Monday, September 23, 2002
Generations of Reds fans felt the joy
The circle is unbroken.
Bill Melton is 15 in 1976. He is sitting atop his mother's Chevrolet, tweaking his transistor radio, performing the delicate surgery with thumb and forefinger that allows him to hear Marty and Joe. It isn't easy following the Cincinnati Reds when you live in Virginia. But on this night, the stars are out, the Reds are in L.A. playing the hated Dodgers and the radio signal sounds like a symphony in the living room.
It was late in the summer, Melton recalls. The race was close.
The Reds and Dodgers were playing two. At about 2 in the morning, Johnny Bench won the opener with a three-run homer. The Reds swept L.A. I remember it like it was yesterday, Melton says.
You paused Sunday to remember your yesterdays, and to give thanks.
Theoretically, it was a day to say goodbye (or good riddance) to Cinergy Field. What it really was, was a time to mark your own years and the joy you found in them. The joy you want to pass on.
Bill Melton sat with his 6-year-old son, Alex, in the green seats behind the visitors dugout. Jim Bauer was there with his son, Anthony, also 6, just a few sections down. In the blues above the Reds dugout, Tom O'Meara gathered with his son, Mike and his grandsons, Cameron and Nolan, 12 and 8.
Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field was just a place - concrete, steel and plastic. It was made noble by the players who passed through. It was given life by the sturdy brick of memories.
No one who has lived here can say he or she hasn't been touched in some way by the Cincinnati Reds and the years they spent playing in the stadium that ended its run Sunday.
I grew up with this ballfield, said Jim Bauer.
The night Joe Oliver singled home Billy Bates with the winning run of Game 2 of the '90 World Series, Bill Melton sprinted to a pay phone and called his father in Virginia.
His family was from West Virginia, Melton explained. When we visited there, we always made a trip here for some games.
Alex Melton has been to six Reds Opening Days. The circle is unbroken.
The river of time flowed through the place Sunday, bringing with it Sparky, Bench, Doggie and Eric Davis. (It was also outstanding to see The True Creature, aka Ron Robinson.) Mostly, it carried the ties, thick and loving, that bind us to the game. Generations, sitting in the stands, remembering when.
Anthony Bauer's Mizuno glove is shiny as a new penny, yet broken in perfectly. From us tossing every night, Jim Bauer explained. Someone asks Jim what he wants Anthony to take from this last game at the old ballpark.
I want him to take a good sense of warmth that he and I are father and son and the great day we had watching the last Reds game at Cinergy Field, Bauer said. One day, I want him to take his son down here, to do for his son what I've done for him.
Cinergy Field was concrete and steel, given life by the more than 64 million fans who filled it in the last 32 years. The new place is cute and shapely. It casts a striking shadow on the city behind it and the river that flows beyond its new, perfect outfield. But it is a beautiful, empty vessel, waiting for its own memories, its own generations. By and by.
At 6:25 Thursday evening, Marty Brennaman closed his briefcase and left the radio booth. Bill Melton's mom no longer drives a Chevrolet. No one has a transistor radio. The Reds and Dodgers have stopped being mortal combatants.
Things change. The only constant is the time that flows like a river.
Melton will be at the opening of Great American Ball Park next March 31, his 17th opener in a row. Alex will be there with him. Brennaman will be in a new radio booth and you just know somewhere, far away, a kid will be fiddling with a radio, trying to hear the game.
And Anthony Bauer will be playing first base for the St. Jude Bulldogs in honor of his favorite player, Sean Casey.
The circle is unbroken. By and by.
E-mail Paul Daugherty at email@example.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty
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