Friday, May 18, 2001

Happy road

51 years vanish in 1st inning

        Until Thursday, Ted Berlage had not been to a Reds game in 51 years.

        He loves baseball. Has an encyclopedic knowledge of lineups, stats and strategies.

        He can name Reds infielders from the '40s, cite ancient batting averages and go into great detail about the advantages of the suicide squeeze.

        In the next breath, he can give pointers on winning the game of life. In life, as in baseball, he says, direction is everything.

        “There are two roads in life,” Ted told me.

        “One way to go through life is to be sad. The other way is to be happy.

        “I chose the happy road.”

        Ted has every right to feel sad.

        He suffers from cerebral palsy.

        But he does not let the disorder get him down. As great as his range of feelings, it does not include the sense of feeling sorry for himself.

        When he was a boy, cerebral palsy kept him from playing the game he loved.

        “I got a Reds uniform once for Christmas,” Ted said.

        But he never could put on that uniform and walk out on a field to play an inning, to field a ball, to swing a bat.

        A lefty, he always dreamed of playing left field.

        “You don't get that much sun in your eyes in left. There's not as much ground to cover as center field. But, you still get to run around on the soft grass.”

        Ted listens to Reds games on radio. Since the 1940s, he has heard at least 150 games a season.

        But he rarely went to the ballpark. Cerebral palsy kept him housebound for 40 of his 69 years. After his parents died, he lived with his two older sisters in Hyde Park.

        When his sisters' health concerns mounted in November, Ted moved to the HCR Manor Care skilled nursing facility in Madeira.

        He went to Thursday's Reds game thanks to Manor Care staffers and Marge Schott.

        Family friend Pat Ruttle, the nursing facility's maintenance man, Jim Nielander, and activity director Michelle Barnes accompanied Ted to Cinergy Field.

        Former Reds' owner Ms. Schott learned that Ted had not seen a Reds game in person since Harry Truman was president. She gave him tickets to her four blue-level seats.

        Before Thursday, the last game Ted attended was on Sept. 27, 1949. His dad took him to the last home game of the '49 season at Crosley Field.

        Ted remembered the score. “The Reds won 5-4. Beat the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth.”

        The Reds were in second-to-last place then. Just as they are today.

        Some things never change.

        Ted liked what he saw of Cinergy Field.

        “More room than Crosley,” he said as he settled into his seat and munched on a hot dog.

        When it came time for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Ted could not stand.

        But, he removed his ball cap with the red pinstripes and a red wishbone “C.”

        A slight breeze ruffled his gray hair.

        Before the rains came, Ted saw his favorite player on the home team, Sean Casey, score on Jason LaRue's home run.

        A long rain delay sent Ted and his party back to Madeira.

        The score was tied, 2-2.

        But Ted went home a winner.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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