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AstroTurf memories




"Cans, bottles, and alcoholic beverages are not permitted to be brought into the stadium."

If you grew up a Reds fan in the 1980's, that line may enter your brain as a haunting female voice repeating over and over on a loudspeaker. It was the warning you heard on the escalators in the parking garage headed towards Riverfront Stadium (later, Cinergy Field). On a gameday where you had a little extra time to kill you maybe walked over to the Ohio River and looked at the boats and bridges before heading inside to get your seat.

I've been thinking of those childhood memories quite a bit today--sparked by this Five Thirty Eight article called "The Mets’ Rise And Fall With Doc Gooden And Darryl Strawberry. It hit me that, for a kid today, baseball in the 80's is as distant to them as baseball in the 1950's was to me. Not just another era...something foreign. Different uniforms. Different players. Different mentalities. To really understand what's being said in that article, you need context. You have to understand that it was AstroTurf, two divisions, no wild card, and bad scoreboard animation. The playoffs was the 1st place finishers playing each other for the right to go to the World Series. By the All-Star break, your team could be so far out of contention that the only thing you really had going for you was watching the good players come to town. Ozzie Smith. Skinny Barry Bonds. Children, this was before anybody suspected Roger Clemens of doping. And Rickey Henderson could steal a base like nobody's business. And, yes, I remember driving 2 hours from Columbus to see Gooden and Strawberry. My heroes were Barry Larkin and Tom Browning and a defining moment of my childhood was being at Game 6 watching Glen Braggs rob a Pirates HR at the wall to go to the 1990 World Series.

I can still remember the batting helmet sundaes and how hot the field would get during a sunny day game. Hearing Mel Allen host This Week In Baseball. Having to get up in the morning and unfold a newspaper to read the standings and box scores. I suppose we all get nostalgic about something and today's kids have their own version of it...hello, Pokemon. But no matter how out-of-love I've eventually fallen with MLB's high prices, cheating, player swapping, etc. there's still something magical about walking through those gates onto the green level of seats and feeling like you were about to see something unique. There was less entertainment then. Certainly not 24-7. And those of who came of age during the 80's also view it with a kind of humor about the fake grass, bad jerseys, bad hair, and subpar television footage that's neither so old as to be actually "classic" nor new enough to respect in the age of HD.

I had a hat that I wore to the 1990 World Series that was courduroy. Red with the Cincinnati logo on the front...it eventually wore through the top where the plastic lining rubbed away the material over the years. Somewhere, buried in a pile in my old closet is a plastic binder full of 1987 Topps and my hope that one day an Andy Van Slyke rookie card would be worth something. Alas. I quietly wonder what my son's version of those prized possessions will be.

Yesterday, he saved the paper ice cream cone wrapper from our trip to the zoo. He's off to a good start.

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