Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sometimes a rose is more than just a rose

Once upon a time…

There was a little girl with a "Pete's Back" shirt who understood the energy and the fervor that was swirling around a certain city on the banks of the Ohio though she couldn’t quite grasp why it was there. The shirt was teddy bear sized. It's yellowed now and tucked away into a box with other memories, but it hasn't been forgotten.

The house where a child donned such a uniform was a practical stadium with a practical name – Riverfront. Simple. Descriptive. Logical. Makes people believe that all of this corporate nonsense is new, this changing of the names in the middle of a baseball cathedral’s existence, this marketing bacchanal that seems to transpire before our new millennium eyes. (Nevermind that it was Powell Crosley, Jr. in 1934 who changed the name of Redland Field to something more egotistical. But his cathedral was demolished, too.) On the outside, Riverfront had its own beauty in a practical sort of way. On the inside was the same perfect diamond that is found across the country, indeed across the world. (As a spectator, it was tough to tell that green was fake, and to a kid, it didn’t matter.) The record was broken, more games were played, school grades increased, a World Series, a strike, a division title, college, adulthood, life. Riverfront was always going to be there and then it wasn’t.

As a result we're left to piece together the memories that could very well not be our own but false recollections based on replays of the same few great moments – three World Series, a perfect game, 4192. There's nothing standing to remind us, nothing left but a white rose marking the spot where a record fell. Now we walk down Vine Street or Pete Rose Way or across the purple bridge to the ballpark and pass the gaping brown hole where a stadium once stood. You can still see the place under the bridge where the vendors sold big blow up bats and foam fingers that said “Reds #1” even though when I passed through the Reds were usually #2.

The bulldozers have come in and flattened the land and you can see signs of something coming to life, something years in the making, something that became ridiculously political. Soon there will be unadventurous chain restaurants and overpriced condos and apartments and offices and nobody will ever think about how someone sat in that exact spot as the chair at the dinner table while watching Johnny Bench hit a homerun or Tom Seaver strike a guy out.

I sometimes wonder what children think as they pass by the desolate space. Do they know what happened on that ground? Do they appreciate going to the new park that will one day be ripped down, forcing them to struggle to recall what are real memories and what is remembered by film clips? No, no they don’t, because they don’t get it, just like that girl with the Pete’s Back shirt didn’t get it. Going to Riverfront was just about the best thing that girl could do, but she didn’t fully appreciate it because as children we rarely understand that there is something to appreciate. We take for granted those things will always be there. Come to think about it, most adults do, too.

So go on over to the website and vote for the Banks Project to be renamed The Riverfront District. Because that’s what it is, a stadium burial ground on the banks of the Ohio.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another well-written expose on the trials and tribulations of a baseball fanatiker.

Sister Daedalus, there are a couple things I would like to say. First, you mention three World Series - referring to the three wins in 75, 76 and 90. But please don't forget that Riverfront hosted five Series and five exciting NLCS (the 1972 NLCS was incredibly exciting!). The 1970 Showcase where the Reds were favored but young, and were whupped up on by the veteran Orioles. We lost, but we learned. It led to the Lee May/Tommy Helms trade for Joe Morgan/Cesar Geronimo/Jack Billingham. In 1972, the Reds lost in seven games to the Oakland Athletics. If I remember correctly, 6 of 7 games were decided by one run. THAT Series could have gone either way. Then, of course, the Reds matured and romped through the '75 and '76 seasons, sweeping both NL Championship series, and sweeping the Yankees in '76, before Dick(head) Wagner began breaking up the BRM because of free agency.

My memories are strong, of course. but you're right, the memories fade as we age. I never had the chance of visiting Crosley Field. I was one year old when 'we' lost to the Yankees in the 1961 WS. I've never seen (as far as I can recall) filmclips of Frank Robinson in a Reds uniform, nor Vada Pinson or Chico Cardenas. The 1939-1940 Reds WS teams are as foreign to me as the White Sox of the same era. Sure, I can rattle off lots of players names, and can tell anyone about Double No-Hit Van der Meer and other stories (Reds were the first MLB team with lights and night games), but it's foreign to me because I didn't experience it first hand.

It is important for todays kids to have their OWN memories - if you were too young to understand "Pete's Back!", it's okay. Maybe you understood better the loss of Paul O'Niell when you were older. How long will today's youth remember Junior's 500th? 600th? How long will they remember Adam Dunn's annual 40-100-100?

Waxing nostalgic is one of the best aspects of baseball. I love nothing more than reading classic baseball literature from the 20's, 30's, and 40's. I needn't have experienced that time and place to appreciate it.

Regardless, I love reading your sermons, and hope that the Reds can keep you motivated through the season so that you don't fall into the post-2008 funk again anytime soon.

-Gary Maloy