The last time I remember really being nervous during a Cincinnati Reds game in September–you know, that paralyzing, hard-to-breathe feeling–was in 2013. I had graduated college a couple of months prior and didn’t yet have a real full-time job, so I followed the Reds very closely that year. The Reds were in a battle for a wild card spot, and I was locked in, eyes glued to a TV for nearly every game down the stretch. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey were at the top of the rotation and Shin Soo-Choo was getting on base at a ridiculous pace. Even though the Reds would go on to lose the wild card game against the Pirates, it was a good time to be a fan.
Everyone knows what happened in the six years following that wild card game. A new manager and a delayed rebuild led to six straight losing seasons. And somewhere in those six years, I started to lose interest, just a little bit. I still got excited for Opening Day every year and I still spent money to go to games. However, in the day-to-day, watching the losing grew tiresome. I started paying attention only half the time.
At games, I found myself people watching or staring at Twitter more than watching the actual game while sitting in an empty row down the third base line at Great American Ball Park on a crisp September night. I found myself making more plans with friends, instead of choosing to stay home and watch a baseball game. I was becoming apathetic. For a die-hard who became a fan from watching bad 2000s Reds baseball in her teens, I hated that feeling.
When baseball postponed the season earlier this year, I thought I would miss it more than I did. But I found other things to occupy my time, like running and socially-distanced hiking. Even after the initial excitement of the sport coming back in July wound down, the apathy came creeping back throughout August. I found myself reverting back to mindless scrolling of Twitter rather than all my focus being on the game.
Apathy is what most sports organizations are afraid of when it comes to fans. It’s harder for organizations to sell tickets once apathy settles in. It hit long ago with the Bengals. But the Reds have always been different. While ticket sales have been down in recent years, the TV and radio ratings have been up. People weren’t spending money on games, but they were still watching. But how much was it just background noise as they went about other daily tasks? How much were those fans really paying attention?
This past week, however, has hit different. Every pitch has meaning to it. As I’m sure many Reds fans have, I’ve had complete focus on the games more in the last week than in the four weeks prior. When a team starts winning, baseball looks different. I’ve paid closer attention to what pitches the “big three” starters–Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer–are throwing and how many home runs the Reds can hit in one game. I’ve sat on the edge of the couch waiting to see if the Reds will drive home that runner from second. I’ve laughed as Amir Garrett talks to himself before striking out a batter. This is what winning can do. It can create excitement for a fan base that has desperately needed it.
Sure, the offense can be frustrating at times, but that’s baseball. No team is perfect. Regardless of the offensive slumps the Reds go through, there’s no denying the last nine games have been really fun. So enjoy the ride, Reds fans. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t know what’s coming next. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, not even the little things like your favorite team playing winning baseball. No matter what happens over these last five games, the Reds gave us a fun two weeks in September. Now let’s hope it carries over into October.