For the Love of the Game

grandson at toledo mud hens game 2013

My grandson Levi with Muddy, the mascot for the Toledo Mud Hens 2013

In the early 1960′s, my Dad moved us from rural NW Ohio to San Diego, California. My grandmother had moved to San Diego a few months before. Dad hoped to find the pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow but all he found was poor paying sales and truck driving jobs. While living in California, my grandmother, Jeanette Rausch, bought me a baseball glove, a baseball, and took me to a San Diego Padres baseball game. (The Padres were a AAA minor league team at the time) I believe this was for my 6th birthday. From that day forward, I loved the game of baseball. The next time I attended a baseball game was in 1968, when my grandfather took me to Briggs Stadium to see the Detroit Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. This was the year the Tigers won the world series.

After we moved back to Ohio, I played Little League baseball for big city teams like Harrod, population 417, and Farmer, population less than 100. I am decidedly left-handed, so I threw and batted left-handed. I was an average player, not a good hitter, but quick on my feet. I developed a bad habit, called stepping in the bucket, where I would step back and away from the plate as the pitch was being thrown. Several coaches tried to fix this problem, but due to being hit so many times in the head, back, and legs by pitchers who had a hard time throwing to lefties, I never was able to overcome stepping in the bucket.

The summer of my eighth and ninth grade years, I played Pony League (or city league) baseball for Jaqua’s Sporting Goods in Findlay, Ohio. I will still an average player who couldn’t hit. I had decent defensive skills, so I made the team. On a team of 15 players, I was player 14 or 15. I was glad to make the team, but I knew I wouldn’t get a lot of playing time. The stepping in the bucket problem was even a bigger problem for me because I was now facing pitchers that played varsity and junior varsity baseball for the various local high schools. I still remember the fear I had facing Kevin Spitler during batting practice. It seemed Spitler was throwing the ball a 100 miles per hour and I was bailing before the ball even left his hand.

Regardless of my lack of skill and playing time or my fear of getting hit with the baseball, I loved the game. For many years, I was an avid Detroit Tigers fan. When Polly and I moved to Newark, Ohio in 1979, I gradually became a Cincinnati Reds fan. One of my dearest friends at the time, Neal Ball, a fellow manager with Arthur Treacher’s, was a diehard Red’s fan, and he successfully converted me into a fan of The Big Red Machine and Pete Rose. The Ball and Gerencser family attended several games together at Riverfront Stadium, our last game being Johnny Bench’s final home game. (a game in which he hit a home run in his last at bat)

For many years we didn’t have a television, so every night the game was on I would tune in to 700WLW, a 50,000 watt AM station out of Cincinnati, and listen to Red’s broadcast. Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall were the broadcasters, or as Red’s fans call them, Marty and Joe. When we moved back to rural NW Ohio, I spent many a night trying to position the radio and a metal close hanger so I could listen to the game broadcast from distant Cincinnati. If we happened to be in the car while a game was being played, everyone knew that we would be listening to 700WLW. No matter how much static there was, if the game was on I listened to it. Why? For the love of the game.

One of the biggest regrets I have is not allowing my children to play organized sports. My oldest son played Little League baseball for a few weeks but had to quit when the practices began conflicting with prayer meeting.  The church always came first and that meant that my children, particularly my three oldest sons, would never know the joy of playing organized sports like their father did. (I also played basketball) I have apologized to them for robbing them of a part of their childhood and they have forgiven me, but I still deeply regret putting God/church before them.

I soon will be 57 years old and I remain a diehard baseball fan. For over 50 years I have experienced the excitement of maybe this will the year that the Tigers or the Reds win it all. Most of these years, I have been sorely disappointed, but I have never lost my love for the game of baseball. Now that I am older, have more money, and I am blessed to have a bunch of grandchildren, I do my best to make baseball part of the ebb and flow of our family life. Since we moved back to rural NW Ohio in 2007, I have attended several Major League baseball games every year. Some of the time Polly attends the game with me, other times my son’s do or it is a family affair.

Despite being deprived of playing the game, several of my sons are diehard baseball fans. Several of my granddaughters have showed interest in baseball (softball) and I am doing my best to encourage my grandson to play baseball. So far, he seems interested in the game. Ney, Ohio is halfway between Toledo, Ohio and Fort Wayne, Indiana. This allows us to attend Toledo Mud Hens (the AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) and Fort Wayne TinCaps (A affiliate of the San Diego Padres) games. We usually try to attend games when the Louisville Bats (the Reds AAA affiliate) or the Dayton Dragons (The Reds A affiliate) are in town. This year, between Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, and Toledo, we plan to attend 10 games. (Fort Wayne and Toledo ticket prices are quite affordable, $9.00)

The Major League season is 162 games long. If you want to know where I am from April 1st until the end of September, check the game schedule for the Reds. Most of the time, I will be in front of the TV rooting for or cursing my Reds. If I am out and about during game time, the radio will always be tuned to 700WLW. Why? Because I love the game. Listening to, watching, or playing baseball is very much a part of who I am. It is the only reason I continue to pay exorbitant satellite bills.  Well, that and NFL football, Ohio State football, Ohio State basketball, and…well you get my drift. Hello, My name is Bruce, I am a sports addict…

Comments (4)

  1. HickoryHusker

    I grew up in Indiana and listening to Marty and Joe on “the Big One” 700 WLW was a summer’s night tradition. My favorite was at the end of the game (if I was still awake) hearing Joe Nuxhall’s post-game comments ending with “This is the ol’ lefthander rounding third and heading for home”.

    I still prefer listening to baseball games over the radio… if the broadcasters are good. There are still some good ones out there.

  2. Steve

    “Hello, my name is Steve! I am not a sports addict, but a sex addict!” Haha!

  3. carmen

    Bruce, many good people I know are southpaws. (in fact, a fair number of them are artistic, I’ve noticed!) Interestingly enough, my husband and I are both right-handed, but ended up with three out of the four children left-handed. So we’ve got a left-handed guitar player, drummer, batter, and hockey-stick shooter. It has made life interesting trying to teach them things! (handcrafts, in particular)

  4. Angiep

    I loved your account of the last game at Riverfront Stadium. I can just feel the excitement you experienced at that game. I agree, there is something very special about baseball, and being at the ball park watching your team. I just don’t have the same feeling about other sports.


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