To be honest, I don’t remember most of my favorite Reds memory. I’m seven years old, maybe eight, but it’s definitely the summer before second grade. My family has made the drive from Nashville to Cincinnati to see a Reds game and to go to Kings Island, the perfect vacation for me and an absolute, hellacious nightmare for my younger sister.
When we walk into Riverfront Stadium, the ushers hand each of us a George Foster baseball card. On the bottom right corner, there’s a scratch off section. “Hold on to that,” the usher tells me. “You could win something cool.”
I don’t know who the Reds played that day. I think it might have been the Cardinals, but it could have just as easily been the Blue Jays or Orioles. I also have no idea what happened in the game. I don’t remember where we sat, what time of day it was, or even if the Reds won. All I know is that in the fourth inning, the PA announcer told everyone to scratch off their baseball cards because 50 (200? 500?) fans were about to win a chance to meet George Foster. I had absolutely no idea who George Foster was.
I won. I had no idea what I had won, but I figured someone else around me would win too because 50 (200? 500?) was a big number. They would explain what was happening. Unless my sister won too, in which case I would remain confused forever probably. No one else won.
“You’ve always been the lucky one!” my mom exclaimed, as my sister pouted because she didn’t win and she didn’t even want to be on this stupid trip. And then I met George Foster.
There’s a picture of the two of us somewhere, me beaming like an idiot and him obliging a smile for the camera. He signed that scratcher baseball card too, and I know that’s in a sleeve somewhere at my mom’s house in Nashville. But that’s about all I’ve got. My favorite Reds memory feels more like a story I’ve been told about myself than something I lived through.
To be honest, I don’t know why I became a Reds fan. I loved baseball because I started playing as soon as I stopped drooling on myself, but Nashville wasn’t exactly a hotbed of baseball fandom. We had the Sounds, who I think were a Brewers affiliate at the time, but I only ever went to Sounds games when my dad’s work bought the tickets. Approximately once a summer, in other words.
My first real memory of the Reds is watching Barry Larkin hit sometime around 2001. The Redlegs were playing the Cubs. I know that because I could only watch the Reds when they played the Cubs because WGN came with basic cable. And that’s about it. My next Reds memory is completing my kindergarten “What do you want to be when you grow up” assignment by drawing a giant portrait of Ken Griffey Jr. You could tell it was him from the backwards hat.
That’s it. My lifelong obsession with Cincinnati Reds baseball started because of limited basic cable and Ken Griffey Jr.
But what kept it going was the literal luck of the draw. I love that pseudo-memory of the time I met George Foster for two reasons. One, in a weird way, it cemented that I would always love this team. I met George Foster! A legend! How could I give up on the Reds?!
But two, and more importantly, when I think of that summer afternoon, I remember that my family was willing to drive five hours to humor my burgeoning passion. I remember all of those nights in high school when I would get home from practice and collapse on the couch to watch the Reds lose again. I remember how my mom calls Junior “Lou” because she got him confused with Lou Gehrig for awhile. I remember watching the 2012 collapse at my dad’s house in the middle of my parents’ divorce. I remember my mom imitating Bronson Arroyo’s leg kick, my dad hitting me grounders so I could flip them through my legs like Brandon Phillips, my sister giving me the Josh Hamilton-signed batting practice ball she caught to me for Christmas.
That afternoon in Cincinnati that I met George Foster was the first in a long line of memories that are about Reds baseball but are really memories of my family.
To be honest, I don’t fully understand the idea of fandom. I obsess over stats and read every article written about the Reds, but I miss more games than I watch. It’s an irrationality I guess. I know that I love the Reds, but it’s never been an all-consuming love. It’s a familial like love. The Reds are always there for me, my safety net woven beneath every every facet of my life. If I get knocked down, I always know the Reds will be there and I supposed my real family will be too. I guess I am the lucky one.
[Featured image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/779352683723522048]