Thursday, September 26, 2002

Big Red Machine


Baseball, city have changed

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        And this one belongs to Jack, Eugene, Bob and Mr. Cliffie.

        These dads and thousands of parents like them used to take their kids to see the Big Red Machine at Riverfront Stadium. Loving parents. Lucky kids.

        That seems like eons ago to me. The world, baseball and Cincinnati have changed so much. Those kids are grown. Some of those dads and moms are gone.

        But this week's return of the Big Red Machine for the long goodbye to Riverfront/Cinergy Field brought back into focus how much the team and the stadium meant to Cincinnati.

        For me, memories of family trips to the still-new ballpark and the team's glory days mingled with hopes for tomorrow. And not just for a miracle to turn the Reds into winners.

        Seeing the affection showered once more on Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson at the old bowl on the riverfront gave me an idea. The city could end the slump it has been in since the 2001 riots by taking cues from this storied team.

        The Big Red Machine was more than a ball club. It was a source of civic pride and a role model.

        From that team you could learn more than just how to play the game of baseball. You could also pick up pointers on playing the game of life.

        That's why so many dads and moms took their kids to Riverfront Stadium. Sure, they went to see a game. But they also wanted their kids to watch highly skilled craftsmen in pursuit of excellence.

        The players' work ethic appealed to the city's blue-collar heritage. Like the rest of Cincinnati, they had a German-flavored appreciation for mastering the fine points of their art.

        They took the field with a hard-working Cincinnati mindset. Do your best. Keep alert. Work hard.

        Hustle.

Get it right

        After Sunday and Monday's tributes to the team, I tried to digest comments from the city's windbags on radio and in print. That baloney was impossible to swallow.

        They scoffed at the old players and called them “washed-up has-beens.” Let them. Watching a retired player who has been a champ beats the pants off watching a pampered millionaire who has never been somebody special and never will.

        Some hot-aired pontificators admitted to being mystified by the hold this team has on the town.

        It's obvious.

        The Big Red Machine was a dynasty. When it ruled baseball, Cincinnati did not have to take a back seat to anyone, any team, any town.

        There was no bellyaching then about Cincinnati being a small-market town. Or its stadium being outdated. Riverfront wasn't pretty. But it was new. A rarity in a city that clings to antiques.

        The big-city teams could have their big-city ways, the Hollywood swagger, the New York superiority complex. They could keep their big-city payrolls. They were no match for the working-class Reds.

        That took teamwork. Members of the Big Red Machine worked together and respected each other. Players, black and white, embraced each other. They were embraced in turn by the fans in the stands.

        With these Reds, Cincinnati was colorblind.

Family heirlooms

        The Big Red Machine set standards for the city.

        The team proved you could dream big here and be the best in your chosen field. By their inspiring play, the world champion Reds of 1975 and 1976 made you proud to say you were from Cincinnati.

        The Big Red Machine and its home are history. But the lessons they taught the city are good for all seasons. They can still be easily passed on, from father to son.

        Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.

       



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