I used to think that double-header baseball games were God's gift to summer. My dad and I used to spend hours at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, drinking lemonade, eating hot dogs and peanuts, and watching the game. Well, my dad watched the game. With his transistor radio planted firmly by his ear, Dad focused on baseball, while I spent much of my time walking back and forth from one end of the park to the other.
"Cold drinks here," a vendor would shout. "Hot dogs, get your hot dogs here," called out another. I am not sure I can spell the word "here" as they pronounced it. Somehow the vendors artfully made it into a two-syllable word. And Pete Rose wasn't the only one to hustle. Those vendors took the steps as if they had springs in their shoes.
The good-natured ushers left me alone as I walked around like a vendor with nothing to sell. I felt free, yet safe in the world of baseball.
If we weren't at a game, often we had the game on the radio wherever we were. Listening to Waite Hoyt broadcast a game was like having my grandpa, a baseball devotee, near.
On hot, sunny days, Dad would work among his rosebushes. My mother would be in the house, often at the kitchen window washing dishes. I would paddle around our swimming pool doing back dolphins and seeing if I could hold my breath while swimming the entire length of the pool. All the while, coming out of the two rusty speakers screwed into the brick wall was the Cincinnati Reds baseball game.
I would hear the roar of the crowd if a player got a hit. I could feel the lull between batters. Hoyt didn't fill every second with chatter. There was actually a certain peacefulness throughout the game, interspersed with periods of excitement. Just having the game on meant all was well with the world.
But then I grew up, got married, and after the babies came, money was scarce. Going to Reds games was not on the docket for us.
My husband worked second shift, and those were lonely hours for me. Late at night, I would be nervous in our apartment, taking care of a baby and feeling alone. Then I would turn on the radio and listen to the baseball game – and I didn't feel alone any longer.
It was a special treat when the Reds played on the West Coast and were on late. If they were on the television, it was an extra treat. I would feed and rock the baby while watching Johnny Bench and Tony Perez take to the field of dreams.
As the years went by, my interest in the Reds was replaced by interest in Little League. The radio was silent, and I didn't know one player from the next. If someone had asked me who was manager of the Reds, I'd probably have said Sparky Anderson, because that's where my baseball memory stopped.
But this spring, while my husband and I were coming home from our grandson's first birthday celebration, I turned on the radio. I had heard that spring training had started. I went to the AM station where I used to listen to the games, and, sure enough, the Reds were on.
I felt at home.
There were years when I resented professional sports for sullying our fantasy of honesty, integrity, and love of the game. But maybe I am past that.
As I write this, I have the radio on. I'm listening to a game, and I'm feeling that just maybe with the Reds, I will be able to go home again.