ Haltiwanger, the Hawaiian shortstop was picked by the Reds in the 17th round the year before, and after a year in JC he moved up 8 rounds.
Admittedly old for rookie ball at 20, the 6'1 shortstop had all of 46 PAs...in which he went .372/.413/.581 on a team that included a young Juan Francisco, a well-named Javier Rumbos, and a rehabbing Chris Gruler. I went to college with the future on my mind.
To say Loo never panned out is to miss the point. Loo never wanted to pan out. Loo saw what the baseball life was: the arduous trips, the distance from home, the infinitesimal shot at making it and the violent hatred that ensues if you do. Loo saw that, then looked at Hawaii, then back at baseball and went: "Nah."
I didn't know what I wanted to do at Loo's age. Or to be more exact, I knew what I wanted to do and was wrong in the way only innocence can make someone: not that they came to the wrong conclusion, but that the very question and the worldview from which it bubbled was wildly and fantastically dumb.
But in between my steps towards that (dumb: wildly and fantastically so) dream, I found Red Reporter, learned when to be funny and how to be interesting, and looked at what made the conversation tick. I dipped my toes in carefully, said some awfully stupid things, but eventually realized that this part of the internet was a very, very, good thing.
Folks here complemented me about my writing, and I eventually (perhaps belatedly) thought that maybe writing was a thing I could do. I liked to make people smile, chuckle, and simply feel. After a long time frustrated that I couldn't convey my emotions, I learned on RR how to get people to know how it felt to be in a certain place at a certain time, how this moment it happened and what moments came next.
It's a bit like being a shortstop, maybe. Reading tendencies, knowing who's around you, and knowing when to trust them. It's a fun challenge and one a whole lot healthier (not to say more productive) than the sorts of challenges I was looking at 10 years ago. I wouldn't have them, my life, or my sense of being a productive person who ought to wake up the next day had it not been for RR. In the real dark days, I still had to tell jokes dammit. I had a ballclub to watch.
Those dark days of glittery emotion are pretty much gone, and there's not much more the Reds could put me through that I wouldn't know how to deal with. I wonder maybe a bit too often if I shouldn't have learned something from Milton Loo and stepped out while I had the chance and avoided what at times has been a wreck.
But maybe the wreck I avoided was on the road not taken. Things are really good these days (except for the days they're not), and there are a million reasons that they could be worse. The way time works is that there's always more things to second-guess and always less time to do it in, but I have to think that things are working out.
That's in no small part thanks to Red Reporter. And in no large part thanks to folks like Milton Loo, making me wonder if the prize is worth it if you're lonely when walking towards it.