Under the Blankets with Marty and Joe

Confession time. I stalk Marty Brenneman’s wife on Facebook.

For those of you who don’t know, Marty Brenneman is the long-time radio announcer for the Cinicinnati Reds. If you say, “And This One Belongs to the Reds” to anyone in Cincinnati, they’ll smile and tell you about their experiences listening to Reds games with Marty and Joe Nuxhall calling the games. It’s part of the Queen City’s milieu. It’s who we are as a People.

So, like I said, I stalk his wife on Facebook. It’s not intentional or anything, though. A friend of mine posted a video she made where Marty shared some of this thoughts on the recent trade where the Reds sent Homer Bailey’s contract to Los Angeles and got a pretty nice haul back in return. I didn’t want to send a friend request to her because I don’t know her, so I followed her posts instead, hoping this video series of a regular THING(tm). It wasn’t a Thing(tm), though. She mostly just posts daily goings-on and pics of them doing normal family things. Normal, boring Facebook crap.

I should have unfollowed, but I’m lazy. It’s one of my character strengths. So I left things as they were and watched, recently as the Brenneman’s took a vacation to Florida.

“Oooh!” I thought to myself. “I wonder if they’ll come to Disney!”

“Shut up,” I said to myself. “They’re not the Disney type. Besides, what are you gonna do, fanboy all over them on vacation? a 42 year old man stalking his childhood idol on social media just RANDOMLY showing up at the parks and RANDOMLY saying ‘Boy, isn’t it amazing we both ended up here at the same time?”

“That wouldn’t be weird at all,” I said to myself, unsure which version of myself said that or what the real meaning behind the words were.

So I watched as they traveled to different Florida locales, made some notes about places we may just visit one day, and kept my thoghts to myself.

Until.

Earlier this week, Mrs. Marty posted a picture of the two of them shopping at Disney Springs. They were sitting at the ice cream shop, enjoying a malt in the far-too-hot-for January Florida warmth. That’s right across the street from my office, y’all. I could have walked there in five minutes. I could have been there in TEN minutes if I ran.

My boyhood – the one not named “Johnny Bench” – was eating ice cream right across the street from my office, and I could not decide whether it would have been appropriate for me to run over there (covered in sweat #BecauseFlorida) and interrupt their vacation long enough for me to get a selfie and make him sign the notes from my most decent analytics development meeting (or whatever).

Jeston, my Jamaican office mate, chimed in. “You should go,” he said. “If it were Usain Bolt, he’d want me to be there. He’d welcome me like a brother and we’d sing Bob Marley tunes all afternoon.”

“Jamaicans are weird,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Which is why we have more fun than you white folks.”

“True.”

I ultimately decided not to go. I already have an autographed ball and a few cards, I told myself. No need to make a fool of myself in front of them. No need to interrupt their vacation.

I haven’t stopped stalking Marty’s wife, though. What if they come back?

In my effort to resurrect some of my past favorite articles from Redlegnation.com, here’s something I wrote about Marty and Joe. I hope you enjoy…

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

Every night, as a kid, I listened to the Reds on 700 WLW. Every night. Without fail.

Some nights, particularly those when the Reds played teams on the west coast, my parents would tell me to go to bed round about the sixth or seventh inning, just as things were getting good.

“Awww, Mom! Come on! Eric Davis is up first next inning. Cant I just stay up till then?”

“No. Bedtime. Get upstairs.”

It was all a ruse, of course. I found an abandoned radio in a parking lot down the hill from my house when I was probably too young to be hanging out in old parking lots by myself. All I had to do was clean it up and plug it in, and Marty and Joe would talk me through the remainder of the games my parents insisted I miss, provided I kept the lights out and the volume dialed low enough. The argument and the subsequent sulking was enough to throw them off my scent.

Or so I believed.

My bedroom was a shrine to the Reds back then. Poster boards with crudely-drawn baseball diamonds covered the walls with a baseball card for each Reds player affixed to the requisite position for each season from 1983 €œ 1990, with two extras for the Big Red Machine World Series teams in 1975 and 1976. I had a poster board with the flier from Johnny Bench day at Riverfront his last year; a collection of the little reds helmets in which they used to serve ice cream at Reds games, and a ball I had stolen from my friend, Sean Hinken. The rumor was: Dave Parker his ownself hit the ball into the outfield red seats during batting practice, all of this at Sean’s request. Was that the truth? I don’t know. Sean had a way of exaggerating words enough to make you suspect he was fibbing. But you never really knew for sure.

I’d curl into a ball on my bed beneath the covers, with the radio tuned to 700, listening as Marty and Joe called the games, spun stories about years past, and took calls on the banana phone during rain delays.

This one day, when the Reds were out west playing the Dodgers, they took it to extra innings and Dave Parker came up to bat in the bottom of the umpteenth inning with two out and one on. You could FEEL the tension through Marty’s voice as he called each pitch. On a 2-2 count, Parker hit a line shot over the right field wall to win the game and I exploded from my bed, out into the hallway, waking everyone up in the process.

“This One Belongs To The Reds!” I shouted, right along with Marty. It was well past 2:00 A.M. at that point, but I didn’t care. I was grounded for two weeks after that. No friends. No tv. Lots of chores.

My parents didn’t take away my radio, though. They knew better than to do that.

As much as we like to argue about the efficacy of one player over another or a managerial decision that makes no sense to us (Bob Boone’s double switches from the early ’00s come to mind), as much as we tout the memories of Jay Bruce’s homerun in 2010, Petes hit, Tom Brownings perfect game, or even True Creatures near-perfect game, nothing has been more quintessentially “Reds” for the better part of the last 40 years than Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall sharing their thoughts and their passions about everyone’s favorite team nearly every night every summer, day after week after month after year.

I was at work when Joe Nuxhall passed away. I sat down in my cube, opened up a news site to see what had happened overnight, and there it was, the headline “Longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster dies right next to an ad for mattresses and a story about rising interest rates. Id heard he was sick, but I didnt realize HOW sick. All those late nights, curled up underneath my blankets, listening as the Reds fought bravely to secure a victory so we call celebrate with Martys signature phrase came flooding back. Marty and Joe had always been there, would ALWAYS be there, and the realization that it was over, that things would change and somehow lessen, was almost too much to bear.

I had to walk outside for a few minutes.

I still listen when I can. I don’t have any special internet or Sirius packages, but I can catch a signal all the way down here in Florida most nights. If the weather is clear. Marty hasn’t been the same since the ‘Ol Lefthander finally made it home after rounding third all those years. Hes still top notch. Hes still one of the greats, but there’s a certain JOY missing from the games. Still, there’s something special about hearing him call the lineups, hearing him share his stories, hoping we get to hear another Reds victory.

Marty Brennaman is Marty Brennaman, and everything else is just radio.

Marty hasn’t decided to hang it up yet, as far as I know. But it cant be too much longer. Five years? Ten? Who knows? And where will we be then? I like the Cowboy, and I think Thom Brenneman does a fine job. He sounds like his father, but he isnt the same; just like Marty hasn’t been the same without Joe.

Sooner than most of us would like to admit, Marty will no longer be the voice of the Cincinnati Reds, and with him will pass the longest era in Reds history and one of the longest in professional sports. Our hometown team has something special in Marty. He might be a bit curmudgeonly, and he might cross lines many of us with our modern sensibilities might not like, but he’s still special.

So as this next Reds season starts to ramp up, make sure to take a few moments – whether on the back porch with your favorite drink, or underneath your covers in your bedroom -to enjoy the magic a few more times.

Because once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Empty Fields

It was a simple field. The path to it ran past my grandmother’s house, through a set of bushes and into a circular clearing behind. First base was a tree stump. Second was a raised patch of earth that kicked up dust whenever someone ran over it with a lawnmower.

We used an old glove, one we found lying underneath a rock next to a stream in the woods behind my house, for third. Home was ditch that wore thin the first couple years, then gave up on growing anything thereafter, because when you played ball as often as we did – day after week after month after year; without ceasing, even in the cold months – it tends to leave a mark.

Childhood is more powerful than Mother Nature in some ways, which is probably why it wears out quickly, and leaves such a lasting impression.

We shared a lot of great moments on that field. There were countless home runs, stolen bases, and arguments about how many ghost men were on when one of us hit the ball over the fence in right field and into Mrs. Bradenton’s back yard. We got there early and stayed all day. My Grandma made us peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. She wrote your name into the peanut butter with her finger nail so you knew THIS one was all yours.

Grandmas are good at that, aren’t they?

There was the time Sean Hinken learned to hold a pitch just so, making the ball dance like he held it on a string. Sean threw three no-hitters in a row that day, breaking Johnny Vander Meer‘s impossible-to-break streak of two. There was the time the Paoletti twins, Josh and Jeff, both chased a ball into the thicket in center field. They emerged two seconds later, a cloud of bees in their wake. And there was the time I flattened Adam Hester on a close play at home, rolling over his leg, nearly breaking it.

“Dang it, Joe! Time to lay off the Twinkies, ya think?”

Only he didn’t say, “Dang it.” Back then, we explored profanity like many of us would later explore cheap beer and frantic make-out sessions with girls. Sloppy and inartful, but electric nonetheless.

How long has it been, now? Twenty-Five years? Thirty? Some days it seems like another lifetime, and on others the memories are so close I could reach out and touch them.

You could play a game anywhere. All you needed was a bat and a ball, and few kids you might not know and would never see again. That, and a field, of course. Back then, everyone had a field. We ran games in back yards, parking lots, abandoned fields, and remote, wooded clearings.

We played little league, sure, but the Real games took place after practice, after school, away from the watchful eyes of rule keepers and score trackers. We argued over calls, close plays, and who got to be Pete Rose or Johnny Bench, knowing full well each of us planned to mimic our heroes when it was our turn to hit, regardless of who had dibs.

Nobody knew how long we’d been playing and nobody cared. There was only the game, your friends, and the desire to keep moving forward for just a few more innings before the street lights came on and everyone had to go home.

We knew our time was limited. We knew we’d grow up one day, move on, and leave these long, lazy days in the fields of our youth behind. But we also had a sense that this game we loved and these fields on which we played would pass onto the next generation. And the one after that.

Now, when I drive past the fields I played on as a kid, I don’t see baseball. I see soccer, and sometimes I see housing developments. More often than not, I see empty fields. The well-worn patches of our youth have grown over and healed, Mother Nature outlasting the same way she outlasts everyone.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because my eyesight has worsened and my knees creak when i walk. Or maybe its because even if I close my eyes tight and look to the sky I still can barely remember what it feels like to hit a ball and know, just by touch, it would sail over Mrs. Bradenton’s fence. Maybe it’s because Winter is upon us, the kids are in school, and the baseball season is over, but I wonder whether this game we all loved will indeed pass on, even to just the next generation.

Baseball will be around for a while, but will it be the same? Will it still be as good? All those empty fields make me wonder.

Next season, when the weather starts to warm, I’ll go out for a walk. I’ll find a clearing or a parking lot or an abandoned field with a few worn patches. I listen long and hard for the voices of children, kids who don’t care that the sun has set, kids who just want to get in a few more innings before the sun sets, screaming with delight: “Ghost man on second. My turn to hit. Throw me your best and watch me hit that (stuff) into the woods.”

Maybe then I’ll smile.

Baseball, Forgiveness, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches

“Life is hard,” my Grandma would tell me. “Eventually someone will hurt you. When that happens, you get to decide: fight back, or forgive. It’s up to you. What will you do?”

As a kid, I played baseball in the field behind my Grandma’s house. We played every day, all day, and each day for lunch, my Grandma made us her world-famous peanut butter sandwiches. These were beautiful: a single piece of toast with a thin layer of peanut butter spread on top. That’s simple enough, but what made them special was she wrote your name into the peanut butter so you knew THIS one was yours.

Read the rest at Redleg Nation.

Rituals

This time of year is always tough. Football season is ramping up, the weather has hinted that it might start to cool off a bit here soon, and the kids have gone back to school. Even those of you who are not either a student or a parent have, at the very least, spent a long commute caught in the sloth-like wake of a school bus, wondering why we haven’t developed flying cars be now.

The answer: because your stupid teenagers would drive those flying cars, crashing into each other, killing thousands. Then where would we be?

There’s lots to distract us from our favorite pastime. Heck, I’ve even given up on Fantasy Baseball. My team, the Florida Dumpster Fire, has descended into last place, breaking decades-long records for ineptitude in our keeper league. It’s easy, in seasons like this, where the impossibility of a postseason was a foregone conclusion before the Findlay Market Parade took its first steps on Opening Day. Back then, we thought anything might happen. Now, we know that nothing has and nothing will. How do we keep things relevant?

Read the rest over at Redlegnation

Ron Robinson and the Near-Perfect Game

I have a lot of good Reds memories. Most of us do, I guess.

I remember sitting on the floor in my living room, watching Eric Show give up THE HIT to Pete Rose. The REAL hit came a few days earlier in Chicago, but nobody knew it then and we celebrated like we’d won the lottery. I screamed so loud, our pet beagle, Murphy, had to leave his customary spot in the sun next to the door to get away from all the noise.

I was in attendance on Johnny Bench day in the early ‘80s when Bench hung up his spikes. The game was humdrum, but they gave a Johnny Bench handout at the gates to the first X-thousand guests. I still remember how it looked, sitting in the corner of my room next to the door. No amount of music posters, Chicago Bulls memorabilia from the ‘90s MJ teams, or hastily built bookshelves could supplant it from that place of honor. I kept that handout stapled to my wall until I graduated high school and THEN I kept it with my baseball cards. I lost both it and the baseball cards when my parent’s basement flooded in 1998. So it goes. Bench was always my favorite player. I wore my baseball cap backwards from birth in deference to him. I still do, even though I’m nearly 40 and I look weird when I do it. It just feels wrong to wear it right.

Read the rest at Redleg Nation.

What if DAS PLAN isn’t working?

Ever since we started this most recent rebuild, the Reds have told us to BE CALM and DON’T WORRY, because (and repeat this with me now) “There is a plan.” This plan allegedly includes graphs and charts and other implements of destruction printed up on glossy paper in an official binder somewhere in Great American Ballpark.

Billy Hatcher and Jose Rijo stand guard over the plan when the Reds are out of town. They drink espresso and reminisce about the 1990 team. Or so I hear.

Read the rest at Redleg Nation.

The Battle of Futility: Reds v Astros

The good folks at Redlegnation have me writing the game previews for the Reds’ series against the Houston Astros this weekend. I’m hip-deep in Toastmasters work this weekend, plus we have to get that garage cleaned out at the homeplace at some point. But … Baseball!

Follow along all weekend and see if you can spot when my brain finally goes off the rails!

Phoning It In – Reds v Astros, June 19, 2016

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? We got to see Cody Reed pitch, finally. Adam Duvall hit a home run and struck out. The Reds lost in extra innings. And all was right with the world.

The Cody Reed Show – Reds v Astros, June 18, 2016

There will be a baseball game this afternoon. Someone – either the Cincinnati Reds (27-41) or the Houston Astros (32-36) – will win. Afterward, someone on this site will give stellar insight and analysis of the game. Other sites will do their same, tired shtick. But the real news today, of course, is the major-league debut of top Reds pitching prospect Cody Reed, who is #60 overall, and #3 in the Reds system.

The Battle of Futility Begins Anew: Reds v Astros, June 17, 2016

Remember the good ol days when the (dis)Astros were in the NL Central and everyone enjoying taking their turn, beating the snot out of them? Those were the good old days, weren’t they? #Sigh

The Records Fall: Ichiro eclipses Pete

Sometime this week, or maybe the next, Ichiro Suzuki of the Miami Marlins will break Pete Rose’s hallowed record for most career hits.

Before you get excited, there are caveats to that, of course. Ichiro only breaks the record if you include the 1278 he got while playing in Japan. And, if you’re going to do that, you might as well include Pete’s 400-500 hits from minor league teams. But if you’re going to do THAT, you have to take into account that the Japanese league plays significantly fewer games than the US each season. But then … and then …

I get it. This isn’t a debate about who holds the record. Rather, it’s a conversation about records in general.

Most Reds fans who were alive at the time, know where they were when Pete broke the record. We remember it like it was yesterday.

Read the rest at Redlegnation.

Dust-Busting: Reds v Nationals

The good folks at Redlegnation have me writing the game previews for the Reds’ series against the Washington Nationals this weekend. It’s Dusty Baker’s return to Great American Ballpark. Either that or its the Reds going to whatever they call that stadium out in DC. I don’t know. I have four, small children and a full time job. Ain’t nobody got TIME to know those things. All I know is the way the Reds have been competing lately, it makes me wish the old Dust-meister were still here. This, of course, means I’ve gone completely insane!

Sweeping the Dust Away- Reds v Nationals, June 5, 2016

Baseball is fun when the hometown wins, and it is especially fun when you beat the first place team in another division. The Reds won yesterday on the strength of Adam Duvall’s 15th homer. Now, in the midst of a four game winning streak, your Cincinnati Reds (21-35) break out the brooms for the series sweep against the Washington Generals (33-23) today at Great American Ballpark.

#BelievelandSouth – Reds v Nationals, June 4, 2016

Just like I said in yesterday’s pre-cap, the Mighty Migty Redlegs (20-35) rolled the Washington Gnats (33-22) to take their winning streak to THREE WHOLE GAMES, and notched another victory toward their inevitable domination of the NL Central, the National League, the World Series, and even the entire sports world. They will dominate in a way similar to how the Cleveland Cavaliers will dominate this evening. #BelieveLandSouth.

I Feel Good! Reds v Nationals, June 3, 2016

Would ya look at that? The Cincinnati Reds (19-35), having won 3 of the last 4 games against the offensive juggernaut known as the Colorado Rockies, return home to face the Washington Nationals (33-21) for a three-game weekend series. Three out of four in a row for series victory. #Awesometastic! The Reds haven’t done that since Woodrow Wilson was president (or something like that). They keep this up (and you just KNOW they will, right?), they’ll finish the season with 100 victories and will storm their way through the playoffs to an eventual World Series victory!

Hey. Let’s Keep Adam Duvall

One of the bright spots on the Reds trava-sham-mockery of a season thus far has been the Dave Kingman esque emergence of Adam Duvall, who occasionally hits homeruns to mask the fact that he strikes out more than a horny physicist at a bikini convention. Homeruns are cool, though. And, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine once said, chicks dig the longball. So let’s keep him.

Playing GM for a major sports franchise is a fun thing to do. That’s part of why so many of us do Fantasy Sports. Unfortunately, for many of us, there is a huge difference between making fantasy trades online and actually running a major sports organization.

Which is a good thing, because I’m getting killed in my fantasy baseball league. Sure, the guy winning the league has a masters degree in statistics and is an athletic director for a large school district in northern Ohio. But I’m an Analytics Manager for an international, entertainment company. I really should do better than 8th out of 10.

I’m kind of embarrassed about it. I hope nobody finds out.

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