In 1975, the Cincinnati Reds were the best team in baseball.
The “Big Red Machine” is still considered one of the best teams to have ever played. And when teary-eyed baseball poets aren’t prattling on about how baseball is the blood of American culture, they’ll tell you that the 7-game World Series they played in 1975 against the Red Sox was one of the most exciting ever.
I grew up in Cincinnati, and lucky for me, at the age of nine I got to go to these games. I don’t recall having been to any Reds games before them, so my first baseball memories are of that amazing Series. But when I think back, there are really only three things I remember clearly about it (and blood isn’t one of them).
First, there was an outfielder on the team named Geronimo. Every time he came to bat, I got to yell, “GERONIMO!” And when you’re nine, that’s pretty cool.
The second thing I remember is how Hall-of-Fame second baseman Joe Morgan used to flap his arm really hard, like a chicken, as he waited for each pitch. I remember getting very excited to see that. (As an aside, my Joe Morgan fandom led to someone giving me a signed copy of Joe Morgan’s “Baseball My Way,” which makes no mention of flapping your arm before the pitch.)
But the third thing is the one I remember most clearly. I remember the asses of the people sitting in front of me.
That’s because as each thrilling play unfolded during this historic World Series, all the fans sitting in the row in front of me would stand up, blocking my view. I didn’t see a single ball fly over the fence. I never once saw Pete Rose, Ken Griffey or Johnny Bench cross the plate. I even missed out on Joe Morgan’s 9th inning series-winning single in game seven.
Butts of baseball fans, and a lot of very loud cheering. That’s what I remember the most. And this was a pretty consistent experience for me, and explains why I didn’t enjoy watching sports until I was tall enough. And by then, it was too late — I didn’t know the rules. I didn’t know the roles and responsibilities of the players, and I didn’t know the “ins and outs.” So, I was an ignoramus when it came to sports, and this cost me. I remember trying out for basketball in junior high, and the coach asking if I wanted to be a guard or a forward, and my response was, “which position means less running, overall?” (I was the first name on the cut list).
So, with Lucy, I have vowed not to disadvantage her in the same way. I want her to understand the game before she plays it for the first time. So, when there are sports on, I try to sit her down and explain what’s happening, slowly and carefully. No, Lucy. First you say “batta, batta, batta,” THEN you say “Swing!”
No, Lucy, that’s “football,” not “baseball,” so we call those “helmets” not “caps.
Lucy, golf is on…Nap time.
Just a few days ago, a generous friend gave us tickets to see the Sonics play the Lakers, and I took my job here very seriously.
Step one was to take her early enough for the pregame warm-up. The Sonics were on the court, and Lucy was quick to recognize them. Not because she had ever been to a basketball game, but because her father, it turns out, plays a lot of “NBA Inside Drive” on his X-Box.
“GO GREEN THINGS,” Lucy yelled. So, her first lesson in basketball was that these were real people, not X-Box people, and it would be polite to call them “Sonics.”
Then, from the corner came the Lakers. Lucy’s eyes began to bulge, because the Lakers warm-ups are a very bright purple, her favorite color. I started to worry how “green things” would match-up to “purple things” in Lucy’s world. I started to worry that she’d be a Laker fan.
So, we walked down to get close to the players where I hoped to explain the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.
I have seen Lucy look happy, sad, scared, tired, angry and everything else, or so I had thought. But I had never seen Lucy look the way she did when we got courtside.
At center court, signing a basketball for some lucky kid was Shaquille O’Neal who, it suddenly dawned on me, was the largest person Lucy had ever seen. Lucy was star-struck.
O’Neal is over 7 feet tall and weighs close to 340 pounds. And while most people have seen Shaq one way or another, it’s not until you’re standing 15 yards away from the guy that it really sinks in how astonishingly enormous he actually is. And he’s not just big. He’s covered with super-huge muscles, something I can assure you Lucy isn’t used to seeing.
Lucy’s eyes bulged open. Her body went limp. She started drooling, too, but that’s because there was popcorn in her mouth, and she had stopped chewing.
I waved my hand in front of her face. No response. So, I stepped in with a bit of key sports education.
I explained. Lucy, that’s Shaquille O’Neal. He stinks like poop, but we’re never to tell him that to his face. Ok?....OK!!??
It was soon time to go back to our seats. For the whole game, I held Lucy so she could stand on my lap, and see over the people in front of us. She laughed hard at Brent Barry, and called him a “spasmomatic,” which is a word I taught her. She yelled “Get the ball” when the Sonics were on defense. And “Shoot!” when the Sonics were on offense. She had a giant foam finger that she gleefully used to smack the lady’s head in front of us. And she asked for a hot dog.
She got it, and I couldn’t have been more proud.
But, alas, her favorite part of the game wasn’t the green things, or the hot dog, or poopy Shaquille O’Neal. The one part of the game that got her to literally dance in the aisles: The Sonics Dance Team.
I simply had no explanation for them. So, I just let her dance along with them, and started to wonder how a guy like me, who barely mastered the Snoopy Dance, would ever teach her the rules of that activity.