To say that Autumn is not my favorite time of year is a bit of an understatement. Time stands still as there are no first pitches to set my watch to, cracked tree branches fail to arrest the air in my lungs the way the crack of the thicker lumber does, and while everyone consoles me with citations of all the beautiful colors the season brings, I tell them they are pale in comparison to the bright reds and grays that I watched framed against lush greens and beautiful, white speckled blues for the better part of the summer. But of course, with the changing of seasons and the fall of leaves, there does come one magical time of the year, where summer gives one last tip of the cap, when first pitches are appointments, when lumber is wielded with prejudice, when an anxious crowd can lessen the break of a pitch with their held breath and alter the path of a fly ball with their exhalation.
The Fall Classic.
As a youth, I had, perhaps, a (un)natural cynicism; call it a reaction to my environment. So it was with great disappointment that I say, looking back, that I bought into all the hype. Coming east was the unstoppable force anchored by the Bash Brothers. They had pitching that seemed ferocious and awkwardly unhittable. And while the greatest player anyone had seen in few years in Cincinnati tapped his thigh with his glove as he patrolled the outfield, the rest of the guys were a ragtag collection of nobodies whose collective talent amounted to nothing more than a broken winged fly that couldn’t hope to escape the swatter that was arriving in full force from Oakland. Sure, Cincinnati had gone Wire to Wire but how much of a feat was that against the rest of the measly NL? Sure, they had survived the duel with the Pirates, but who were those mere men from Pittsburgh when compared to the Olympians carved from marble and dressed in Bay Area green? Sure, the good guys were scrappy, the outfielders were forces, and the Nasty Boys lived up to their name, but what did the big things of Cincinnati matter compared to the chosen ones who graced a nation with their mere presence?
Or so I believed, a young kid listening to all the leadup from one expert to the next in anticipation of the 1990 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics. Those folks should be fired for lying like that.
Tuesday night, one which hosted the opening game, preceded a Wednesday morning of 5th grade elementary school, an event not nearly as big in scope to me as the Series. Unfortunately, my mother did not share that sentiment. I wasn’t allowed to stay up late on school nights, any school nights, especially for some game that was nothing more than a kid’s folly. “Besides,” they told me and I believed, “the game would likely be over by 9:30 anyway.”
And boy were they right; that aforementioned greatest outfielder Cincinnati had seen in a while made sure of that.
2 run shot. Left center field. Not even the darkness of the Queen City night could hold back the eruption of applause as they rose into the sky around the riverfront.
It took a bit longer for a young boy in his makeshift basement bedroom, hiding the fact that he was even staying up and skipping homework to watch the game, to find that same elation. I remember thinking, “Well, at least they didn’t get shut out” then falling asleep with a 4-0 lead and waking up to find those “plucky” Reds had completely dismantled those Herculean statues of sports perfection into nothing more than mere pop art of unskilled softball players.
And still that feeling persisted. “Well, at least they won a game and didn’t get swept,” I told myself. Later that night, I felt the inevitable had finally arrived when the Oakland club jumped out to a 4-2 lead early. When the Reds fought back, 4-3, then 4-4, the words every “expert” had spoken, written or expressed with their body language flashed across my mind: “the correct course will inflict its will on the reality. The A’s are merely the better team and that will play out.” But when I was listening to the radio far later than a boy my age should, when Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning, Billy Bates trotted across the plate in sudden synchronization to Joe Oliver becoming one of my favorite players.
And then, finally, as if it had been pounding on the door to my mind for days, doubt came rushing excitedly into my mind. “What if the experts were…wrong? For as long as I can remember, I greeted with skepticism almost every single person who told me they knew everything and had all the answers. Why the apparently misplaced trust in these experts? Why don’t you put your faith with this team?!”
By the time Friday arrived, I was a true believer and explicitly realized that my dreams were manifesting themselves in front of my very eyes. It took into the 8th inning on Saturday for history to finally set itself in stone, but by that point, it was a foregone conclusion to me. Chris Sabo would later say that we believed in that 1990 Cincinnati Reds team the entire time while no one else did. With disappointment, I must admit that I can’t be included in that group. But I was pleased to come to the realization that I had been converted into a true believer on that late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning in October of 1990.
Kids clad in Ranger blue and Cardinal red will feel the surreal experience that is the Fall Classic starting on Wednesday, but when it’s rare and when it’s an unbelievable upset, there are a precious few that get to experience that kind of magic. Whenever I took a break from pitching or second base while playing ball with my friends as a kid, I found myself in the outfield. I would tap my thigh with my glove on any routine fly ball. I never forgot the shot heard around baseball. That great Cincinnati outfielder Eric Davis made me a believer with just one swing of the bat. It just took my mind a couple days to catch up to my heart. In baseball, perhaps even in all of life, maybe that’s the way it always is. Okay Autumn, you got me. Maybe you’re not all bad.