Opening Day is the start of the new season. It’s about new beginnings, getting fresh and forgetting last year for better or worse. We’re all new when the first pitch is thrown. Anything can happen and we’re all forgiven for our past sins until, or even if, the losses start to pile up. But I can’t help but think behind me. Because as much as we begin again, you remember where you came from. The roots that formed your trunk and paced your rings runs deep. When you measure that against baseball you can trace that familial tree back as far as the game will allow.

“Another season in the sun.”

My Dad says it before every baseball season. The word is still out on who he stole that phrase from. There’s a Terry Jacks song from ’74 and it’s possible he dabbled there. It’s a similar sound to CSN&Y, of which he’s an avid fan. I suppose it’s possible he inadvertently thought it up one day while feeling the sun on his face, but it doesn’t sound like his own prose. More than likely it was ripped from Major League as Tom Berenger gives a toast in the fancy French restaurant. The quote is haunting. Its implications are both energetic and depressing. It’s the signal of a new beginning, but it alludes to an end. Take that as deep as you want.

The fitting quote for another baseball season is a charm I’ve expected from my father over the years. He’s quick to offer his advice and opinions, his experiences, his gut feelings. It’s hard to not listen when he speaks. He stands at a misunderstood and brooding six feet five inches with broad shoulders and a full head of hair that was no doubt a force in his younger misspent youth. His voice carries hints of a New York accent. It hangs off particular words and you probably don’t notice it unless you’ve been listening to it for the last 30 years, but I have and I do. He was born in Flushing New York, his father and his mother were both from the area so the intonation was learned despite spending nearly all of his life in the Cincinnati area.

He is the lifelong Reds fan you think of. He was hooked in 1961 after seeing his first game at Crosley and caught on at just the right time for the extreme highs of the 70s which no doubt cushioned the low blows of the 80s and subsequent other lost decades. This isn’t to say he chose the Reds out of a hat. In a sense it seems almost like destiny, biblical almost, “In the beginning there was the Reds…” Much like the tradition of baseball itself, it was passed down to me. It’s a connection we share, it binds not only us but the years past and future of the organization.

Opening Day, like nearly all other Redleg patrons assume, is a holiday. I never went to school growing up on Opening Day, we were always downtown bright and early awaiting the first taste of summer. Rather than pontificate my own opinions on Opening Day I figured I’d go to the best source I know and ask the Big Man himself about his past years taking up residence in ballparks. The interview is done over the phone because for the past seven years we’ve been apart on Opening Day. It was my bright idea to move all the way to Dodger country so we’re forced to communicate through emails and long distance post-game summaries. It’s my own personal Baseball Tonight, with a lot more swearing.

“1961, that was my first Opening Day. I was nine years old.” My Dad answers my question through the phone. He didn’t really know the question was coming, but that didn’t stop him from responding almost instantly as if the memory is stowed carefully for quick access. “We sat in row seven at old Crosley, we were four seats in on the third base side. My Dad always used to go for business. Some business would have a luncheon on Opening Day and guys would get together at the Friar’s Club. You’d do the lunch thing then they’d hand out the tickets. My Dad new I was crazy about baseball, so one year he asked whoever was throwing the lunch if he could bring his son. That was my first Opening Day.”

He clears his throat, then goes on, “Eddie Kasko, Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, Wally Post, Gene Freese, Gordy Coleman, Ed Bailey, Jim Baumer and Jim O’Toole pitched.” He recites the lineup as if he’s listing his children. “Robinson won the MVP that year, the Reds went to the World Series and lost to the Yankees in five games. It was a great year, a really great year.”

The baseball love affair for my father began a few years earlier. He’s the oldest of seven and while his younger brothers and sisters would clamor around the bigger television set in the family room he would often retire to the kitchen to sit with his Grandfather (Papa Ferrell). Papa was from Pennsylvania and so he was a Pirates fan. But he would regale my future Dad with stories. It was in those days of Saturday baseball that the love grew. Always craving a good story, the six year old would listen to yarns about the baseball players of yore. In between stories he would fetch cups of coffee for his Papa who fancied a little Irish in it.[1] The ‘strong’ coffee no doubt let the floodgates of stories and pastimes spill out a little smoother, a little more embellished, a little more exciting.

[1] As a child my Dad thought, “Well if he likes a shot of this whiskey stuff, it must be like a Coke, so I bet two shots would taste even better.” Without further questioning on the matter, I’m assuming my Dad was the unofficial favorite of his grandkids without him really knowing why.

Opening Day was about business. Yes, there was the parade and the start of another year, but like any big event it draws an opportunity to rub a few elbows. My Grandfather played this card and my Dad tagged along taking the opportunity to score a seat and watch the game. This is a trend that continued his entire life. The business deals that went down with the backdrop of baseball is staggering, but to listen to my Dad that’s not what he recalls. The business was something that had to be done, it was work, but if you could mix a little fun in there, then why not? As he got older he employed the same strategies of attending Opening Days while entertaining clients, but in asking him he can’t recall what suit sat inches from him but he knows everyone of the nine uniforms that 90 feet in front him like the back of his hand.

Baseball is analytical in most senses. It’s boiled down to numbers so strongly that anyone who plays it will be playing against ghosts forever and always. It’s this number crunching that appealed to my Dad as he was growing up. You know your worth. “It was a history, it was bigger than life.” Those numbers you look up in books appear almost insurmountable. It grabbed him as a kid. Everyone plays on the same level and we’re all playing the same game. It makes a simpler life and there’s little room for gray in black and white numbers. This complicated simplicity appeals to children because it’s a language they can understand and my Dad was no expectation.

My Dad was building his legacy, indulging in the great game and cuing up a passion his children would share. Baseball is stories, it’s numbers, it’s calculated irrationality that grabs you as a child and doesn’t go away.

Baseball binds us.

It’s a game, it’s a history that we are all witness to. We carve ourselves out of its joy, out of it’s heartbreak. It’s a guiding symbol and a heavy placed metaphor for how we should live. It’s not all of that on the surface, but you need to learn to look underneath the numbers to find what you’re looking for. Beneath statistics, winners and losers there are people. There are the stories that inspire the magic that comes together for fleeting moments. It keeps us honest and we are going to fail more than we succeed, but as long as you have the game there’s not much else you need. The game is bigger than the day to day outcome. In the end when you’re tired and laid up it’s the hope that you linger on, the moments and the retentions. It’s passing it down to your clans, it’s strong coffee, it’s grandfathers, it’s children, it’s business, it’s bigger than life. It’s another season in the sun.

8 Responses

  1. bobbyhowsamjr

    “Baseball is analytical in most senses.”

    False. For false prophets who worship at the altar of Sabermetrics and its iterative offspring, like Billy Beane and Dick Williams, the game isn’t about winning games, division titles, World Series titles, team chemistry, or the intangibles … the immeasurables … or the commitment the owner made to the city when he bought the team (in this case, something along the lines of bringing championship baseball to Cincinnati and being competitive every year.)

    To Beaned Brains (pun intended), nuance is meaningless. Everything can be boiled in a Petri dish.

    Truth is … it can’t. Which is why the 1990 Cincinnati Reds kicked the snot out the Oakland PEDletics.

    To a man, every editor on this blog, every writer for the Enquirer and the Dayton Daily Snooze has bought into to the notion that we should resign ourselves to 62-100 this year and oh, we’re magically gonna be competitive next year. It’s simply not that formulaic, and for an organization like the once proud Reds to sell fans on hang with us whilst we burn this thing to the ground, yet again – Bryan Price already did it once – I say go to … uh … Newport.

    We would be sitting at 4-0 right now had Price stuck with Cingrani or had he had a better option … like Stephenson.

    4-0. Think about that for a second.

    We have some dynamite energy on this club between Holt, Schebler and Duvall, to name but a few. Something you can’t bottle or measure … Like Holt challenging on the shallow fly making a great grab to rob and Schebler coming up big in the clutch after whiffing three times.

    There’s simply no reason this club can’t be really good this year, other than the fact that: (1) Price is a horrible game strategist; (2) Peraza should playing third because Suarez has no glove; (3) Hamilton should never start because he has no stick; and (4) Cingrani must be given more responsibility in the pen.

    If you say you’re a life-long fan and you don’t understand the 1990 model or if you’re perfectly willing to write off this season just because someone told you we were rebuilding and therefore we have to suck then you’re not a diehard, you never played the game and or you don’t have any idea how to mix match and innovate … with the cards you’ve been dealt … on the fly.

    Einstein once said you can’t fix a problem with the same consciousness that created it. But that is EXACTLY what we are trying to do.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Please stick to talking about the Reds. That’s what the comments section here is for. If you can’t stop talking about the writers or other fans then you should find another forum where that’s tolerated. Do you need help understanding the difference? Check the site commenting guidelines.

      Plus, pretty much every characterization you made of other people is false and ill-informed. There’s that.

    • Adrian J Loder

      So, in this lengthy, non-analytical, historical and emotional retrospective on fathers and sons, Opening Day and baseball, the one piece that you zeroed in on and wrote a huge response to, is that one, six-word line?

      Anyone who actually read the entire article through knows the author cares about, and is tied to baseball, through more than just numbers. Please grind your ax somewhere else.

      • bobbyhowsamjr

        Art’s piece was a really moving article and, as I previously stated, I regret the rant. I’m putting myself in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct. This is a great blog and I apologize for the brain cramp.

  2. TR

    I enjoyed your heartfelt post regarding the importance of opening day and another season in Redsland. I never heard the term ‘Monarch City’ but I assume it’s a derivation of the nomenclature for Cincinnati of the ‘The Queen City.’

  3. Rick Ring

    Art- great piece, and excellent opening paragraph! Your post fits in very nicely with the quote beneath your bio.