On Sunday morning at 11:35 am, the slate of baseball games starts in Cincinnati. It seems fitting, since a rite of spring when I grew up in the 1970s and 80s was that the first pitch of the season was thrown in Cincinnati.
The Reds in the early part of their history (and as one of the charter members of the N.L., that history goes back to 1876) always had their season start at home. In part, that was because Cincinnati was the southern-most city in the majors, and the weather was more likely to be conducive to playing. Other teams were very willing to give up the prestige of Opening Day for a home game later in the calendar.
Over time, Cincinnati became synonymous with Opening Day. Dignitaries, first-pitches, celebrations. On April 22, 1891, the first Opening Day parade was organized by Reds owner John T. Brush. The parade consisted of a marching band and two large horse-drawn wagons, called Tally-ho’s, which were occupied by the Reds and the opponent, the Cleveland Spiders.
Findlay Market made its first appearance at Opening Day in 1920. Opening Day became an unofficial holiday in Cincy. Once the Reds moved downtown to Riverfront Stadium in 1970, the parade headed down Race Street and turned on Fifth and went right through the heart of downtown Cincinnati. When Marge Schott purchased the Reds in 1984, she worked with the Cincinnati Zoo to include elephants in the parade that gave the event the feel of a circus.
There are 15 openers every season, and with money overriding tradition, Cincinnati no longer gets the first game of the season. It hasn’t since sometime in the 1980s.
But this Sunday on Peacock, they do kick off the slate of 15 games.
So much baseball history has taken place in Cincinnati. On May 24, 1935, the first night game in Major League history was played at Crosley Field. The Reds beat the Phillies, 2-1, before 20,422 fans. Now, there’s a morning game on a Memorial Day weekend 87 years later.
The Reds may not have a great team in 2022, but they have a great ballpark. Great American Ball Park bounds from Pete Rose Way to the Ohio River and from Joe Nuxhall Way to Heritage Bank Center. What a rich baseball tradition this franchise has! Nuxhall became the youngest player in the 20th century to appear in a Major League Game. On June 10, 1944, Nuxhall pitched at the age of 15 years, 10 months, and 11 days. He wouldn’t pitch again in the majors until 1952. And Pete Rose — a local kid from Western Hills, High School in Cincinnati — became baseball’s all-time hit king in 1985, at the age of 44.
The Reds honor their history, and that includes having another Cincinnati local, David Bell, as their manager. David is the son of former third baseman and current Reds front office executive Buddy Bell and the grandson of Reds Hall of Famer Gus Bell.
David Bell played 12 seasons in the major leagues (that’s nothing, his dad played 18 years and his grandfather — who passed away in 1995 — played 15 years). How rare is it for a family to have three generations of major league players? The Bells are one of Major League Baseball’s five three-generation families, along with the Boones, Colemans, Hairstons and Schofield/Werths.
David Bell played with Cleveland, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. He wasn’t a superstar, but as his former Phillies’ teammate Dan Plesac told me Tuesday, “he was as solid as they come.”
On Sunday, he’ll be managing against the Giants, the team that he is best remembered for as a player. Twenty years ago, in the 2002 season, Bell was San Francisco’s starting third baseman and played 154 games, while putting up 20 HR, 73 RBI, 82 runs scored, and an OPS of .762. You know, as solid as they come.
And then, Bell had a terrific series in the NLCS, batting .412 (7-17 AB) 1 HR in the five-game series against St. Louis. And in the World Series, his RBI single off Francisco Rodriguez in the bottom of the eighth inning won Game 4 and tied the series up 2-2. The Giants would be a few outs from winning that World Series, but it was not to be. Following that run to the World Series in 2002, Bell received the prestigious Willie Mac Award as San Francisco’s Most Inspirational Player.
The Reds and Giants play Sunday morning, a matchup that has taken place 2,108 times since 1900 (and will increase with Friday and Saturday’s games). On a Memorial Day weekend, is there anything more American than a baseball game — a day game in Cincinnati — with two storied franchises?
Best Time of Year to be a Sports Fan?
My good friend Kevin Dillon insists that this is the best time of year for a sports fan. I argued October, but I am more of a football fan than Kevin. He loves baseball, loves the NFL Draft, loves the NBA and NHL playoffs.
But the conversation got me down a rabbit hole.
If you’re a sports fan like I am, the best two words are “Game Seven.” Yup, even better than “Opening Day” or “Play Ball”. There’s nothing better.
So far this spring, the NBA has had two Game 7s. The Celtics beat the Bucks 109-81, and the Mavericks beat the Suns 123-90.
However in the NHL, both Game 7s went to overtime. New York defeated Pittsburgh; and Calgary defeated Dallas.
Is that par for the course? Are Game 7s in the NHL more likely to go to need overtime (or double-overtime periods) than NBA Game 7s? How often do MLB Game 7s require extra-innings?
NBA: 145 Game 7s in history. Only 7 have gone to overtime. Only one has gone into double-overtime (1957 NBA Finals Boston 125-123 in 2 O.T.).
MLB: 59 Game 7s in history. Only 6 have gone to extra-innings. The longest was 12 innings (1924 World Series, when the Senators beat the Giants 4-3).
NHL: 190 Game 7s in history. 45 have gone into overtime, with nine of them requiring 2 O.T., and several even longer (the 1987 Islanders-Capitals Game 7 needed 4 OT; the 1939 Semifinals between the Bruins and Rangers needed 3 OT).
So, lets look at the evidence. Almost 5% of the NBA Game 7s require an overtime period. About 10% of the MLB Game 7s require extra-innings. And almost 24% of the NHL Game 7s have gone into overtime.
I decided to email and call the Game 7 expert, Mike Emrick. Doc has called a record 45 Game 7s in the NHL. And as a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, he listened to part of the 1960 World Series Game 7 on radio (he listened during study hall, but when it was time for his last period Biology class, the professor wouldn’t allow it).
EK: All those Game 7s, all those memories, is there one that stands out?
Doc: I think though the Caps Islanders Division Semifinal on Easter Eve/Easter Sunday in 1987 would be one since it went four overtime’s and is surrounding with some sidebar lore, too. That year there was a Final Series that sent the best team I ever saw – the 87 Oilers – against the Flyers. And it went seven games. A fiery rookie goalie Ron Hextall and a coach named Mike Keenan, who actually cleverly got hold of the Stanley Cup and put it in the team’s dressing room before one of the crucial games to show his players what they could have their names on…against Glen Sather (GM/Coach) and the Hall of Famers – Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Fuhr, Lowe, Coffey. Bill Clement and I had the Game 7 (broadcast) on ESPN. And the Flyers scored first in Edmonton when Murray Craven scored from behind the goal line. But…the Oilers just picked away, finally clinching it 3-1 in the third period on Glenn Anderson’s long goal on Hextall (who was the playoff MVP),
I believe my total of Game 7s was 45 but that one will stand out and it was the first Final Series Game 7 in the NHL since 1971 (so 16 years).
EK: Were you able to follow the end of the 1960 World Series Game 7, even with your teacher forbidding it?
Doc: Our classroom was right next to the study hall so we could occasionally hear reactions from next door. But I had no idea if it was from Yankee lovers or Yankee haters. Except for me, no one in rural Indiana was a Pirate fan. It wasn’t until the final school buzzer sounded at 3:21 pm that I learned my Pirates had won. Like my favorite announcer Bob Prince, I had no idea Bill Mazeroski had become a local hero…In 2016, when the Penguins had a chance to win Game 5 in Pittsburgh over San Jose and clinch the Stanley Cup, the first title IN TOWN, Mazeroski was in the house. But Pittsburgh lost that night and won the Cup in Game 6 out west.
EK: More pressure in a Game 7: a goalie, or starting pitcher?
Doc: (Former Pirates closer) Kent Tekulve would be a great one to ask. He would wear a Marc-Andre Fleury jersey to Penguin games. We often talked about it. He compared closers to goalies. I think starters have people behind them if it doesn’t go well. Goalies only have one more guy to back them up. Probably more pressure on goalies.
In kicking it around in a later phone conversation, I pointed out to Emrick that while starting pitchers lose their effectiveness the longer a game goes, goalies seemingly can go forever. He said, “Goalies are so well conditioned these days, and so well studied. Some of this is how genetically sound they are, and how sharp mentally. But generally, if a goalie is sharp through the first two periods, he’ll stay sharp. Exhaustion doesn’t really play into it too many times.”
Well, Doc would know.
And I know there are other “Winner-take-All” games in MLB and the other team sports; but they don’t carry the same cache as “Game 7”. In a long series, there are decisions and nuances that affect each piece of strategy in the ultimate game.
I remember how Cubs manager Joe Maddon needed so much from his closer Aroldis Chapman in the final three games of the 2016 World Series. Chapman expended 42 pitches to save Game 5. After a day off, Chapman had 20 pitches in a 9-3 blowout win to even the series. And in Game 7, Chapman blew a save opportunity in the 8th inning. Chapman had enough left to get three Cleveland hitters out in the ninth to send Game 7 into extra innings, but his 35 pitches prevented him from pitching the bottom of the 10th and saving Game 7. Little used Carl Edwards, Jr. and Mike Montgomery recorded the final three outs, albeit with some drama.
So as a sports fan, you can like any month best, and I’ll respect your opinion. I’ll just say this: baseball is good from the first sip of Opening Day — or the first pitch of a morning Sunday slate — to the last out of the World Series. Especially when it’s extra-innings of a Game 7.
You know, when you can dream that the game will never end.
Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds host Brandon Crawford and the San Francisco Giants from Great American Ballpark on MLB Sunday Leadoff live this Sunday, May 29 at 11:30 a.m. ET on Peacock. This week’s MLB Sunday Leadoff coverage begins with the pregame show at 11 a.m. ET on Peacock. NBC Sports’ Ahmed Fareed is the pre- and postgame host of MLB Sunday Leadoff and also serves as the in-game reporter.
How to Watch:
|Sun., May 29||MLB Sunday Leadoff Pregame||11 a.m.||Peacock|
|Sun., May 29||Giants vs. Reds||11:30 a.m.||Peacock|