A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE
First off, why is October the 10th month? Shouldn’t it be the 8th?
Anyway, this is the month in which I get a bit sentimental about the past. Aside from a few regular season games at the beginning of the month, our Reds haven’t played “do-or-die” baseball in October in a long time. In fact, the last time was on October 4, 1999 when “The Big Road Machine” ran into the buzz-saw named Al Leiter and the New York Mets in the 1-game playoff to decide the National League Wild Card winner. I was in my 3rd season on the Reds ground crew then, and I’ll admit, when the Reds lost that game, I cried.
It was a pretty “happening” summer for me in 1999. I completed my final college class in June and along with 2 of my best friends, was in charge of building and maintaining the pitcher’s mound at Cinergy Field. If you remember, the Reds were a surprise that season. They entered the May 15th game vs. the Padres in last place and 7 games out of first, but beginning that night, things changed. The Reds went on to win 16 of their next 20 and suddenly found themselves trailing first-place Houston by just 2.5 games. Then they kept winning, winning and winning some more. The boys and I on the ground crew would greet the team for a single-file high-five line after victories. The team liked us and in fact, some of us actually formed legit friendships with some of them.
Pete Harnisch was easily my favorite guy on that ’99 team. Not only was he so fun to watch pitch, but he was one of the nicest and funniest guys I’ve ever met. He’d take a few of us ground crew guys out to dinner, hang out with us in our “cage,” and make us feel part of the team. Once, after hearing that a few of us were going to Detroit to catch a game at Tiger Stadium, Pete handed me a $100 bill and told me to buy a round for the boys on him. He was the best. In fact, I really don’t remember a guy on that team we didn’t like. Aaron Boone, Sean Casey, Danny Graves, Scott Winchester, Barry Larkin, Mike Cameron, Gabe White, Scott Sullivan, Dmitri Young, Jason Bere, Pokey Reese, Michael Tucker, Denny Neagle, Greg Vaughn, Ron Villone, Brett Tomko…all those guys were so generous and nice to us. That was a very special team.
So every October, when the postseason begins, I always think back to that ’99 team and how “we” were just 1 game away from the playoffs. It makes me break out some of the old pictures I took while I was on the ground crew and reminisce. Thanks to this blog, I can now share some of these photos with you. Enjoy!
There we are, in all of our 1999 glory. I’m the 5th from the left in the second row. John “Rat” Rieder who today works in the Reds ticket department is the 4th from the left in the first row (more on him later).
Lunch time in the “cage.” We used old team flags to hang on the chain link fence for privacy. It was a Major League operation, for sure. If you remember, or watch old games from the Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field era, the ground crew would stand in that little area behind home plate visible to the television viewing audience. Our “cage” was just inside that area, to the left.
It would get pretty hot working on the Astroturf in the summer. Once when the Braves were in town, temperatures on the field reached in excess of 150 degrees. I remember Jeff Blauser’s cleats melting to the turf. In the photo above, two of Elder’s finest, John “Rat” Rieder and Adam Felix find a way to cool off.
Myself, Justin Corwin and Ben Otto were the “mound guys,” meaning that that particular piece of Cinergy Field real estate belonged to us and only to us. We built it, we maintained it and we took great care of it. Here you’ll see a little of what went into building it from scratch…
The finished product!
Now back to “Rat.” John Rieder was the guy we loved to pick on (still is actually). We terrorized that poor kid with everything from firecrackers to base chalk to shoe polish to Vaseline. Pokey Reese even got in on the action once by dumping a whole cup of ice water on Rat while he was napping in the cage.
Justin Corwin and I were Rat’s main nemesis. Some of the things we did to Rat are the stuff of legend. For example, the photo below shows Justin and I after we replaced Rat’s medicated powder with base chalk.
There are so many other pranks we pulled on that poor kid, that I might get fired or arrested if I list them here. So, I’ll just save them for my book if I ever write one.
Today Rat is still being jostled by some of his friends in the front office. In any emails in which he is involved, Rat’s name is placed in the “Cc” line because he’s jokingly not deemed important enough to qualify for the “To” line. This idea caught on pretty fast and today, at the urging of some of my fellow workmates, I have Reds license plates on my car that read “CC RAT.”
But all kidding aside, John is the best sport in the world and is one of my dearest friends. I will always look at him as the little brother I never had.
Do you remember the team flags that flew high atop the old stadium? One of the duties of the ground crew was to take the flags down at night after games and put them up again the next day in order of the current standings. If you were afraid of heights, it probably wasn’t the job you wanted to do, but I loved it. It was one of the best views of the city and you could get a really nice sun tan. Here I am proudly putting up the Reds flag.
Well those are just a few of the many memories from that time. Thanks for joining me on my annual trip down memory lane. Now that that’s out of my system, I’m ready for some Phillies/Dodgers action tonight. If you tune into this evening’s game, keep an eye out for my colleague Larry Herms. One of our tasks while working the NLCS is to round up players for the on-field post game TV/Radio interviews. If you watch closely, you might just see ol’ Larry.
This just in from Director of Media Relations Rob Butcher: “The Reds’ 2009 Season in Review is available online at www.reds.com under the FANS section.”
Tomorrow, as promised I’ll have photos from Goodyear, AZ and an update on how Reds first round pick Mike Leake faired today in his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League.
Also, keep checking in as I’ll be blogging from the NLCS in Philly beginning Saturday. I’ve also lined up a few interviews with Reds past and present!