Reds Memories

Reds Memory: Two 12-year-olds talking to Jim O’Toole | Risto Neely

I was raised up in the East Tennessee hills on a tobacco farm on the leeward side of Monterey mountain in Cumberland County, Tennessee. My first introduction to Reds  baseball came via a Tandy kit radio I built when I was 9 years old. I could listen to Reds games on a local AM station that was part of the Reds network system (the station ID and location escapes me now) but the signal was only good in the day time and I wanted to pick up night games because I was either at school or doing farm chores during the days.

My Pop suggested we visit the engineer at our local AM station for advice. The engineer gave me instructions on how to build a wire antenna and told me to tune in 700 AM for WLW in Cincinnati who carried all the Reds ballgames. Turns out the engineer was a Reds fan too.

I made my antenna from baling wire strung between two hickory trees and ran it in my upstairs window to my radio. Now I was set as a Reds fan. Little did I know that the next year I’d  be listening to a World Series. I think the 1961 Series is where I developed my disdain for the ‘evil empire. Later in life 1972 just cemented my dislike of the Yankees.

My love for the game was given to me by my Grandpop Elmer who had been a minor league umpire in the 20’s and early 30’s. He had even umpired Satchel Paige twice when Paige had been rented out to traveling Negro League teams who would play local teams around the states for exhibition. The second time Grandpop umped Paige was at his request because Paige said “Elmer Neely will give me a fair shake against any white team.” My Pop and one of his childhood friends later both confirmed this story because they were both there.

Now on to my first Reds game. My best buddy Larry and I began pestering our Pops with help from Grandpop Elmer to take us to a Reds game. Larry played catcher on my little league team the Phillies, I was a southpaw first baseman. Our town of 1050 could only muster two teams so we had to travel to surrounding towns to play. Larry’s Pop was my Pop’s best drinking buddy and needless to say they both eventually caved in and agreed on the date of  Sunday, August 11, 1963. Pop mailed off and got our tickets. When Saturday the 10th arrived all five of us, Grandpop Elmer wasn’t about to be left behind, piled into Pop’s ’58 Dodge wagon, bat wings and all, and headed up US-127 to Lexington and then on to Cincinnati. There we stayed the night with one of Pop’s WWII squadron buddies who lived in Milford, OH just to the east of town.

The morning of game day all six of us, Pop’s war buddy with us now, piled into the Dodge again for the ride to Crosley Field. I remember one distinctive thing about that drive. I couldn’t get over how the Cincinnati train station looked like a giant old radio. Just like the one still in our front room next to the B&W TV set.

We finally arrive at Crosley Field and go to our seats. Pop picked us out good ones, third row back in front of first base. No nets back then but who needed em? Larry and I had our ball gloves. I settled in with scorecard and pencil in hand, a Kahn’s wiener and cold drink, to watch the Reds beat the Dodgers 9 to 4. [Box score from the game.]

I can still remember the Kahn’s catch phrase on radio ads “the wiener the world awaited.” This was great, I was watching Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson in the outfield, Gene Freese on third, Don Paveltich on first and this rookie guy Rose on second, and All-Star pitcher Jim O’Toole on the mound. I decided right there that any team that could beat the Dodgers and the mighty Sandy Koufax (this game’s losing pitcher) could be my team from now on win or lose both of which I would see plenty of over the next six decades.

When the game ended a friendly usher showed Larry and me where the players’ gate was and told us to wait there that many players would sign autographs for kids. There, Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson both had crowds at lest a dozen deep so Larry and I noticed the rookie second baseman come out and right behind him Jim O’Toole. We both let Pete Rose pass and went right up to Mr. O’Toole who gladly signed my scorecard. He asked us both if we played ball and what positions we played. Then apparently recognizing our hillbilly accents asked where we were from. We were both amazed that after going six innings against Koufax O’Toole would take the time to talk to two 12-year-old kids from Monterey, Tennessee.

To this day I really never regretted passing up the chance to talk to Pete Rose. In 1963, except for the scouts, who knew he would be an icon of the Reds. After that game, Jim O’Toole was my favorite player until 1972 when a fellow named Morgan came along. I still have that scorecard which is my favorite piece of memorabilia. My next is a small bronze bust of Warren Spahn that my Grandpop Elmer gave me. He was a Braves fan both in Boston an in Milwaukee and Spahn was his favorite player. I don’t think he really liked it when the Braves moved to Atlanta.

The next time I saw the Reds play was in Game 3 of the 1975 World Series. Back from two tours with the Air Force in Vietnam in 1972 and discharged in August of 1975, I lucked into two tickets to games three and four of the Series. A captain in the USAF from my home town with whom I had served in the same squadron with at Ubon ( small world ain’t it) gave me the two tickets. You see his wife was scheduled for a C-section birth of thier first child on the same day as Game 3. Knowing I was a Reds fan he came by the house and gave me the tickets free and clear. I’ve often thought Col. Ret. D. Andersen USAF should have named his baby girl Rosie after one of the Reds’ mascots

I have always considered myself to be very lucky to be a Reds fan of my age. I’ve watched the Reds in the 60’s when all but two years they had winning seasons, watched us get to the World Series in 1961,1970 and 1972, the Big Red Machine years and two World Series wins in 1975 and 1976, a Series win in 1990, the surprise team of 1995 and the team of 1999. Now I’ll admit with the exception of 2012 the decade of the teens has been hard to see. But like I said before I’ve been lucky to have lived out of market all of my life and enjoyed being a Reds fan as much as I have.

P.S. After giving Uncle Sam five years in the USAF he gave me four years at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This might explain why today I’m a big fan of Nick Senzel.