I am typing this from Colorado, which means I am in a sustained excellent mood, for the Reds can’t hurt me here.

This is Rockies country… barely. You can smell the despair emanating from every pine, each wildflower leaf. Every sanctimonious California transplant. Not only has this team never won a World Series, it has never won a World Series game. The Reds are to the Rockies as the Yankees are to the Reds. These people dream of a pitcher making it out of a 5th inning.

The Trophy That Has Adventures

But as a sports whole, the state is still fruitful; the Broncos have seen the Super Bowl several times, and has managed to win more than once– within the last decade, too. The Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup three times, and were so understandably pleased with themselves that they hauled it to the highest point in the state of Colorado.

For all the difficulty that comes with winning it, the Stanley Cup is a friendly, relatable sort of world championship token.  It is an up-close mess. In more than one place, it misspells the names of the teams who have won it.  Several engravings are crooked. When the Cup travels, It misses its airline connection. It is the trophy that never quite gets its act together. It is us.

And the Reds can learn from it.

Wearing the History

The Stanley Cup wears its own history, even its regrettable moments. People change their minds about putting certain names on it and just… cross them out. It even notes when hockey leaves us for a season and no one wins it at all.

Even awarding the thing gets messy. It happens right there on the ice and in the moment. In “the hoisting,” the captain alone takes the Cup first, then passes it to whoever he thinks deserves to hold it second, and so on. 

But what’s admirable about the Stanley Cup is that the celebration doesn’t stop at the front line. If you show up two hours past the initial ceremony, you’ll see clubbies and Zamboni drivers waving it around in the chill air. We lose together, but we win together, too.

Group Hug

The story of how the Cup-hoisting began immediately reflects the group hug that is a hockey championship. You know how that tradition began? By generous accident. The captain of the 1950 champions, Sid Abel, left the presentation area and skated the Cup around the rink– but not as a flex. He wanted the whole crowd to see. This is not ours; this is ours.

The democratic approach to the Stanley Cup extends past the victory ceremony. The club can choose up to fifty-five names– fifty-five!– for engraving honors. Every player gets a day to share the trophy with their families, grade school teachers, friends, childhood neighbors, mentors, and idiot college roommates. If you played a role, any role at all, in the presence of that Cup in a player’s life, odds are good you’ll have an opportunity to take the selfie of a lifetime.

This is what the Florida Panthers are currently experiencing as they celebrate their first world championship. When the owner and coach were approached about how this year was different from the rest, their answer sounded… wonderful.

How They Did It

They knew, they said, that pretty-good team they were already fielding could not win the Stanley Cup. They could, however, win with the right players, the right coach, and an approach of “We are going to take it, you know” rather than “Wow, I hope we make the playoffs.”

And that is the difference. And that is where the front office of the Reds can learn a lesson from both the Panthers and the trophy they hoist.

Sharing in a win is easier than inviting the crowd to huddle close during a losing season. It’s far simpler to overflow with generosity when our hands are already full with exactly what we want. And I don’t expect Giants-style brick behavior from the Reds; they know we’d fling them directly in the river.

As Many As They Want

But now, as the goal for this season has shrunk to “maybe don’t finish last,” the Cincinnati faithful are dangling by a thread the exact shape and size of Elly De La Cruze. What is ownership doing to keep us in the seats? Hoping the Dodgers will bide their time in scooping him out from under us?

This is a team that operates not from confidence, but from fear. It’s a limiting attitude that leaks into the stands and through the earbuds of everyone listening throughout the I-275 beltloop. We are a city primed to share a trophy. We know better than anyone else in baseball that a solid team wins not for themselves, but for one another. Those players win not just one trophy, but as many as they want.

We are a city that wears our own history, the long strings of wins and the much longer droughts. We’re far past due for a maybe-pretty-good team. We have been patient. We deserve a group hug.

What do we need to hoist the Commisioner’s Trophy together?

And why don’t we have it?



16 Responses

  1. Will the Red

    Once again, a wonderful post, Mary Beth. You are dead on and it’s a shame that for at least 2 seasons running now, the FO seems too scared to act decisively, to speak in a manner of confidence in the players AND of themselves. Oof, to be a Reds fan now it’s to marvel at the exploits of a shooting star while cursing the foibles of those AAAA players asked to support him. We can admire their attempts, but Benson, Fairchild, Maile, and so many others of our 9 don’t seem to have it. So what’s the front office do? Nada, even though we’ll have an obvious position crunch in the infield as soon as next season and an increasingly dire need in the outfield.

    But I lament. You keep writing, I’ll keep reading ?

    • Will the Red

      That should have been a smile face, not a question mark, at the end. Forgot we don’t do emojis 😉

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you 🙂 I’m still surprised Elly hasn’t been shifted to the outfield. But nobody checks with me. And that does *not* surprise me.

  2. Mark Moore

    Having lived in Grand Rapids, MI for almost 2 decades during the span when the Red Wings were really good (despite all that the Avalanche and one Patrick Roi could do to thwart that) I get some of the flavor you are talking about. I’m not a hockey fan. It’s accessible to me now here in Raleigh, but I just don’t choose to go. And I knew of hockey at the college level back before it was extremely popular (Elmira College near where I lived had a really good team in the 70’s).

    Common accessibility and youthful joy … that’s what I read in this piece and we see in Lord Stanley’s battered and beleaguered Cup. And it is something special.

    Not sure we’ll ever sniff such an opportunity with the current ownership and FO as they seem to care less for the fanbase than for their own status and wallets. Still, hope remains even in a season quickly running out of time. We enjoy what we can whilst we have it as you said. Elly will not retire a Red by a long shot unless something drastically changes. I’m okay with that … I just want to see solid, winning baseball on a regular basis.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I feel like the first half of the season whizzed past in no time. That happens, I guess, when you’re struggling just to break out of the basement.

  3. Jim Walker

    Excellent Mary Beth. +100K (or more).

    My particular unfavorite is the crowd that says it is better to blow up a potential playoff team and miss the playoffs than make the playoffs because they judge the current iteration of the team unworthy of winning the World Series.

    To them I say my modification of the Ohio Lottery Slogan, If you don’t play (in the playoffs) you can’t win (in the playoffs).

  4. LDS

    Win together or lose alone. I’d love to see attendance tank and get Castellini’s attention. It won’t, but it should. Excellent article, MBE. As one who doesn’t follow hockey, it was educational as well.

  5. NorMichRed

    MBE, I loved this article on so many levels. When the weather turns bitter and the ballparks are empty except for the cold winds coursing through them for many months, hockey is my other passion. And after being fortunate enough to be a Reds’ fan as a kid and live in Cincinnati during a chunk of the BRM years while in school at UC, my summer passions follow what’s left of the proud Reds’ franchise today. And that’s not so easy these days, is it? Now all that said…I lived in Denver for nearly 20 of my middle-aged years and while there I was a season ticket holder of both the Rockies (baseball version and with a rare playoff visit in their first Coors Field season) and the Avalanche (first season, a Cup winning season, only) before moving to Northern Michigan 200+ miles from any major league sport venue. (But I was in Cincinnati last month to take in a couple Reds’ games!)

    What made our exit from Denver easier was, as you noted, the “sanctimonious California transplants” who more or less turned a mid-sized, charming city with a flavor into “LA Junior” and a place with its identity lost. But before we left, we saw a Stanley Cup champion born, and there is nothing in sport like the intensity of the Stanley Cup playoff endurance test and the pure bliss that comes with winning that prize. Hockey, arguably at all levels these days, comes with a greater commitment, resolve, and passion than does MLB, whether one is an owner, a player, or just an avid fan. Baseball franchises and their ownership groups need to find a way to reharvest that kind of energy to bring the game back to where it was a generation or two ago. That’s not going to happen with the Castellini’s or their hires, unfortunately. Cincinnati remains a city near to my heart even though I haven’t lived there for decades, and deserves better. I think that passion for the Reds and hope for their success is still broadly simmering just beneath the surface and the right people running the entire Reds ownership and FO could bring it back to a boil with the commitment to rediscover success and not just sell seats with bobblehead nights!

    (And, as a sidebar, I have an autographed Sid Abel hockey puck on my desk, and an autographed Gordie Howe stick on my office wall. Not far away from my Pete Rose and Joe Morgan autographed baseballs. And close to color photos of Coors Field and GABP.)

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I’m so glad you had a chance to enjoy the Aves.Denver is now unrecognizable to me (I remember eating in a Burger King across from Mile High Stadium for an idea of how long ago I first met Colorado) and I avoid it. What the transplants have done to Colorado as a whole is unutterably painful and heartbreaking. The changes in Denver and COS of course affect the smaller towns and ranches, and everyone is suffering– in no way are these people better off since the invasion began. I’ve heard many a story of lifetime small towners who can no longer afford to live in their own homes. Hopefully it will come to rights soon.

      You are absolutely correct when you say that “success is still broadly simmering just beneath the surface.” That’s what’s so frustrating about the Reds situation… this isn’t an awful team. There is a great deal of potential. But potential doesn’t lead to hoisting.

      (I tried to attach to the Cyclones and FC or even the Florence Freedom, but they all did the same infuriating things the Reds did to push me away. Hopefully that will come to rights soon, too.)

  6. Hanginwithem

    I always read through to the end, for the whimsical modifiers and because I always seem to learn something. Lawn jarts, next? Curling? Keep it up!

  7. Oldtimer

    I’m spoiled. The 1960s were the Golden Age of MLB. The 1970s Reds are the best NL team ever. We had season tickets both decades.