Phil Castellini has one foot on my neck and he knows it. Boy, do I know it, too. Still, he didn’t need to do it so forcefully, so publicly, so humiliatingly this week. You see, the Friday before Opening Day in Cincinnati, I picked up the phone and bought a season ticket.
There. I said it.
Go ahead. It’s your turn now. I’m the problem. I’m the reason Bob Castellini and son can get away with their new venture, Budget Baseball, a/k/a The Dollar Store Down By The River at Great American Gall Park. Say it. Nothing changes as long as people like me exist. Call me the sucker that I am. Call me clueless. I get it. And yes, I look away in shame as I pass by The Riverfront’s new billboard on I-75. Somewhere, my friend Chad Dotson is shaking his head right now, wondering where I went so wrong.
Lay on MacDuff.
Here’s the thing, though. I love my baseball. I wrote about it once. How my childhood Friday nights were spent meticulously laying out my Knothole baseball tee, pants and stirrup socks at the foot of the bed, praying Saturday wouldn’t bring with it rain. How I walked away from major league baseball after the strike in 1994; and how I only came back when my son—having, as it turned out, been a baseball fan in utero—began turning the channel from the Telletubbies to Taubensee, comma Eddie.
From thereon, it’s been three trips each summer down the Pennsylvania Turnpike from New York City, an average of 15 games a year to satisfy my Reds fix. I have long looked forward to the day when I might move here and wander the ballpark on any summer evening of my choosing, surfing on the rise and fall of the crowd noise at every barrel of the ball. So, when the dream came to fruition in October, when I settled in to my new home on river, I poured over the ballpark map online, agonizing over which was the most advantageous seat to purchase. On the aisle? In the shade of the overhang? How close to Joey? Then, I waited for the lockout to end.
You’d think we’d know by now just how little sports owners care about their patrons by now. I mean, Cincinnati has had Exhibit A right there down river at Paul Brown Stadium for decades, for god’s sake.
But, here we are, taking it in shorts once more, this time in the most audacious manner. This is going into the pantheon of local quotes, along with “I’m sorry I bet on baseball” and “I think of myself as a man of faith, as there’s a drive into deep left field…”
Don’t be surprised if you see workmen taking down Nuxy’s famous letters on the facade facing Ft. Washington Way while the Reds are on the road this weekend and replacing them with “WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO GO?” It was such a Marie Antoinette moment, it had me picturing the owner’s son wearing an 18th century gown and a powdered wig. Let them eat cake, indeed.
Any desire to see the accounting books of the Reds has become a moot point now. Phil Castellini made that apparent when he essentially told fans, “hey, I’m doubling down, and I’ll do it on Opening Day, no less, because I don’t need your ticket window money. I have Apple TV and Peacock silver to supplement my local TV coin, Disney Plus banknotes and my revenue-sharing bullion.”
Still, I’m going because I’m no longer in the early innings of my life. I don’t have the time left to wait for another Richie Rich to move into the owners’ suite and make public promises he has no intention of keeping. I’m not letting the Castellini family deprive me of those last few years watching the greatest first baseman the Cincinnati Reds have ever had. I’m not missing the second-coming of Dwight Gooden in the form of a long-awaited Greene prospect with an electric arm. I’m not going to miss baseball games in the company of my son and brother. I’m not going to be left with only the memories of my father’s late inning Lemon Chill, or my mother’s sequined Reds hat. I’m going to make as many new memories as I can, while I can. They may rob me of a competitive nine, but they won’t rob me of that.
The Reds employees worth feeling sorry for are the Media Relations folks who now have the impossible task of cleaning up the mess in Aisle Phil. Maybe part of that was the apology he issued to the fans later in the evening via press release:
“I apologize to Reds fans and regret the comments that I made earlier today. We love this city, we love this team, and we love our fans. I understand how our fans feel and I am sorry.”
All fine and dandy. But I gotta say in my best Roy Scheider voice, “you’re gonna need a bigger mop.”
Phil Castellini knows all this. But you must tip your cap to him. The brutal honesty is refreshing—in a deeply saddening way.