“I don’t really own this car,” I once heard Jay Leno say of a one-of-a-kind classic car in his keeping. “I just take care of it for the next owner.”

I repeated this comment to the Ohio State student who was, at the time, its marching band’s drum major. “Do you know how brilliant that is?” he said, eyes wide. “That’s exactly what it’s like to be drum major.”

It is. The drum major cannot fold, spindle, or mutilate the position. If he changes one single solitary thing about his duties without widespread permission, he will hear about it from fans of the football team, fans of the band, former drum majors, alumni bandsmen. The ghost of Woody Hayes will crash down upon his immortal soul. Who he is, in this moment of life, is not as important as what he must do– and how he does it.

For what he does to burnish his own life resume is not up for discussion; all that is asked of an Ohio State drum major is two years or more of never screwing one single thing up and maybe leaving the job a little bit better for the next.

But not too much.

It’s a near-impossible ask, of course, but consider what Reds fans ask of our leadership. It is at once an outrageous task and the easiest job in the world. We ask for excellence but are willing to settle for aligning payroll to resources. Sweeping the entire sport’s pre-emptive favorite for the championship and a decade’s worth of domination are the goal, but eh, that’s a pretty big ask, and at least the team is still in town, amirite?

Caught in the tension of this are the actual players, who find themselves in this odd mix of easygoing appreciation and building frustration. We’ll take what we can get. We just show up a little bit less. No to season tickets, yes to the radio in the background and the DVR recaps. We’re here. We also aren’t.

The only times I have attended RedsFest were when I was working it, but I was still interested to see how a mostly-empty stadium and direct insults from the front office would apply to this winter wonderland of anticipation and game-used items. The answer: Lines around the block of the Convention Center. The message, then, is “Wouldn’t kick a Word Series trophy out of bed, but not gonna put the number at the top of the Friday night rotation, either.”

Why, then, must the ownership shift its amazing strategy of putting good beer and bad teams in place? I used to wonder what this front office would do when the Bengals inevitably return to form and Votto retires, but staring at that photo of fans patiently awaiting admittance to the high-cost rally event, it occurred to me that answer is another question:  Why should it? We are a city-wide Charlie Brown, ever staring at the little red-haired girl and squinting down the lawn at Lucy holding the football: This time, this time, it could be different. And then it’s not and we just shrug and walk back to the other end of the grass for another express trip to laying flat on our backs.

It’s because many of us don’t just love the Reds– this fandom wasn’t a choice for most of us; it was laid upon us at birth like a baptismal gown– we love baseball. We’ll sit in a bar staring over our date’s shoulder at two teams we don’t know much about playing a game that will have absolutely no impact upon our team, just because it’s nine men fanned out across the grass.

Current ownership knows this. It’s baked in. The literally bank on it. And so they’re smart enough to tend the rose garden and keep the outfield watered while maintaining the 2019 price of pop. They’re bare-minimum custodians. We cannot complain of total neglect.

But a respectful classic car owner, an innovative drum major, and an owner who truly understands the job knows that maintaining the status quo is the bedrock. To maximize impact while never ripping the guts out of the thing, they will find ways to use 21st century technology to curb the loss of horsepower while keeping the original engine engine mostly intact,. Toss the baton over the goal post and maybe add another half-rotation to the backflips.  And keep the ballpark a ballpark to which we’re not ashamed to take out-of-town friends, but also to a game at which we might see a winner.

Those who keep the hold the standard tend to work hard. They give. They are necessary. They deserve our gratitude. The best of these understand that they don’t really own what they own.

But sometimes the output could be so much more.

17 Responses

  1. LDS

    I wish the folks still embraced the custodial mindset. Everywhere we look, traditions, quality, and so forth are cast aside for various reasons, not the least of which as that so many today don’t respect what came before. It matters not whether it’s a political institution, the post office, a statue, or a sports team. It just doesn’t matter. Glad to see you haven’t joined the masses. Keep the ideas flowing.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I will do my best 🙂 thank you for the kind words.
      It’s difficult to balance the best of the day with respect for what came before. Sunkist Fruit Gems, for example, are a miserable fail for JellyBelly. The return of CremeSavers, however, was a spot-on triumph.

  2. Mike McSorley

    A solution not costing the owners anything (or maybe a VistaPrint account for printing stock certificates)
    Take a page from the Green Bay Packers, offer stock (non-voting of course) in the team. The money from the stock sales specifically earmarked for talent payroll and
    acquisition. I bought “stock” in the packers for my brother-in-law last Christmas … $300. Multiply that by several hundred thousand and maybe concessions wouldn’t be so high. The Packers play in the smallest of markets, yet are competitive each season. Maybe that could work here? Phone call or packers.com search wouldn’t hurt.

    • Mark Moore

      It’s an interesting concept. It’s got unlimited potential in the end as it goes beyond those living there. I’ve got a friend with a Packers’ cert … it’s funny to read when it plainly states “You don’t own anything. You bought this because you’re a fan.”

      Still, I’d be hard-pressed to add money to the Bob & Phill show at this point. I just don’t trust them one bit.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      If it works anywhere, it would work here.

  3. Jerry

    I think that Mike Mc Sorley has a great idea. Who wouldn’t want a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or birth day gift of stock in the Reds. I would treasure a gift like that. It will never happen, but I like Mike’s thinking.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      With e-voting now a thing, I bet we could make it happen.

  4. Daytonnati

    Remember, though, we have THREE “i’s” to dot here. 🙂

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yessir! Only in the home of Neil Armstrong AND John Glenn!

  5. Rednat

    good stuff Mary Beth. It is strange to me as I get older I find myself not liking baseball more and more. Yet I follow the reds closer and closer. I didn’t watch one pitch of the world series this year yet I went to my usual 20 reds game and at least checked the box score of every single reds game for the entire season. I think because the reds have been so bad for so long I have developed somewhat of a dislike for the game. I Would have to think even a casual dodger or yankee fan likes mlb more than even the most avid reds fan just because their team has had so much more success.

    Any way, good piece

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you! That’s an interesting, opposite tension; maybe you’re embracing the Reds as you get older because not matter what (stupid) changes they go through, at least they are a constant.

  6. Mark Moore

    Great perspective once again, MBE. I always look forward to “Baseball is Life” posts.

    Sadly, I’d say the current ownership hasn’t a friggin’ clue about what being a custodian means. We’ll likely see weak numbers for attendance, but that’s only one little sliver of the pie. The attendance at the pay-to-go rally is puzzling, though I get it’s a chance to see players up close and personal.

    I won’t be wrangling a trip to Goodyear. And I probably won’t make a trip to GABP unless something kind of miraculous happens. As I noted on another thread, the jury’s out as to when I’ll buy the MLB.tv package this year (the over/under point is the Father’s Day annual sale).

    In the end, I don’t feel very “custonianed” by the current situation at all. But I still love our Reds.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks. I saw a billboard yesterday for tickets in Goodyear and I was like… “Well, you’re optimistic, at any rate.”

  7. Chas

    Great article MB, I couldn’t echo your sentiments more. You know, I have a cousin (by marriage) that lives in Pittsburg. We visited them around the time we got married and I asked him if he was a Pirates fan. His reply was “is anyone?” He’d never been to a Pirates game and can’t imagine who’d spend good money to see anything they do. (I did ruin our relationship on an insult at the Steelers, but that’s another story). Taking what you said a bit further, many MLB owners don’t understand that they’re custodians of culture and history for the teams they own. The great Pirate and Reds teams of old are overshadowed by modern owners who value making great returns vs making great history. If I were a betting man, the Red Fests and Opening Day parades are filled with people who remember the B.R.M days and the “Red Tough” 90’s (and drag their families). The younger folks have no history of greatness to tie them to this team, only rebuilds and rising cost of everything.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Kind words. Thank you. I agree– at this point, it’s people who can remember the good times plus their babies and grandbabies. At least we have that.

  8. redfanorbust

    Great article. However Reds have not been seriously relevant in 30 years. That’s thirty. A couple brief shots of espresso (not full cups of coffee) in the playoffs but that’s it. When complaining about the current state of affairs of this years team don’t forget the previous 29.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Espresso shots in the playoffs– well said. I appreciate the appreciation 🙂