Rounding third and heading for home

Josh Johnston

My grandpa loved baseball.

We used to joke he was the only man who could watch a game on TV, read about another game in the paper and listen to a third game on his headphones all at the same time, while sleeping. He could rattle off the names of baseball players just as well as he rattled off Bible verses during his sermons on Sundays.

Some of my first memories are of him giving my twin brother and I wiffle ball bats and gloves for our birthday and then trying to teach us how to play. Back then, my brother and I were more interested in hitting each other with the bats. Still, he persisted to introduce us to the game.

My grandpa loved baseball, and he loved the Cincinnati Reds.

He’d seen it all in his lifetime, too: the Big Red Machine, Pete Rose, Marge Schott, the wire-to-wire 1990 world champions, Ken Griffey Jr., the rebuilding years.

Because of my grandpa, my entire family and I are Reds fans. My cousins attend games almost weekly. My aunt actually encouraged my brother and I to miss a family reunion this summer because we had tickets to a game that night. My grandma, who’s in her 80s, sent me an email titled “Reds are Champions!” 20 minutes after they had clinched the NL Central division.

Sadly, my grandpa passed away five years ago, before Cincinnati was even a shadow of the team it is now. Among the items my grandpa was buried with was his Reds ball cap.

The MLB playoffs start today, and the Cincinnati Reds will take the postseason field for the first time since 1995. It hasn’t been a pretty 15 years either. The Reds had 11 losing seasons, including a streak of nine in a row they finally broke this year.

Somehow they miraculously pulled it together this season though. Joey Votto commanded an offense that led the league in runs for much of the season. Scott Rolen played like a man half his age. The starting pitchers were actually respectable and even downright good sometimes.

Dusty Baker’s boys start against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight. It almost goes without saying the Reds are the underdogs here. They’ll face arguably the best three starting pitchers in the game today: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

I have yet to see one analyst pick the Reds to win the series. Or even drag it out to five games.

But all that doesn’t matter, because for at least one extra week, my brother and I can argue over Cincinnati’s middle-inning relievers. We can complain about Dusty Baker when he makes a poor managerial decision (because he will). We can be in awe over Votto, Rolen and Jay Bruce.

And we can remember our grandpa, who taught us how to love the game.

MLB Playoffs

Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay Rays

New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins

Cincinnati Reds at Philadelphia Phillies

Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants

Contact sports editor Josh Johnston at [email protected].