Friday, January 13, 2012

No. 874 – Hail, Hail

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: No Code
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan, and Johnny Bench was my guy from the moment that I got him in the first pack of 1971 Topps cards that I got that year. So when the Reds announced—finally—that the team was going to start honoring its history with a formal unveiling of its first retired numbers in 1996, it was imperative that I went.

The Reds retired Bench’s number 5 when he hung ‘em up in 1989, but the only way you knew that was if you read it somewhere. Unlike other teams, Riverfront Stadium had nothing alerting fans to that—no jersey banner hanging anwhere—just as none of the banners that commemorated any of the Reds’ titles were anywhere to be seen.

This was one of many ill-advised Marge Schott ventures, because she believed that no one cared about the past, when, of course, baseball is ALL ABOUT caring about the past. Anyway, she finally relented, so Debbie and I were off to Cincinnati on a crisp pre-fall Sunday.

For this game, I had to have good seats—more for the pre-game festivities than anything else. I can’t remember whether we scalped or I went the ticket-broker route (I believe the latter, but it doesn’t matter), but we had good seats. Actually they were too good—blue seats almost right behind the screen behind home plate. I wouldn’t be able to get a good picture of anything, and I had my camera loaded and ready to document everything.

So I moved to an open spot closer to the Reds’ dugout, and I had a perfect view of all the action. And there was much action to be had.

The ceremony was cool. The Reds honored Bench and Fred Hutchinson, the first Reds player to have his number retired (1) and the only one until Bench came along. Hutch’s family was there and then Bench spoke, and I was in my glory when they dropped the drapes past the left-field wall, and it became official: Jersey banners, in proper 1960s style for Hutch and 1970s style for Bench, were displayed for all to see.

Then came the topper: Bench was going to throw out the first pitch. But when you’re one of the two best catchers in history, no one wants to see you chuck a lob from the mound. No, instead Bench dropped down behind the plate and fired a one-hopper to second base. How cool was that?

The game was anticlimactic as anticipated. The Reds were mediocre that year, and they were playing the Florida Marlins in a game that didn’t matter to either team. I think the Marlins won, but both had already all but been eliminated from the postseason, so who cares?

After the game, I wanted to move down left field for a closer shot of the banners. It was then that I noticed something troubling: The reel on my Canon didn’t spin like it should after I’ve taken a photo. And the film number read 27. A knot formed in my stomach. Sure enough, when I opened the camera, my worst fear was confirmed: The film that I had loaded hadn’t caught after feeding the reel. I didn’t take a single picture!

Well, that pretty much ruined the whole day, and even listening to Pearl Jam’s brand-new album, No Code, couldn’t console me. But I thought of something. The next day, I called Paul at The Dispatch to see whether a photog had covered the game and whether I might at least get a print of the event. He said he’d see what he could do.

And when I came in to work on Tuesday, a sweet 8x11 print of Bench holding aloft his No. 5 plaque was sitting on my desk. That pic, since signed by JB hisself, now hangs in my hallway, along with the ticket, freebie handout that the Reds passed out that day. It’s a thing of beauty.

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