Monday, August 18, 2008

Off Day Sentimental Drivel

Memory is a funny thing. The whole material world disappears and in its place is this dreamlike state of how things supposedly were. Sometimes it replaces reality.

When July transforms itself from the excitement of early summer when your team is still in the race into the sweat drenched days of the season's inferno, for some reason, memories of Riverfront Stadium are strongest in my heart.

I'd do anything short of a Faustian contract to watch a Reds game in that stadium, if only to strengthen and reinforce my fading memories of that place. Yet a Faustian contract or another otherworldly means is what it would take to experience the pleasure of another summer at Riverfront, where the onfield temperatures reached 120 degrees atop the astroturf on concrete. Riverfront is dead. Long live Riverfront!

Try as I might, I struggle to recall particular moments in that stadium. There was the time I won the celebrity bat girl contest and got to go on the field for batting practice - that was before America rewrote the Ten Commandments to include "Thou shalt sue thy neighbor." The onfield experience is pretty vivid, but I couldn't tell you who won that game.

Another particular memory was the game when the infield consisted of two Boones and two Larkins. That little faulty camera in my mind still has a snapshot of the infield for the first pitch of that game, a late September contest between a Reds team long out of contention and another team I don't recall.

You know what's funny? I don't have a single memory of Ken Griffey, Jr. playing at Riverfront, not on the field, not at bat, not even on the scoreboard. This is probably because I spent most of 2000-2002 in Ireland, South Carolina, California, and Texas, though I did get back for a few games each season.

I didn't go to a single game in 1998 or that ill-fated 1999 season. If I had known they'd steal my childhood playground from me, I would have put the strike hurt aside and gone anyway. I had attended only a handful of games during 1995-1997, and interest just died off after that.

Ken Griffey, Jr. brought it back.

I cried when the strike murdered the 1994 season. I cried a bit as I watched the Riverfront implosion. I cried a bit when I realized Cincinnati Red Ken Griffey, Jr. was not the same guy as Seattle Ken Griffey, Jr. I cried a bit in 2004 when we had five All-Stars and a cover of Sports Illustrated then descended into the oblivion of the lower division. I cried a bit after that West Coast trip in 2006 which destroyed our chances at October. I think I cried a bit when Austin Kearns was traded, more because he'd never fulfilled the high hopes we'd had for him.

Who says there's no crying in baseball?

Crying, of course, is a relative term. Yes, I bawled like a baby when the strike happened, but the other times were just welled tears. The strike had canceled the season like a bad television show. But it was a good show! The Reds were one of the best teams in baseball! I was a senior in high school when it happened - it may have been the first time in my life the real world let me down.

It was not the last time.

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