Without baseball, I would not exist.

About eighty years ago, my grandfather was playing in a club baseball game in Fairmount. At some point he began backing towards the bleachers to catch a foul ball.

He missed.

It hit Florence Niemeyer of the Red Top Brewing Company, sitting along the basepath with friends. Later he made his way over to apologize. Thus, here I am, along with my mother, three uncles, and six cousins.

And so bad baseball created a good family. I have been thinking on this all season, watching balls sail over bullpen pitchers’ heads and baserunners patiently awaiting the RBI that never comes. It is, the front office tacitly admitted as it dealt Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, a broken team.

In an era when teambuilding decisions are driven by free agency and the fear of it, families don’t much exist in clubhouses anymore. The players come, the players go. Some surface through the farm system and stay a while, but mostly, they go. Faltering teams are quickly patched by one or two-season rentals, then rent apart and left broken again until the next piece is snapped temporarily into place.

This isn’t to say that teams which are truly broken don’t occasionally shine from their jagged edges. There are Home Run Derby championships and flashes of leather and the shutouts over bitter rivals.

So it’s fitting that the Reds chose to honor the first Red Stockings 2015-05-30 19.53.30team and the Big Red Machine with mosaics inside Great American Ball Park. Made of a multitude of tile pieces, they are close scatterings of blue, red and brown chips; only from a distance can we see the features of Harry Wright, of Tony Perez, of the baseball leaping from Johnny Bench’s hand.

Baseball was a scattering of pro-am teams before Wright and his brother gathered the best there was and paid them all a salary; after the team folded despite a 57-game winning streak, the state of baseball in Cincinnati drifted like leaves on the river again for seven more years. And the Big Red Machine, assembled from the pieces of a team so battered it almost departed the city, fell apart so hellishly that the Reds experienced a franchise-worst season in 1982. That, too, was fitting–that the magnificent apex should be mirrored by the most humbling of sinkholes.

What I like best about the mosaics is that while visually connected by the Roebling Suspension Bridge, they’re mounted separately from the stadium wall.  They can be moved. They may be rearranged as future circumstances dictate. There is room in the wide concourse for further masterpieces– just as the leaderboard in the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum changes week to week, the story of this team extends and extends, pitch to pitch, game to game, season to season.

We didn’t want to see Cueto in a Royals cap or read Leake’s stats in a Giants box score, but take comfort, oddly, in the unknown. We’re standing just days out of the trade, staring point-blank at these two missing pieces, the gaps they left. There’s no way yet to back up and see what kind of picture this slivered team, this infuriating, charismatic collection of talented fourth-placers, will eventually create.

After the tile is broken, the art is assembled. It might be frameable. It might not.

It will be a long step into winter before we do.

In the meantime, we exist.

13 Responses

  1. User1022

    Very poetic take on the current state of affairs.

    “This field, this game, is part of our past. It reminds us of what was once good, and what could be good again.”

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you 🙂 A little Field of Dreams makes any day better.

  2. Tom Reed

    A poignant recollection of what baseball and the Reds mean to Cincinnati, the surrounding area, fans across the country and around the world. Teams get broken but they come back together again.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks so much for reading… I understand the importance of free agency, but sometimes I wish I could experience a time when teams’ lineups were a little more constant.

  3. msanmoore

    Well written. Nostalgia mixed with reality topped with hope. There is always next season. Reds fans are a stout lot.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I really appreciate that. Hard to look forward to next season when we’re still in the present one, but I wouldn’t want to do it for any other team.

  4. Victor Vollhardt

    Very good piece and and the word “poignant” used by TOM REED fits this piece. I love the thought that without the missed foul ball.–Ms. Ellis, her mother, three uncles and six cousins “don’t exist “. Ms. Ellis if you ever get the chance read “Time and Again” by Jack Finney (1970) it might remind you of your grandfather all over again.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      …plus eighteen adorable members of the next generation! Thanks so much. I appreciate the suggestion of “Time and Again” since I mostly read nonfiction– I’ve added it to my list. Right now I’m reading “The Victory Season,” which is about how baseball changed in 1946.

  5. lwblogger2

    Well written piece. The quality of writing here continues to amaze me. Most people who say “Without baseball, I would not exist.” aren’t being literal. It’s pretty neat that you indeed are. Lovely story, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That is so kind of you. It wasn’t until I moved away from Cincinnati, then returned, that I realized how much it mean to me and my family. Thanks so much for the encouragement.

  6. Rick Ring

    Excellent opening line. Excellent opening paragraph. Well done!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      So very lovely of you to say. I’ll send this to that poli sci prof who told me I was a disaster of an essayist 🙂

  7. gosport474

    Thanks, I enjoyed this. Another good book is Darryl Brock’s ‘If I Never Get Back.’