I’m still numb.
As most of you know, I decided (not quite at the last minute, but pretty close) to take a chance and head to last night’s Reds game, hoping Cincinnati would clinch. It’s a long drive for me, and not one I would ordinarily be able to make on a weeknight. Fortunately, my work schedule cleared up nicely and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be there, so I hopped in the car and headed to the Queen City.
Best decision I ever made.
I got there early, in order to meet with some of the folks who were there for the Reds’ “TweetUp” event. I talked to some people I’d met before and some I hadn’t. It was a fun idea, and Lisa Braun of the Reds marketing department did a great job getting it organized (they sold hundreds of tickets for the TweetUp). I was honored to be invited.
I don’t know that I can express in words what it was like to be there last night. From the moment I walked into Great American Ballpark, it was obvious that the atmosphere was different. I’ve been to a number of Opening Days and, while those games are always raucous and crowded and fun, it just wasn’t the same.
Thinking about it today, I can only remember one other time where I experienced something (from a sports perspective) that came close to approximating the atmosphere at GAB last night. It was back in 1995, when I was a Fourth Year at the University of Virginia. At the time, I interned with WINA radio and the Virginia Sports Network (I thought I wanted to go into radio), and I happened to be on the sidelines with a microphone during the Florida State game. FSU was a powerhouse, and had never lost a game in the ACC until UVa beat them on that day. As you can imagine, that was an exciting event for the UVa partisans, and I’ll never forget the sound in the stadium during that entire game, and especially when Anthony Poindexter stopped Warrick Dunn on the one-inch line as time expired. (I’ll also never forget the thousands of people pouring out of the stands as I was trying to make my way to the visitor’s locker room.)
That was a wild day…but it pales in comparison to what I experienced last night. The crowd was “twittering” the entire game (see what I did there?); there was an ever-present sense that it was a special night. When the Reds scored in the first inning, the buzz grew louder, and didn’t really quiet down even after Houston took the lead. Several times, I heard people say that they were confident the Reds were going to come back.
At every crucial moment (and during many non-crucial moments), the crowd was on its feet, screaming. Edinson Volquez snuffed out a rally — excitement everywhere. The Reds got a couple of runners on base — the buzz grew exponentially. Arthur Rhodes pitched like he was 25 years old again — the crowd went nuts. Aroldis Chapman entered the game and dominated — sheer pandemonium.
Then came the bottom of the ninth.
First, let me acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, I’m overstating things a bit. The whole evening seems a little hazy to me now, and I was nervous the entire game. Perhaps my experience is different from what someone else observed. Maye my impressions are colored by the fact that I was constantly tense, leaning forward, elbows on knees, anxious for the Reds to do something good. If someone tells me they’ve been to a game where the crowd was more excited — and excitable — I won’t argue with them.
This I know, however: Cincinnati hasn’t seen a moment like the ninth inning in at least twenty years. Maybe longer.
In the eighth, Scott Rolen got a hit, and everyone was on their feet, praying for the Reds to push a run across. As the bottom of the ninth approached, from the time the Astros made their third out until the time when Jay Bruce strode toward the plate, I don’t know that anyone had stopped buzzing over the possibilities that lay ahead.
I will never forget the way things played out after that. I can see the pitch. I can see Bruce swinging. The ball lifted towards center field, and just floated up there for what seemed like hours. I followed, followed, followed…and saw it fly over the fence, a walkoff homer.
The memories occur in flashes. Jay Bruce rounding third. Joel returning and almost tackling me. The players jumping onto each other. My hands raised to the sky, then settling on top of my head as I tried to comprehend what I had just witnessed. Screaming. High-fives for everyone in the vicinity. A constant stream of expressions of disbelief. Fireworks. Text messages and voice mails, which have continued throughout today. The sheer happiness of thousands of people, radiating throughout the park.
No one wanted to leave. We enjoyed the on-field celebration, then enjoyed watching the scoreboard as the players went nuts inside the clubhouse: Hey, Arthur Rhodes is smiling! Watch them dump champagne on Dusty! Then some players returned to the field, and went back to the clubhouse. That persistent buzz kept ringing in my ears, in everyone’s ears.
At one point, Bronson Arroyo emerged from the clubhouse and started a jog around the field, shaking hand with the fans, and thanking them. Shortly thereafter, a bunch of Arroyo’s teammates came out and did a victory lap themselves. Jonny Gomes appeared to be as happy as anyone could be. Mike Leake and Sam LeCure looked like mischevious kids, as if they couldn’t believe they were allowed to participate in such a special event.
Best. Night. Ever.
I’m sure Riverfront Stadium was similarly delirious in 1990. I wasn’t there; I was a high school junior, home watching on television, so I can’t say what it was like in that park on those special evenings twenty years ago. To me, however, it’s going to be hard to top the experience of last night.
As I drove home last night, I spoke to one of my younger brothers on the phone. We tried to put into words what it has been like to experience last night, after the last decade of futility. I’m preaching to the choir here, but I have lived and died with the Cincinnati Reds for my entire life, basically. There have been times over the years where I’ve been just miserable, all because I had invested so much emotion in a baseball team, and seemed to be getting nothing but losing seasons in return.
For the last six seasons, I’ve written about the Reds nearly every single day here at Redleg Nation. The team has been pretty bad for most of that time, but this site has been a labor of love for me. What was I going to do, quit rooting for the Reds? There were times when that would have been a better option (for my mental health), but this team is a part of who I am. My father and grandfather were Reds fans, I’m a Reds fan, and my son is going to be a Reds fan, it appears.
The group of editors here at RN have spent countless hours writing about the Reds, talking about the Reds, investing ourselves emotionally in the ups and downs of this organization. You understand what I’m trying to say, because you are all just like me. Those of you who are regulars here, who comment often and are a vital part of this community: you understand. Those of you who don’t comment much, or at all, but who are loyal about coming here every day to be part of a group that is obsessive about the Reds: you understand. You’ve all been living and dying with the Reds through all the bad years, just like me.
Last night was so sweet precisely because of all those bad years. Last night was just perfect, because we’ve been there when things were awful. In the end, the Reds don’t owe me anything, but I can’t help but feel like I earned the right to enjoy last night’s stirring and dramatic victory, and the celebration that followed. (See Chris’ related post, which I whole-heartedly endorse and which you should read, if you haven’t already.)
Whatever happens in the next few weeks — and I still believe that the Reds can shock the world even further — I’m going to savor this feeling. I’m going to enjoy the division championship. It’s been a long, hard road, and we have stuck with this team through thick and thin. You have permission to celebrate.
I have been urging everyone to “believe” for weeks and weeks. Has it been worth it?