Taking a kid to his or her first baseball game is one of those watershed moments that taps feelings of hope and loathing all at once. Hope: that your child might buy-in to the experience the way you did at a young age. Loathing: that you may leave with an order of nachos and a tall soft drink spilled on your person. By the time I was 6, the walls of my bedroom were festooned with Reds pennants, I had sent my first fan note (to Reds pitcher Don Gullet, which began “Dear Gullet” because I had no idea players had first names), and my favorite piece of sports equipment was the black bat that I could barely lift in homage to the great George Foster (if I could have grown mutton chops at that age, I might have had them, too). My daughter, however, is not so jazzed about baseball. By the age of 4, she had mastered the term “boring” and knew how to use it to devastating effect. Pretty much any sport I tuned in to on the tube was boring, especially baseball. You call this boring? I thought. I’ll show you. I’ll take you to a real live baseball game.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like baseball, I’m just not one of those stats guys who becomes engrossed from the first pitch. I have a vague idea of what a slugging percentage is (I think) but that’s about as far down that rabbit hole as I prefer to go. For me, the joy of watching a baseball game comes from the spectacle: the players on the field, the fans in the stands, the beer guys hollering, the peanuts cracking, the cigar smoke wafting…. (Do they let you smoke cigars in the stands anymore? They should.) If war can charitably be described as hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror, then watching a baseball game could also be charitably described as hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of pure exhilaration. I understand that for some people that ratio may actually be minute-to-minute. But then I’m a cynic. For a 4-year-old, it can get boring pretty fast. Which is why I thank the baseball gods and the visionaries within the Reds organization that Great American Ball Park still comes equipped with an organ played by an actual human being. Because when that organ starts playing, and you start clapping, and your daughter starts smiling—well, you know you’re at a real live baseball game. And the chances that she might come away from the experience happy and you may avoid getting nachos spilled in your lap are much improved.
As it happens, this issue hits newsstands on Opening Day and includes an interview with Reds organist John Schutte, the man who leads us through a thousand “CHARGE!” cheers and gives the batters a little extra juice when they step to the plate and he’s playing their tune. Sadly, we haven’t yet figured out how to include a cheap cigar, a cup of beer, and nachos. For that, you’ll have to go to a game.