The most important part of the Reds 2023 season is that we noticed when it ended. Never has this city more enjoyed a season that didn’t see a team make the playoffs. Whatever else happens to this team in future seasons, we will have this. The 2023 Cincinnati Reds made us pay heed.
That doesn’t sound like much. In fact, it sounds like the bare minimum of a sports team– that its people should care whether it lives or dies. But beaten into numbness as this city’s baseball fans were, this is significant.
Sell the Team, Bob
The Reds are so interwoven into the city’s history and culture– and, let’s face it, its infrastructure– that the club can withstand the cyclical rises and falls that accompany any long-term sport. But the Reds were rapidly approaching the thin ice of the city’s economic pond. When fans collect money to erect a billboard along a major interstate advising the team owner to cut his losses, the losing just isn’t cute anymore.
Were we Cleveland now? Minus one Joe Burrow, we were Cleveland now.
I began this season only vaguely realizing that Opening Day was imminent as I removed my mother’s belongings from the nursing home where she died. Where were you that week? You probably don’t remember. You probably don’t remember because you probably didn’t care– or, at least, not the way you used to. If I hadn’t just lost a parent the day before and was walking in that odd haze of grief that both focuses time and blurs it together, I likely wouldn’t have either.
The worst insult we can pay another isn’t to feel hatred, or even love deformed into hatred, but indifference. Was there a game on tonight? Who cared? It was to the point when 90% of the cradle fandom didn’t even think to ask.
Now this city has charted the largest increase in tickets sold in all of Major League Baseball. We’re an easy lay. Even the dimmest prospect of breaking .500 on the season was enough to bring us running back to the turnstiles. We are suckers for promise, because the Reds are so baked into us that we don’t want a losing record, even to force a team sale. We are suckers for promise.
We Just Want Them to Play Ball
The question now is how the team settles into 2024. Who stays healthy? Who stays and who goes? If Votto indeed lays down the bat and Jonathan India is traded, who functions as the clubhouse leader these young ones need? Which player on the current roster has the combination of integrity, seasoning, and sense of responsibility to push this club from factoring in the playoff chase to actually in the playoff chase?
Maybe this, then, will be the legacy of He Who Bangs– not the ring we all wanted for him, but something more intangible but just as well- remembered. Maybe the greatest jewel of his legacy is push the pieces in place for the players who followed to not just raise the Commissioner’s Trophy, but to at least have it within reaching distance. I think, for the boy who always “just want(ed) to play ball,” he would regard that with great satisfaction.
The bad news is that this team cannot get away with almost comical levels of failure anymore. The Bengals began our ruination two years ago, and this firecracker of a season has sealed it. We have tasted competency, and we will accept no other effort.
The little girl who spread the Cincinnati Enquirer on the kitchen floor and dropped to hands and knees to contemplate the NL West standings now checks her phone in the grocery line for the same information. That might have changed, and there’s an embarrassingly large gap between the two methods, but at least I found it necessary.
I bet you did, too.
That is the difference. That is why I am already aware that Opening Day 2024 is March 30, at 4:10 in the afternoon.