The matter of the 2023 June homestand series between the Reds and the Dodgers may now be discussed. (Thanks to Doug for understanding when I emailed him at approximately two hours before deadline on Tuesday night asking for an extension to see how this thing settled. Doug deserves a normal person writing for him. If you have the ability to turn around text in seven days without first downing eight cans of knock-off Perrier and an unholy amount of Fudge Rounds, please apply.)

But here’s why I trashed the draft originally intended for Wednesday: It was easy. It was suspiciously easy. I did not trust the nonfiction story unfolding before us.

The heralded rookie showed up at last to hurl lightning bolts from a fireworks-laden sky to raise the chins of a weary and bitter fan base who turned out only to see the post-game performance of the guy who did “Chicken Fried.

The venerable and aging star was on the bench. The two seconds of momentum garnered the previous month had evaporated right back into the river. The volume of buzz surrounding this guy hadn’t been heard since Billy Hamilton was called up… and we all know how that turned out, long, long after we’d given up hoping that it wouldn’t turn out the way it turned out.

On Tuesday, Elly De La Cruz, deigning to keep the game inside the actual park for the moment, unleashed the hardest hit ball the whole entire stadium has seen in the whole entire season, with the fastest to-base sprint speed of any player in the history of the oldest professional team in baseball. All in the same game. All on his first night.

This is Hollywood. That is hack bait. I could have spit out a column in the time it takes to ruin a WalMart bathroom, simply by copy-pasting every single all-sports trope that can possibly fall out of the hack closet.

Way too easy.

So I waited to see how Wednesday’s game would unfold, which, I imagined, would be: Normally. They would lose. De La Cruz would sink back to the Earth, someone would jog out of the bullpen and directly into an L, and the Cardinals would eventually catch us. leaving us to molder in last place. They always did. We always would.

But the smoke-filled skies on Wednesday slowly began to rotate, generating an absolute tornado of expectation by game time. What would he do next?

The whirlwind touched home plate as Joe Burrow showed up at batting practice, alighting from one WonderRookie season to bless another’s. (He hit several out, just to remind everyone who’s boss.) Then I received a Godson Whereabouts update.

I have no idea when the last time my college-aged nephew attended a baseball game, but he gathered his pack about him for what was unfolding on Wednesday. They purposely chose seats in De La Cruz’s favored bombing zone, right field, and pre-hashed strategies for their demands once they’d lay hands on the new sensation’s first home run. I found this extremely cute.

Then I was looking at footage of a homer that I first assumed took a giant bounce off the concrete steps and ricocheted up near the Power Stacks.

But no. No bounce. That was just where he’d hit it. The ball had merely come down at the edge of stadium wall.

Entire social media subplots developed around the performance De La Cruz delivered, here on his second day of his new job. The blast was remixed all over TikTok in seconds.  Intrepid citizen journalist 513Caleb, sitting just feet from where the ball came down, live-Tweeted the tense negotiations between the team and the fan who sat supreme with the ball in his hand. This was almost as gripping as what happened in the bottom of the ninth:

 

And in the wake of Wednesday’s murder-by-bat and subsequent walkoff, which also provided a bonus performance of David Bell old-school kicking infield dirt, a new development presented itself.

The light on the General Conversation Mention monitor flickered on.

The General Conversation Mention is the sterling indication that an event, person, topic, or sports team has broken through the discussion of niche diehards and into the mainstream. Air quality initially seemed to carry momentum as the General Conversation Mention of the week.  Tonya Harding was peak General Conversation Mention for the entirety of Olympic sport. Baby Yoda was General Conversation Armageddon.

And, here in 2023, enduring an MLB that does not seem to want me, a home team wandering around third place, and a local owner who actively insults the fanbase, I walked into a beauty salon and was met with a question I neither expected nor could quite fathom once I heard it:

“Did you see the game last night?”

I honestly cannot remember the last time anyone asked me this regarding the Cincinnati Reds. In fact the first and only time I experienced any electricity at all at GABP was watching Aroldis Chapman stride out of the bullpen over a decade ago.

But now here was a total stranger, in the flesh, asking me if I’d “seen the game.” Most importantly– and this was what separates the air quality from the Baby Yodas– she didn’t even have to specify which game or which team. She just assumed I would know.

This is why there was one common word running through every feed of every app over the past 72 hours:

“Hope,” the people said, one after the other. “Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.”

And, perhaps even more importantly: “Fun.”

Not only did that home run ball have a family (yes, the tee shirt is already available), so does what happened on Wednesday in Great American Ball Park. It is already firmly in the rarified echelon of “I Was There” games. It will join the ranks of the Todd Frazier All-Star home run derby and the Great Cardinals Brawl of 2010.

This could all end just as cruelly as every other season since the second year of the first Bush administration. De La Cruz might merely have begun a long and winding road of year-to-year contracts and shattered expectations on Tuesday. We all saw the terrifying first signs of it– we all saw life return to normal with a row of zeros yesterday afternoon.

But the lower bowl of the ballpark was almost completely full of people, here at the trailhead.

Hoping.

 

 

21 Responses

  1. Mike McSorley

    I, too, have been thrilled by De La Cruz’s extraordinary first three games. As a Reds fan since the ’50s, I hope it lasts. But I’m also a realist, baseball is hard and even the brightest shooting stars eventually flame out. Two word: Aristides Aquino.

    • greenmtred

      Aquino had a pedestrian record in the minors. Doesn’t guarantee stardom for Elly, but the situation is different.

      • LDS

        @Greenmtred, do you just say these things or do you bother to look up data? AA in 2019 had a slash line of .299/.356/.636/.992 with over 300 ABs, 28 HRs, etc. And no one started hotter than AA in August 2019. He had some other good seasons in the minors and some that weren’t. Sadly, @Mike is as likely to be right as anyone else. We don’t know at this point. As I’ve said several times in the last few days, none of the Reds young guns have more than about 400 ML ABS, including EDLC, McLain, Friedl, Barrero, and so on. I hope EDLC doesn’t flame out, doesn’t get injured, and lives up to his potential. And I think he will. But MLB is filled with failures as are the Reds. Nick Senzel for example.

      • Kevin H

        I don’t feel Nick Senzel is a failure. He is having his best season at this point. Some players do better than others yes, however this is year 5 for Senzel. In my opinion far from a failure. He can’t stay healthy.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Hearing it from someone who saw the Ragamuffin Reds and BRM, that has a lot of meaning to me. When a person who saw the game go by at Crosley speaks, this girl listens.

  2. LDS

    I’m hoping for the second coming of Eric Davis, without the health issues. Just hope they get a decent manager to facilitate the young team’s development

  3. David

    Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing.

  4. Votto4life

    My wife and I went to Elly’s first game. About four blocks from the ball park, a woman stopped us and asked if we were going to the game. We said we were and this stranger’s face brightened up and said “Elly De La Cruz Baby!” and gave my wife a high five.

    I have been following the Reds since 1973, I have never seen a player who has caused so much excitement. The close as I remember was Griffey Jr.’s first game with the Reds, but he was already a HOF player by that point.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      This is a fabulous memory. The best part of the home team doing well is sharing it with total strangers. Glad you and your lady were there 🙂

  5. Melvin

    I think it’s safe to say that De La Cruz is generating even more fun, hope, and excitement than Billy Hamilton or Chapman ever did. 🙂

  6. Mark Moore

    Red told Andy that Hope is a Dangerous thing. I’ve said that on this forum. I’ll stand by it.

    And I’m completely awash in Hope watching ELDC and this bunch of Reds continue the journey. It’s magical to say the least.

  7. Scott C

    Hope is the Word. Unfortunately, ownership needs to take advantage of the, what 5 or 6 years we can keep Elli? Then he will pack his bags and go off to New York or LA or some other city that is willing to pay what the Reds ownership will not. Wish I could be anything but cynical but from I have seen the last twenty or some odd years, it is hard not to be. Still, let’s enjoy it while we have it.

  8. Andrew Brewer

    Loved your article Mary Beth. The Young Reds have been playing good ball, all year, sometimes exceptional. Who had any expectations going in ? Recently, we swept the Cubs in their park, and found ourselves 4 games back at home with the Brewers for 4 games. After dropping the first 3, most of us were really glad to pick up the 4th, and who was this new guy, Andrew Abbott ? With the Cape and the Helmet for the homerun hitters being the rage, the Reds themselves have shown little interest in hitting them out. But they have been coming from behind… The excitement is there becaused it’s not the same-o-same-o. There’s also a guy named “Lively” who appears from a long absence out of country, and the batters appear baffled… This is going to be a good season, and one to remember… I’m starting to expect the unexpected.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      It’ll be interesting to see where we are at the break, that’s for sure. Are pitchers gonna figure out De La Cruz?
      And will it matter?

  9. John Kelly

    Thanks to the pitch clock at other rule changes, baseball has become watchable again for me. I saw De La Cruz’s debut against the Dodgers, and I couldn’t believe how fast he ran around the bases. I had been watching the sport since the early 1960s and I have seen Willie Davis, Willie Mays, the Griffeys (Sr. and Jr.) and NOBODY has run like that.

    This is the first year I’ve followed baseball since 2013. It’s great to be back again!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I am so glad to hear your perspective. Thank you for dropping by– glad you were able to see our new Red!