This season has gone how most Reds fans expected. Still, that doesn’t make the losing any easier. My guess is most of you watched last night, and you put your head in your hands with each Kris Bryant home run. You cringed when the sounds of Cubs fans cheering at Great American came through loud and clear. There have been times over the course of this season that I’ve wondered, “Why am I doing this to myself? Why do I care so much about a bad baseball team?”
Maybe you’ve wondered that yourself. On Thursday night I attended my first Reds home game of the season. Little did I know that I was about to get the answer to my question. I was about to find why sometimes I’m so thankful for a bad baseball team.
This was a trip I had been planning for months. I grew up around Lexington, and I’ve stayed in touch with my closest friends. On Thursday a handful of guys made trips from several different states for what was intended to be a fun weekend reminiscing. The tone of the trip, at least for me, changed quickly.
We were out at dinner prior to the game. I had just taken my first sip of my very first Rhinegeist IPA (pretty tasty). With about an hour to go before first pitch my wife called. We talk regularly thoughout the day, and I didn’t think much of it. However, I quickly realized that something was wrong. I answered the phone and my wife was clearly crying. I ran out of the restaurant so I could hear what she was saying. In short, her grandpa had a heart attack and passed away. She found out the news about ten minutes before calling me, and in that moment I felt completely helpless standing on a crowded Cincinnati street.
To help you understand why this was such a big deal, it would help you to know something about her grandpa. Seven years ago my wife and I moved to Lafayette, IN. Her grandparents had been here basically their entire married life. My wife was incredibly close with her grandfather, and shortly after marrying her I became close to him as well. He grew up in rural Tennessee, and had an easy southern charm that made anyone around him feel welcome and comfortable.
Over the course of those seven years I got to know him fairly well. He was the kind of guy who would do anything for his family. One time he pulled up to our house and I was standing in the front yard trying to chop down a twenty foot pine tree with a log splitter (I’m not the handiest person in the world). In as nice a way as he could, he informed me that they actually make devices (a chain saw) intended to do this job with much less effort. I told him to give me a call later in the week and we’d set up a time to knock these trees down. The next morning I jumped out of bed at 7AM. The loud noise coming from my front yard was my wife’s grandpa firing up his chainsaw. By the time I woke up and threw some clothes on both trees were on the ground.
That’s the kind of guy he was. Whether it was filling in as a lumberjack for the day, or sneaking out to tune up your car while you came over to his house for dinner. If anyone in the family needed something, you could consider it done as soon as he found out.
However, it wasn’t just that I had grown so attached to him. My kids dearly loved their “Bopo.” They were over at his house at least once a week, and he loved them more than anything. Part of the reason getting that phone call was so hard was because I knew I had three kids who were about to be told that one of their favorite people in the world had passed away, and I wouldn’t be there to hold them.
I stood in the middle of the street asking my wife what I should do. Everything inside of me wanted to jump in a car and head home, but she pleaded with me to stay at the game and drive home that night. She knew this was a trip I had been planning for a long time, and all of her family would shortly be together. There wasn’t much I’d be able to do even if I was there. As my wife approached the hospital she ensured me that I should stay, and make the three hour drive home after the game.
With that I headed back to the table where my friends and I were eating dinner. They obviously knew something was wrong. I finished my hot chicken and beer. Once we were done, we made the short walk over to Great American Ball Park. The entire time all I could think about was heading home to see my wife and kids, but I knew that my wife really did want me to try and enjoy the night.
Prior to the game I had a thousand thoughts running through my head. I wondered how my wife was doing. I wondered how my kids were handling the news. I thought about all of the things that would need to be done over the next few days. All around me players were warming up, fans were finding their seats, and the sound of the ballpark filled the air. Still, it was hard to be too excited about a baseball game at that point.
At around 7:10 John Lamb took the mound for the Reds, and made the first pitch of the game. Then he made another pitch. And another. Slowly, over the course of the next few minutes, something began to happen. Other thoughts slowly started to mix in with my thoughts of what was happening at home. “Wait, why is Votto out of the lineup again? I really hope Lamb pitches well so they don’t have to turn to the bullpen.”
In the midst of a lot of hurt baseball was becoming a distraction. A very needed distraction.
Over the course of nine innings the Reds gave me a break. Adam Duvall gave me a reason to celebrate when he hit his 21st home run of the season. The bullpen gave me a reason to be frustrated when they blew an early lead. I was feeling emotions, but they weren’t tied to a life and death situation. Baseball was giving me a chance to breathe.
One of the things I love about the baseball season, is that you know it will be there every day. Regardless of what else happens in your life something will be a constant. You’re guaranteed to have something in your life that matters to you, but doesn’t matter so much that it impacts the things that are most important in your life. Life can change in an instant, but there’s comfort in the fact that every night at 7:10 I can flip on the radio, crack open a cold drink, and put my mind on other things.
That point was driven home yet again Monday. Yesterday morning we buried my wife’s grandfather. It was a hard day. I spent most of it with three kids who struggled to comprehend what was happening. For obvious reasons our three year old struggled the most. She knew her grandpa was “gone,” but couldn’t figure out how he left if his car was still in the garage. When it finally clicked for her, just a little, she completely broke down. I stood at the cemetery holding her while she sobbed. By this point I had broken down too. Partly because I loved this man who was now gone, and partly because my children were so heartbroken.
After a day with a lot of hugs and tears, our family got back home. I tucked the kids in to bed, and for the first time felt how exhausted I was from the weekend. With that I headed down stairs, sat on the couch, cracked open a Diet Dr. Pepper, and turned the dial to 700 WLW once again.
I’m one of the first people to complain about some of the stuff that Marty says, but it was so good to hear his voice again. Over the course of the next few hours I groaned with each Kris Bryant home run. I sat on the edge of my seat as the Reds made it a one run game. I fell over on the couch when the Cincinnati bullpen did what it usually does. But most importantly I was given another chance to breathe. I was given a chance to unwind by thinking about something I’ve grown to love, and I turned off the radio knowing it would be there for me tomorrow if I needed it.
Baseball is a lot of different things to different people. This weekend baseball was a distraction. It was a beautiful, needed, refreshing distraction. Sure the Reds are going to be bad this season. In my time on this earth they’ll have other bad seasons too. However, I’m realizing more and more that I don’t always need them to win. Sometimes I just need them to be there.
And for that reason I’m really thankful for a bad baseball team.