Cover Story: Death (Or Damn Near It) in the Afternoon

Wherein a former baseball fan finds his disinterest rekindled

Jun 27, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Bob Woodiwiss

I snagged this autograph from one of the Reds during batting practice. Unfortunately, since the vast majority of the names and faces on the current roster are completely unknown to me, I have no idea who this is.

Not terribly long ago, I was quite the baseball fan. I went to 15, 20 Reds games a year, smug in the knowledge that, rather than lazing at home on my ass drinking cheap beer watching ESPN like some loser, I was placid on my ass drinking costly beer in a place from where ESPN typically broadcast events for such losers.

During those game-attending years, I, unlike so many of my fellow Cincinnatians, was no fair-weather fan. Unh-unh. I schlepped myself down to Riverfront Stadium regardless of the home team's position in the standings.

In fact, if the Reds were on a sucking streak, I simply made a different kind of fun: peppering the hapless Boy Millionaires of Summer with playful, catchy barbs like, "Morgana's tits swing harder than you" and "We want a pitcher, not a palace eunuch of Imperial Dynastic China, circa the 16th Century." Sweet.

Then came 1994. And my enthusiasm faded. Collapsed.

Died. I stopped going to games. Completely.

And while, yes, it's true that that was the famed "Strike Year," my reasons for abandoning the game were far more complex than the fact that I couldn't decide if it was preferable for the new collective bargaining agreement to entitle a .220 hitting utility infielder to make more money in a year than Nelson Mandela has made in his life or, conversely, if it should grant the owners "mineral rights" to all rookies and thereby permit them to drain and sip the young athletes' robust bodily fluids from solid gold chalices.

To be honest, a huge part of my crisis of enthusiasm came when I lost my connection to the boffo blue field-level, 10-rows-behind-the-dugout-right-on-third-base box seats I'd grown accustomed to. This loss drove me out into the far-from-the-action, declasse red seats, amongst the less genteel fans.

And while it was undeniably entertaining to see some drunk, bloated, shirtless asshole plunge, headlong, from loge to plaza level, it didn't, I'm afraid, happen with enough regularity to keep me coming back.

I also found that baseball wasn't keeping up with who I was. By the mid-1990s, I'd evolved into a man who wanted, nay, ached, to stretch in the fifth inning; baseball insisted on withholding that activity until the seventh.

Additionally, despite MLB's "modernization" efforts (shrinking the strike zone, adding wild card teams to the playoffs, increasing minority participation in front office management by persuading the courts to legally declare billionaires a minority, etc.) Commissioner Bud Selig adamantly refused to update his nickname to, say, Trey or Puff Buddy.

I must confess, though, that the final wedge between baseball and me was my lingering, festering resentment over the whole Pete Rose/gambling mess. My God, I remember thinking, if the all-time hits leader doesn't get to be in the Hall of Fame, what's next? The presidential candidate who wins the popular vote doesn't get to be president?

Bringing us to the now. To 2002. Eight baseball-less years later.
Over that time, my life has been largely transformed. Not long after losing interest in baseball, I also lost interest in football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, boxing, lacrosse, the Olympics, the Pan-Am Games, the Goodwill Games, motor sports, fencing, curling, horseracing, polo, rodeos, professional wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, sumo wrestling, arm wrestling, thumb wrestling, croquet, cliff diving and LeRoy Nieman, respectively. (I do still occasionally attend Bosnian Minefield Rugby but, I confess, mainly for the explosions.) Am I better off for being less of a sports fanatic? I think so, if only because it's given me the time and opportunity to sex it up with the "sports widows" of several friends.

Of course, not living in a vacuum, I'm aware that the Reds have changed, too. For instance, they now allow players to wear facial hair, affording them the same rights as prep boy athletes and Eastern European female soccer teams; switched managing partners (out with the wealthy, unlikable old woman, in with the wealthy, unlikable old man); employed the entire Boone family; inducted Johnny Bench's ego into the Reds Hall of Fame; and not only renamed their stadium (paying overdue tribute to 1940 World Series hero Mel Cinergy) but stand ready, next season, to move into a new one.

Which is why I'm here, actually. At the beginning of the 2002 season, the Reds began a marketing campaign suggesting that fans come to Cinergy Field and relive their fond memories.

At first, I thought this was rather disingenuous considering they'd pretty much blackmailed the city and its citizens into building the new one and were therefore one of the parties responsible for Cinergy's obsolescence. Soon, though, as wistful memories of piss-warm Hudepohl and crapping-on-the-Astroturf St. Bernards filled my head, I softened. I knew I had to say goodbye.

So on a recent Sunday afternoon I went once again — and quite possibly for the last time — to take in a game at the old ball yard. But this time I took my camera and notebook. To capture my impressions. For posterity. For old times' sake.

And for the extra dough one gets from CityBeat for doing a piece with both copy and art.

BOB WOODIWISS, former "Pseudoquasiesque" columnist for CityBeat, is currently at work on a book of satirical essays. Well, whoop-dee-freakin'-doo.