07 December 2008

Riverfront Memories

When I was younger, I was taken to just a few baseball games in Cincinnati to watch my Reds.  I can confirm three of those occasions were games against the Atlanta Braves, because they were my dad's and brother's favorite team (which is why we went to two of them). The third game against the Braves was pure happenstance, but more on that in a moment. There were, of course, souvenirs from those games. I have in my possession today the Khan's sponsored team baseball card sets that were given away in 1988 and 1989. I would have a poster commemorating Tom Browning's perfect game (16 September 1988 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers) except that it rained the day that was given away and the poster was in rough shape before we even got out of the ballpark.

Armed with this knowledge (and nothing better to do), earlier yesterday I collaborated with a buddy of mine to research what dates those games were actually played. See, one of those games happens to have been a highlight of my entire thirty years on this planet. I won tickets via an Arby's/Fox promotion to a Reds/Braves game in 1989. It was perfect; all we had to do was meet the group at Mall St. Matthews and hop on one of two buses which would take us all to Cincy. The visiting team was my brother's favorite team, so everyone was happy. Until the morning of the game, and my mother was miserably sick with a severe migraine, something digestive and possibly Ebola.

To her credit (and to this day I not only don't know how she did it, but she won't let me forget it), she managed to endure the bus ride to and fro, and the intervening game itself. For this alone I would be indebted to her beyond reason, but it doesn't end there. On the ride up there, they passed around Arby's roast beef sandwiches and RC Cola (a combination I love to this day), and somewhere between Louisville and Cincinnati, the organizer of the promotion saw how jacked up I was about the game. He asked if I would like to go down on the field before the game.

Asking me that made it impossible for me to even think, much less speak. I think my smile might have actually begun to consume the rest of my face at that point, but whether I could say anything didn't seem to matter; he understood that I was communicating an acceptance of his offer. That day was Khan's team baseball card set giveaway day. I know, because I'll never forget rushing through the turnstile, handing my set to my mom and dashing into the souvenir stand to buy a baseball to take with me to get signed. Again, demonstrating valor above and beyond the call of duty, mom had the foresight to go back later and buy a ball holder.

I was escorted through the clubhouse and down onto the Astroturf during batting practice. In those days, the home team wasn't afraid to hit in front of the fans, and I got to watch Todd Benzinger hit. He trotted off before I could snag his John Hancock, but I did manage to get Dave Collins, Chris Sabo and Eric "the Red" Davis to sign my ball. There are three or four pictures that were taken by a photographer of this, and one of them quite clearly shows Eric Davis signing my baseball. We were then invited to tour the dugout, where we met the man himself, Peter Edward Rose.

Contrary to whatever stories I've ever heard about Charlie Hustle, the man could not have been more gracious and welcoming to us kids. I was surprised, even at the age of 10, that he was so willing to take time out to chat with us about being Reds fans when it seemed like he would have more pressing issues on his mind just before a game. His signature cemented the ball's place in my heart, and it is one of my three prized possessions to this day.

Shortly after this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, Rose accepted his lifetime ban from Major League Baseball, and I only bring this up because it was helpful in establishing the chronology of events as we worked to pin down the exact dates of these three games. His banishment went into effect on 24 August 1989, and I knew that the game I met him took place on a Sunday. There was only one Sunday game in Cincinnati with the Braves in town prior to that date, and that was 6 August. I was greatly disappointed to know that the Reds will not be playing at all on that date in 2009; I had rather hoped to celebrate the 20th anniversary by trekking up I-71 for another game.

That seemed rather early in the year to me for a baseball card team set giveaway, but then things have changed over two decades. Working backward, there was only one series against the Braves shortly after Browning's aforementioned perfect game. I know there was rain, so that eliminated the dry Friday and Sunday games; ergo, I was at the 1 October 1988 game. Eric Davis's 21st home run of the season powered the Redlegs to a 3-2 victory.

Since I didn't get the 1988 card set and the Browning poster in the same series (one was with mom, the other with dad), the only other series I could have attended in 1988 was in August. That also checks out with the card set in '89 having been given away in August. Again, being a Sunday game, I was able to determine that I was there on 14 August. Jose Rijo started that game, but got a no-decision in a 2-0 shutout.

Now, here's where things go south. I have a clear impression of watching Hal Morris hit a rare home run in the last game I saw as a kid in Cincinnati. I can close my eyes right now and see it hovering, then climbing up into the right field seats...the universal applause, punctuated by fireworks...it's right there in front of me. The problem is, Hal wasn't a Red until 1990. He only hit seven home runs that year, four of them on the road. I know I didn't go back to a game until 2000, so there are only three at-bats I could possibly have witnessed in 1990. Here they are:

5 August 1990 vs San Diego Padres - H Morris (4, off C Schiraldi; 4th inn, 1 on, 0 outs to Deep RF Line).
11 August 1990 vs San Francisco Giants - H Morris (5, off J Burkett; 2nd inn, 0 on, 1 out to Deep RF)
12 August 1990 vs San Francisco Giants - H Morris (6, off S Garrelts; 3rd inn, 0 on, 1 out to RF)

Now, here's the thing. I remember mom took us up to Cincinnati for an overnight stay one weekend. We saw a Reds game one night, and planned to go to Kings Island the next day. The next day, though, it rained all day long so we stayed at the hotel and swam. They had an indoor/outdoor pool, where it extended beyond the building, and you could actually swim right under part of the hotel itself.

So, I checked the schedule. The fifth and twelfth of August were Sundays. The reported conditions for the twelfth were dry with no precipitation, so I could not have attended the game on the eleventh.  The conditions were likewise dry on the thirteenth, which means I could not have attended the game on the twelfth, either. That leaves the 5 August game, and there was no game played the next day (a Monday), so I don't know if it rained in Cincinnati that day. The timing does, however make sense as our family's shop was closed on Sundays and Mondays, and this would have been the last chance to get away and do something before the school year started.

Looking at the game recap, I see that Eric Davis doubled, Paul O'Neill was caught stealing and Billy Hatcher homered in the seventh. It seems to me that someone else did homer later, and I kind of recall being disappointed that my favorite players failed to be more productive (they being Davis and O'Neill). So, until and unless someone can refute that I attended this game, it's going down in my log that I was in Cincinnati on 5 August 1990 to see Hal Morris hit his fourth home run of the year.