.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

COLUMN: Places change but Field of Dreams lives on

-A A +A

Love of Reds' baseball as strong as ever

By John Herndon

Even though I grew up on a farm, I can't really say that my personal Field of Dreams was carved out of a cornfield.

There was none of that “If you build it, they will come.”

It was more like “If I can get there, I will go.”

Go to Findlay and Western on the west side of Cincinnati. Crosley Field. Go to that pristine white structure to catch Reds baseball. That, more than anywhere else is where I wanted to go and, when I grew up, wanted to work, driving balls above that white line for a home run.

These guys were my life, my heroes. They consumed my Saturday afternoons and later, when I discovered that a few other games were on the tube as well, they dictated my schedule from April to October.

Or did as much as my parents would allow.

 I had the Reds on Radio. Jim McIntyre, then Al Michaels and Marty Brennaman made almost nightly visits to my home in the summer.  Their sidekick, The Old Lefthander, Joe Nuxhall, was a trusted friend that I knew cared if I went to bed happy with a Reds victory.

I mastered tuning in to WLW, the 50,000-watt giant long before I mastered long division.

And I found a way to sneak one of those old pocket transistors, complete with the earphone, under my pillow. It worked especially well when the action was on the west coast.

I knew the Cincinnati Reds before I learned that Adolph Rupp created basketball. Jim Maloney's fastball meant more than a Wildcat fast break. And I knew that Crosley Field was the place to be long before I learned that Memorial Coliseum was holy ground.

Vada Pinson had the coolest name around and, as far as an 8-year-old was concerned, was the best center fielder ever. I had children of my own when a stroke claimed his life at 57.

I still shed a tear. How could someone that grand, that gifted, that vibrant be snuffed out so quickly?

I knew Frank Robinson was as good as they come and that trading him away was dumb. It still is today.

Jim O'Toole? The best lefty in the game. Leo Cardenas? A shortstop like no other.

I quickly learned differently but still loved chatting with both at RedsFest nearly 40 years later.

Crosley Field died, giving way to a bigger, but not better, Riverfront Stadium. While the Big Red Machine was born at the intersection of Findlay and Western, it matured and flattened anything in its way on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati.

Rose. Griffey. Morgan. Bench. Perez. Foster. Concepcion. Geronimo.

It was certainly the greatest lineup of my lifetime. Some say maybe the greatest ever.

And on a rainy Saturday afternoon 20 years ago, my son and I were there when another group of Reds got Nasty and won the West. We high-fived to the point that an 8-year-old was almost embarrassed to be near his dad.

Almost.

Over time Marty and Joe became two of my best friends. I told them that when I sat down to talk with both in the press box at Great American Ball Park several years ago.

Great American is the Field of Dreams now. It has a Sun/Moon Deck in right field, just like Crosley.

It's the place where the distance down the left field foul line is 328 feet. Just like it was at the corner of Findlay and Western.

And last Tuesday, Jay Bruce's home run to clinch the National League's Central Division landed between those nods to the past. At the Ball Park, tears flowed. And in my home office, the floor shook. The Reds had made the playoffs and I felt like I was six again.

While most of the baseball world gives the Reds no chance against the Big Bad Phillies in the playoffs, here is one that says not to count Cincy short.

Of course, I am a fan.

Sunday, I made it to Great American for the final regular-season game of the year. More than 37,000 red-clad die-hards roared as Bruce put another over the center-field fence in almost the exact spot as his shot five days earlier. It gave the Reds a 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

 In the standings, the victory was meaningless. But, there really is no such thing as a meaningless baseball game.

You see, I was there with my wife, my nephew and some friends. And my 9-year-old daughter took in her first Reds game. She says she wants to go back.

Terrence Mann would understand.

“Ray, people will come Ray,” that James Earl Jones character said. “And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

Go Reds!

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.