“Mary Beth has to sit in front,” my philosophy prof announced, opening the passenger door. Our fall semester class was meeting off-campus, there at the top of the Indiana sock, and he was driving. My classmates piled in the back of his van and I looked first at him, then at them, then back at him again, horrified. She—she does? Was this not the sour turning point of every single After School Special? Had I learned nothing from Candice Cameron and Mark-Paul Gosselaar?
But with six womens’ college witnesses, all with notebooks and excellent communication skills, I clambered into the shotgun seat. My prof reached over and… turned the car radio to 700 AM. “So you can hear the Reds game!” he beamed. “You can feel at home!”
Given the state of that season, there was no way the Reds would still be playing by the time I returned to Cincinnati for fall break. When I left for South Bend in August, it was with the fair expectation that I would not hear the voice of Marty Brennaman again until maybe spring break. But with a strong car antenna and the benefit of sunset, I heard the voice of home.
My wanderings after graduation kept me mostly within the sweep of WLW’s antennas: Florida, Alabama, South Carolina. The only place I could not at least occasionally pull in a scratchy signal was in Oklahoma City, and they had a fine statue of Johnny Bench to keep me company. Wherever I was, before the days of apps and wifi, there was the hiss and pop of the distant sounds of the ballgame.
Marty Brennaman is the first man I ever went to sleep next to. Hundreds of thousands of women can claim the same. Our men follow suit. West Coast games were the best because there was a wall of Marty and Joe between my clock radio and the horror of the school awakening hour.
Perhaps you have grown weary of who Sean Casey once lovingly referred to as “a cantankerous old man.” That’s understandable. But how can the city disdain a man who is being lauded as such in Chicago:
I don’t remember particular historical calls. I don’t study the individual wording of the lulling patter. What I do have is the tones of Brennaman as my grandparents sat with friends on their back porch, as my parents drove my sister and me home from the game at Riverfront; as my nephews and husband played video games in the other room while I typed and half-listened to the developing action of the fifth inning.
Just as my also-Cincinnatian best friend and I sat on the tiny floor of my freshman dorm room weeping as we watched a tape (an actual tape) of the Riverfest fireworks, eating the Graeter’s cookies that arrived in the same care package, I am reminded once again that home isn’t necessarily a place. It’s a person, a butter cookie, the smell of the Ohio River, the feel of the pew; and, sometimes, it’s a voice.