“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.

12 Responses

  1. Scott C

    Once again, well done Mary Beth. For many years I listened to Marty and Joe call games. Having lived quite a bit in North Carolina, I would often go out and sit in my car to listen to the games because for some reason the car radio picked up WLW better than the stereo radio in the house. I loved the West Coast games in those days because I could listen to the whole game. Even though Casey is probably right, about the “cantankerous old man.” comment, in those days it was comforting to hear the friendly voices of Marty and Joe. Thanks!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Whatever The Mayor says is always rooted in love. And yeah, what is it about those super-powerful car antennas?!

  2. Eric

    Attention: Reds Fans Under 40: The preceding message was not put here for the benefit of giving you yet another opportunity to say how great it is that baseball games have become a nine-inning festival of 120 dB walk-up mini-concerts, good riddance to the Grumpy Old Man, yada yada yada. Tell your story walkin’.

    One day, you’ll understand how a pair of professional voices can be part of the backing track of your lives. You don’t have a solid appreciation for falling asleep on the sofa to the tones of Madden & Summerall on a winter Sunday afternoon, just like you don’t remember listening to Marty & Joe in your earphones while you mowed the lawn for the eleventy thousandth time. Yes, we called them earphones, not earbuds or headphones, and we didn’t care what brand they were! But anyway, one day there will be a voice, or a pair of voices, that will occupy that same spot, take you back to that same time, it’ll…whaddy’all say…hit’cha right in the feels! Maybe it’ll be Joe Buck…even though the Internet seems to hate him. I’m not sure why.

    Now, get off my lawn!

    • Eric

      For sure – that’s one I always have to stop on, as well. And Tombstone. And Forrest Gump. Movies that will never let you down.

      Just like Marty and Joe. 😉

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Lawn vacated in favor of watching “Tombstone.”

      • Eric

        *chuckle* Thanks, Mary Beth. And thanks again for a great read on a Friday!

  3. Mary Beth Ellis

    Thank you! One of the reasons I chose Saint Mary’s College was precisely to have profs like this, even as a freshman. Loved it.

  4. scotly50

    Thanks Mary Beth. Love your writing.

    Back to the cat: It lived !!! I know because it is confusing the mulch around my house as a litter box.

    All my attempts to catch it have been futile thus far. But, should I be suddenly successful, I am going to offer it as a gift to Marty, this evening in Nashville, for his years of service. It is the least I can do.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Is Marty right now the Reds broadcaster… OR ISN’T HE?!

  5. Mary Beth Ellis

    That’s a great story! Thanks for your service 🙂

  6. Samuel Withrow

    I’m 64 years old and been a Reds fan all my life. First losing the old lefthander and now Marty is tough. I me Marty for the first time last summer in Wrigley Field and had a pic with him and the Cowboy. That is a memory I will treasure forever. It will never be the same.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Like many, I grew up with Marty and Joe and truly enjoy Marty and the Cowboy. Will really miss him. I knew this day was coming but I’m glad it was pre-announced so that I can listen as much as I can this season.