At 7:43 PM on Monday, January 24, 2002, this was your skyline, Cincinnati.
A crappy frosted iPhone photo doesn’t really transmit how very orange this all was. The Coliseum. The Great American tiara. The 5/3 building. The very sky itself. Orange.
Young and medium-young people, this is what those of use who have experienced this kind of thing before– winning– were so hoping you could experience. This orange sky. The all-encompassing unity of it all. The yard signs.
Yes, Bengals, the very ads on the winding streets of the West Side proclaim your glory. The excitement runs deep. The bakeries offer Baby Joey King Cakes. You have our attention.
The Bearcats couldn’t do it. FC couldn’t do it.
And the Reds couldn’t do it.
It feels differently this time around; my world is no longer confined to a sixth-grade classroom and the one-mile radius surrounding it. I’m looking at the same river– although its skyline has radically altered in three decades–but in that time, I have left it, wandered the wastelands of the Nationals and the Marlins, and returned. Found a husband. I lost a father. I no longer care if I win a Pulitzer or not. I saw the towers fall. I am distilled.
And so I’m at a distance. I’m enjoying the enjoyment. I have been hurt; I have been morally disappointed and downright shoved away by every single franchise in this town. So have you, I imagine, but in your own ways and for your own reasons. And I am still coming to terms with attaching my self-worth and happiness to something other the vagaries of the outside world– of which way the coin flips or the wind shifts.
But this didn’t happen by accident:
I do not like that last sentence. You, as a baseball fan, also should not like that last sentence. But how do we demand better from an ownership that knows our fandom is generationally bound– that if we’re so hysterically forgiving after a 31 year drought, it stands to reason that we will also come rushing back to the Reds Team Shop after 26 year silence.
Will the day come when that skyline is red? Is it just a matter of patience? It’s difficult to imagine such a thing when, just as we should be anticipating the packing of the Arizona-bound trucks, we don’t even know if spring training will take place. I am wary of all of it– the Baby Joeys and the way the MLB doesn’t seem to particularly care if I show up or not.
So instead of feeling my heart leap when my husband woke me up after last week’s game by screaming “CAN YOU BELEIVE IT?!” (yes, I fell asleep late in the first quarter) I clapped my hands when I saw that rookie Evan McPherson’s jersey is sold out for at least the next six months. Good for him. Good for the little ones and big ones who have found a new hero and a story to tell those to who will come after. Your lives are different now; this moment, these weeks are now grafted onto your DNA, whether you like it or not.
Perhaps, Reds fans, we’ve simply been making demands in the wrong place and in the wrong way:
What’s interesting here is the timing. The decisive play of that final drive was not the field goal, but the interception that turned the ball around. As the Titans crouched into position, Bengals coach Zac Taylor was frantically attempting to call a time out. The refs didn’t see him. The play went forward. And the whole world shifted. This unfolded on the field just as the nuns bent their heads to pray.
Now this is not to say there weren’t some sisters in Nashville straining mightily to nudge McPherson’s kick out of the uprights. It is to say that the reason the Bengals were even playing that day is the result of good decisions, cultural changes, and a willingness to open a wallet.
Enjoy what you can while you can enjoy it. We do not know when the color of the night sky will change again.
(In case you want to apply what the good sisters did on Sunday afternoon, click here.)
Bonus familial orangeness: