John Scanlan 2015-11-16 04:05:52
Waaaaay back in 1971, whenever the Cincinnati Reds played an 8 p.m. game on the West Coast, Mom would let us stay up and listen to the game around a campfire. We lived in rural southern Ohio and had built a fire pit next to our pond. There we struggled to pick up WLW—700 on the AM dial—on a tiny transistor radio. Even though our humble home was two hours away from Cincinnati, we could still barely pick up WLW on a clear summer’s night. WLW was a commercial news and talk radio station licensed to Cincinnati and serving the greater city. More importantly, WLW was the 50,000-watt, clear-channel station that served as the flagship for the Cincinnati Reds radio network. In 1971, the Reds’ play-by-play announcer was none other than Al Michaels. Yes, that’s right, the Al Michaels, who would later gain fame covering ABC’s Monday Night Football. One year later, the Reds would win the National League Championship Series and advance to the World Series, where Michaels helped cover the Fall Classic for NBC Sports. Al Michaels’ color man was hometown hero Joe Nuxhall, who was born and raised in the Cincinnati suburb of Hamilton. He became famous for having been the youngest player ever to appear in a major league baseball game. On June 10, 1944, he pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Reds at the age of 15 years and 316 days. Called up for that one game due to player shortages caused by World War II, Nuxhall would eventually find his way back to the Reds in 1952. Known as “the Ol’ Lefthander,” he compiled a career ERA of 3.90 and a win-loss record of 135-117 during his 16 seasons, and made the National League All-Star team in 1955 and 1956. Immediately after retiring in 1966, he became a radio broadcaster for the Reds and remained so through 2004. Lastly, Joe Nuxhall always signed off his broadcasts with, “This is the ol’ lefthander rounding third and heading for home.” In a way, listening to those games on the radio was better than watching them on television. That’s because my mind envisioned— and embellished—whatever Michaels and Nuxhall described. I could just see them all: manager Sparky Anderson charging onto the field and going nose-to-nose with the home plate umpire; Pete Rose crouching in his famous batting stance, and then stroking a line drive single; Johnny Bench unleashing a towering home run to left field; George Foster charging in from center field to make a shoestring catch that looked like an ice cream cone. But I didn’t have to envision—and embellish—the comedy show around that campfire. There sat four Scanlan brothers wearing the standard summer uniform for a boy in rural Ohio: a white, tank-top t-shirt and cut-off denim jeans where the ragged, un-hemmed cut was so high that the white bottoms of the front pockets were exposed on both thighs. Atop our heads were worn-out Cincinnati Reds ball caps, and on our feet were Keds with no tread. The meal consisted of black, charred hot dogs—having been burned over the fire—and hot, gooey S’mores with melted chocolate dripping down our fingers. We also downed copious quantities of Mountain Dew—a caffeine and sugar high—which was just what young boys needed right before trying to sleep. Under a starry sky with the pond’s bullfrogs croaking in the background, we constantly fiddled with the radio dial to hear a broadcast marred by static. We used wiener-roasting sticks fashioned out of metal coat hangers. We sat erect in JC Penney sleeping bags intended more for a Friday night indoor sleep-over than a weeknight outdoor mosquito-fest. Next to the fire, our beloved Queeny, a mixed-breed mutt that we rescued from the local dog pound, waited to pounce upon any dropped hot dogs. “This is the ol’ lefthander rounding third and heading for home.” By God, that was America.
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