The Big Red Machine

Everything I know about baseball, I learned from the radio. I don’t think I even saw a baseball game in person until I was eight or nine years old–it was the Cincinnati Reds playing, of course, and I remember that the players seemed so far away there in the stadium. A radio broadcast is such an intimate thing, reaching into the recesses of our mind, provoking the mind’s eye to create an image.

As a child, I would sit on my grandparents’ back porch, slapping at mosquitoes, watching fireflies up in the grass with the sound of the game filling the night air. The adults would sit in their lawn chairs and sip beer or Pepsi and talk softly during the commercials. Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez were my imagined heroes. I learned to anticipate their positions in the batting rotation and wondered what they looked like. The mention of their names would grab my attention if I got sleepy or began to daydream. The announcers’ voices turned hypnotic when it got late and I lay upstairs in bed, listening to the sounds from the porch.

In the years before she died, my grandmother would sit on the couch, watching a ballgame on the television–but the sound was always turned off so that she could get the play-by-play from the a.m. radio tucked beside her. Now I occasionally listen to games in the car when I’m driving. It puzzles my children because they don’t really understand what they’re listening to. They don’t know that it’s the sound of ghosts that I’m hearing.

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