Davis: Dedication to one team amazing, painful at the same time

Sep. 30, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

There is something about fandom that makes you do crazy things.

Just this weekend I left The Mountain Press at 9 p.m. Friday night and drove five hours to Cincinnati, just to make sure I saw a Reds game before the end of the season.

The Redlegs, our family’s team (it’s almost a birthright), was hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates Saturday afternoon in the final regular-season series of the year.

The Reds had already clinched a playoff spot, but were jockeying for wildcard position with the Pirates, and it was the last chance I’d have to see the team this year.

So I drove five hours, into the dead of night, to see a 1 p.m. ballgame and drive home another five hours. Ten hours in the car for three hours of baseball. Brilliant.

But, I’m a baseball addict, and Great American Ballpark has the purest product in town.

My dad had a brief minor league cup of coffee in the Reds’ farm system in the early 1960s, playing in camp with the Geneva, N.Y., single-A team that featured Tony Perez and Pete Rose. Dad’s contract, Western Union telegram from Paul Campbell — a Reds scout at the time — and spring training invitation all hang in my office today.

Growing up my childhood hero was Charlie Hustle.

I saw — on television, unfortunately — the Hit King knock an Eric Show pitch into the Riverfront Stadium outfield to knock Ty Cobb from baseball’s top spot back in 1985.

And, like thousands of other young Cincinnati Reds fans, I was devastated when Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from the game in 1988. 

I wasn’t sure at the time what he’d done, exactly, but it didn’t matter to me. Pete was all headfirst slides, dirty uniforms and Big Red Machine. Whatever he did, he didn’t deserve that, my then-10-year-old brain screamed.

Still, my Reds fandom lived on — through Eric Davis, Kal Daniels, Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo and Tom Browning. Billy Hatcher and Jose Rijo became my heroes in 1990 with their World Series performances in the sweep of the hated Oakland Athletics.

I even met owner Marge Schott once. When you got past the gruff exterior, racist remarks and cigar smoke she was a nice lady.

Now, finally, after the dry run that was the first decade of this century, the Reds seem to be back on track.

This year will mark the squad’s third playoff appearance since 2010.

I’m hoping for the best, though my natural cynicism believes the team doesn’t stand a chance.

That goes along with being a devoted fan of your team. You know and extol its greatest strengths, but you’re also more than aware of its biggest weaknesses. The Reds have plenty of both, and no matter what happens in the postseason, they’ll still be my team.

I wish I had the same kind of love for an NFL team, but I don’t. I love football, but we didn’t grow up with a team in our house. We just pulled for whichever team among those playing had more Vols. 

I’ve often tried to choose a pro football team, usually coming down to either the Cincinnati Bengals or Cleveland Browns. Plenty of people have suggested teams for me other the years, typically the Cowboys, Steelers, 49ers or Titans. 

The trouble is, none of those teams appeals to me. I’m not a front-runner, so I can’t pick a team that’s always in contention for a title, nor could I pick a team solely because it’s located in my home state. After all, the Titans still feel like the Oilers to me.

So I guess I’ll just stick to the Reds and Vols. They give me all the heartache I can take anyway.