The Marty Party ends today

Marty Brennaman, who has been the Cincinnati Reds play-by-play radio announcer for the past 46 seasons, will step away from the mic following this afternoon’s “titanic struggle” (that’s a Marty-ism) with the Milwaukee Brewers.

When I was 6, my family moved from New Jersey to Arkansas… sparing me the ignominy of being one of those obnoxious fans of the Yankees or Mets. With no geographic allegiance to a particular team, I was an MLB free agent fan.

In those pre-cable dark ages of the early 70s, all we had was the NBC Game of the Week (Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola) and the radio. I quickly latched onto the Cincinnati Reds, also known as The Big Red Machine. Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Concepcion, Geronimo… they were my heroes.

The Reds flagship radio station was — and still is — 700 WLW-AM, a 50,000 clear channel station. The station’s signal covered dozens of states at night, including Arkansas. So I would tune in nearly every game. Marty joined in 1974 (replacing Al Michaels), teaming up with former teenage major league pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

Marty & Joe were the soundtrack to my baseball life. Marty’s signature victory cry of “… and this one belongs to the Reds!” has been the source of thousands of smiles over my lifetime.

Marty’s last call is today. They’re giving away transistor radios to kids who attend, which is certainly anachronistic in the streaming media/smartphone era, but it’s totally fitting for the generation that grew up with him.

Illustration: Clinton Reno (clintonreno.com) from this cool article from a fellow Reds fan

I can’t attend the game (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of play?), but I’ll be sure to tune in for one last party with Marty.

Source: Cincinnati Reds

Are you ready for some (non-American) football?

Soccer had its moment in the sun yesterday. The U.S. Women’s National Team claimed their second consecutive Women’s World Cup title, giving them a record four titles overall.

Meanwhile the men’s team made the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Don’t ask me what CONCACAF stands for – I think it’s a coffee brand.) They lost to Mexico, 1-0, but hey, they made the finals!

Mmm, that’s some mighty tasty Concacaf!

Now, most of America will shrug its collective shoulders, yawn, and go back to watching all the other sports for a few years. Yes, I know that football (the kind actually played with the foot) is “the beautiful game” and that it’s wildly popular in nearly every other corner of the globe. And yes, I know it’s picking up steam stateside… including here in Cincinnati, where FC Cincinnati, a newly-minted member of Major League Soccer, regularly draws crowds in excess of 25,000. Oh, and Rose Lavelle, who scored that beautiful goal for the USA Women yesterday? She’s from the ‘nati!

https://twitter.com/i/status/1147906367383977984

Still, something seems to be missing… a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s the traumatic brain injuries and consistent maimings that happen in American football. The interminable wait between pitches of baseball. The meaningless regular season of the NHL… or the meaningless regular season AND meaningless first three quarters of every game in the NBA. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t provide a handy excuse for taking a nice three-hour nap every Sunday like professional golf.

My college buddy Tom always used to claim “soccer is a communist sport” because it could end in a tie.

Roll tied!

(He still claims this, even though both his daughters got full-ride scholarships to SEC schools for… you guessed it… soccer!) But after watching the women’s semifinals and final, I know the real problem: “stoppage time.”

Stoppage time (also called injury time) is the time added on at the end of each half at the discretion of the referee.

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Football_(Soccer)/The_Basics

What other sport has such a ridiculous and mysterious method for running (or not running) the clock? Can’t they just stop the clock anytime there’s an injury? Heck, I’ve worked the scoreboard at more than my fair share of kiddie basketball games, I’ll show ’em how it’s done.

We love two-minute drills and buzzer beaters, and soccer cheats us out of this by making the timing of the game rather random, and by not showing the crowd exactly how much time is left in the contest.

Until they fix stoppage time, soccer will be a sport whose time will never come in the U.S.

Another winner from Nadal

Yesterday, Rafael Nadal beat Dominic Thiem in the French Open final, becoming the first player to win the same Grand Slam 12 times. He’s clearly the “King of Clay” but he has 18 Grand Slam titles overall, so he’s not a one-trick pony.

As great as he is, “Rafa” has spent most of his career living in the shadow of Roger Federer. It would be easy to be a tad bit jealous. But now, at age 33, Nadal could conceivably catch or even surpass the 20 Grand Slam titles of the 37-year-old Federer. When he was asked about that possibility, his response was beautiful:

“I am not very worried about this stuff, no?
You can’t be frustrated all the time because the neighbor has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV or better garden. That’s not the way that I see life.”

On the court or off, that’s a winner!

A cool assignment

When I was six, my family moved from über-urban New Jersey (shout out to Jersey City!) to super-rural Arkansas (shout out to… the cows that lived next door?). Our new abode was in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, so it got chilly, but we rarely experienced snow or ice. (I remember one year when we got nearly a foot of snow overnight and my grade school was closed for two weeks straight!)

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Cold-weather sports such as hockey weren’t really on my radar. Sure, I might read the occasional article about it in Sports Illustrated, but I’d never seen a live game and really knew very little about it. In college, I got a work-study job in intramurals, and had to be a linesman for broomball, the poor man’s hockey. It took me a long time to understand the “icing” penalty call.

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I’ve been to a handful of hockey games since then, but don’t really follow the sport. When my old friend John Fox — who is now the editor of Cincinnati Magazine — rang me up and asked me if I wanted to contribute to a photo essay about beer league hockey players for the April issue, my initial thought was that I was woefully ill-equipped for the gig. But I overcame my imposter fears and I’m so glad I did, because I got to interview a bunch of very interesting folks from all walks of life, united by their love of “the good old hockey game.”

The entire piece is online here on the Cincinnati Magazine website. A couple of clips are below. Just goes to show that when you get outside your comfort zone, cool things happen.

Don’t sleep on these teams… or do.

Virginia beat Texas Tech in overtime to claim the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship last night. Or so I heard. The game tipped off at 9:26 PM EDT. I had to wake my kids at 6 AM this morning. by the time the clock struck zero, I was fast asleep.

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I’m sure it was “one for the ages” or some other nugget of hyperbole from Jim Nantz (who seems to think every word that comes from his mouth is pure gold). But at my age, my beauty rest is more important. (To be clear, I’m not gaining any ground in the beauty department, just trying to keep the ugly at bay.)

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But even if I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn today, why bother with live feed? It’s a Netflix/YouTube world now. This morning, on my bus ride to work, I was able to watch a 12-minute recap that showed all the field goals from the game. So what did I really miss by not staying up an extra two hours, other than a gazillion Spike-Samuel-Barkley commercials, a bunch of free throw attempts, the always-scintillating “refs going to the monitor for five minutes” and maybe a few Bill Raftery “with the kiss” lines? I’m good.

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There’s no need to watch what happens live anymore. I’ll wait for the recap movie.

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I love a parade…

Actually, I really don’t love a parade. Whole lotta standing around to see people waving from vintage vehicles, and emergency vehicles blaring their sirens for no good reason. Marching bands are fine, I suppose, but you wind up hearing 20 seconds of the tune.

If it’s one of those parades where people throw candy from their floats, parents have to be constantly vigilant lest one of their tykes gets run over by a 1957 Chevy Coupe as s/he is chasing down an errant, dirt and gravel-encrusted Dum-Dum lollipop.

The only real highlight for me is Shriners in their tiny cars.

But today’s parade is different. It’s the Cincinnati Reds annual Opening Day Parade. The Reds are MLB’s oldest franchise – they’re celebrating their 150th anniversary this year.

As the éminence grise (or éminence rouge technically) of the league, they used to host their first game a day before the rest of the league. “Tradition,” as Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof. Or “dibs” if you prefer. First come, first served.

For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati, and the Reds remain the only major league team to always open the season with a home game.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opening_Day

That’s before MLB got greedy a couple of decades ago and decided to bow down at the altar of the Almighty TV Viewing Rights Dollar by having different (read: more prestigious) clubs open the season in Japan, Australia, Puerto Rico or other exotic locales.

Why be on the Reds when you can be in the black?

Cincinnati’s Opening Day parade has been going on for a century, organized by Findlay Market, a old-school public market in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, the area just north of downtown that was the landing spot for thousands of German immigrants (hence the name) back in the late 1800s. Findlay Market is still going strong, with dozens of independently-owned and operated businesss: butchers, bakers, fishmongers, produce peddlers, cheese merchants… you name it. They all band together to organize the parade every year, so it has a nice Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe to it.

Long before Men Without Hats

And the Reds Opening Day is an unofficial civic holiday, a day with high absenteeism at schools and businesses (Reds fever!), where thousands come downtown early to stake out a prime parade vantage point, and actual tickets to the game are a prized possession (a fact borne out by StubHub prices).

The parting of the Reds Sea.

It’s just an amateur parade for a mediocre baseball team. But really, it’s way more than that. It’s a celebration of Spring, of new life. It’s a parade of hope… hope that this season, this year, things will be better. Baseball’s just a convenient excuse to throw an optimism party.

I love a parade like that.

GQ Jay is a classy guy

Jay Wright is the head coach of the Villanova University men’s basketball team. They’ve won the NCAA Championship two of the last three years, which is an amazing feat for any squad, much less a team from a small, private school. Jay is also a handsome dude who is always nattily attired on the sidelines, hence his “GQ Jay” nickname.

Love the pocket square.

As a Xavier basketball fan, it’d be easy to hate him, and not just because he’s prettier than I am. Xavier has played in the same conference as Villanova since joining the reconstituted Big East in 2013, and the Wildcats have owned the Musketeers: 12 wins and only 2 losses. That includes the most recent overtime win by Villanova in the Big East semifinals that killed Xavier’s slim chance of making the NCAA tourney. But he had some very kind words to say about Xavier and their first-year head coach Travis Steele after the game:

Wright, the Big East coach of the year, said, “I told Travis he’s making it look easy. First year, he did a lot with this team. They’ve got a young team, too. They were playing as well as anybody in the conference coming down the stretch, and we knew it. This was no surprise at all. 

“Anybody who’s in their first year in any sport – the coach, the staff, you’ve got graduate transfers, you’ve got freshmen – a lot of people in their first year. That’s what we’re struggling with a little bit. Our staff, we lost our two top assistants the last two years. They had it worse … new head coach.  

“It takes time, man. It takes time. What Travis did with that team from the beginning to where they’re playing now, I don’t know all the tournament stuff, but that team could beat a lot of NCAA Tournament teams. A lot. I think it’s a credit to Travis and their program. They get all those guys back, man, they’re going to have a hell of a team.” (Source: this Cincinnati Enquirer article.)

That’s a classy move by a classy guy. And he’s not just Wright, he’s also right: Xavier will have a hell of a team next year.


Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Announcer is… caught!

This is Joe Buck.

He’s the lead play-by-play announcer for NFL games on Fox. That means he’s considered the best announcer on that network. I beg to differ.

Joe has a very annoying verbal crutch: he says “Pass is… caught!” at least 30 times a game. It’s usually a stall, with the pregnant pause after “is” until he can determine if the pass is complete or incomplete. If you think I’m exaggerating about the 30 times, I can assure you I’m not. That’s probably a lowball figure. Watch the Saints-Rams game tomorrow and count them for yourself. But please don’t make it a drinking game. It you have a drink every time Joe Buck says “pass is… caught!” like folks used to do with the phrase “Hi Bob!” on the old Bob Newhart Show, you’ll be drunker than a monkey’s uncle before halftime.

We all have our own verbal crutches. Like… you know… um… er…. But when you’re getting paid millions of dollars to call a game, it seems like you should un-learn those bad habits. My wife thinks I’m making a mountain out of a molehill – “what else is he supposed to say when a pass is caught?” How about these:

  • Pass is completed.
  • [Quarterback name]’s pass is hauled in at the 40.
  • Pass over the middle… [Receiver] makes the catch.
  • [Quarterback] to [Receiver]… complete for a first down.
  • [Receiver] makes the grab.
  • [Quarterback] throws down the sideline…. great catch by [Receiver].
  • Screen pass to [Receiver]… with blockers in front of him.
  • [Quarterback] connects with [Receiver].
  • [Quarterback] finds [Receiver] who was wide open over the middle.
  • Short throw into the flat… a great diving catch.
  • A laser into coverage… complete for a big third down conversion.

Sorry, Joe. Don’t worry, this post is…. over!

Someone super behind the hoopsters

It’s been a tough season so far for Xavier basketball, but the fact that fans can be “disappointed” with a middling season in the Big East shows just how far the program has come over the past two decades. A lot of credit for that growth goes to a man who never played a minute for the team. Dr. Bill Daily was a Xavier grad who returned to teach, and he was passionate about hoops. The university had dropped football in the early 70s to cut costs, and in the late 70s the basketball program was in a similar predicament.

“(Daily) was the single voice to say that this basketball thing is really an important piece of what a University is really all about. He convinced them to make a commitment and spend the resources and he chaired the search committee to get Bob Staak.” 

Gary Massa, former XU basketball player (Class of ’81) and current VP of University Relations

Bob Staak helped turn the program around in the early 80s (which coincided with my time at Xavier, btw… merely a coincidence, of course). The teams got better, and the program got bigger – moving from the Midwestern City Conference to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and moving from the ancient fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens to the state-of-the-art Cintas Center on campus.


“Dr. Daily was the beginning of an unprecedented run if you go back … he had the wherewithal and the vision to see what basketball could be.” 

Gary Massa

Dr. Daily passed away last month at the age of 83. If being a “founding father” of the Xavier basketball program were all that Dr. Daily accomplished, his life would be considered a rousing success. But that merely scratches the surface of his influence on lives. Dr. Daily had six kids, and I know his daughter Maria well from our days at Xavier.

 “He really felt his purpose in life was to make sure that everybody knew they were important and they were loved.” 

Maria Dickman, daughter

From this Cincinnati Enquirer article: He continued to learn and participate in a variety of adventures like the Urban Youth Academic Service Learning Experience in Over-the-Rhine, where he lived with and taught Xavier students in a house adjacent to Washington Park for multiple semesters. He started out teaching in the education department and eventually became chair of the communication arts department. 

He sought every opportunity to help people which led him to become co-founder of the E Pluribus Unum program at Xavier, which helped students learn about diversity in today’s society. 

He also received another degree in pastoral counseling from the Athenaeum of Ohio. He went on retreats to Gethsemani and was an associate at the Sisters of St. Francis convent in Oldenburg, Indiana. He took mission trips to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ghana.

“That’s kind of what dad’s mission in life was. He wasn’t out to get the credit, he just wanted to make sure things got done.” 

Mary Beth Bruns, daughter

Nice job, Doc. The entire Xavier community owes you a deep debt of gratitude.

(Please read the entire article about Dr. Daily. This post doesn’t do him justice.)

Second verse, same as the first. 4th verse, same as the first three.

Thank goodness the powers that be in college football have created a playoff system. Now, instead of the same ol’ same ol’, we get to enjoy a wide variety of teams vying for the national championship. Let’s see, there’s Alabama, and Clemson, and… welp, that pretty much sums it up.

Since the College Football Playoff started in 2014, the “Final 4” has consisted of: Alabama (every stinkin’ year), Clemson (every year but one), Oklahoma (3 years), Ohio State (twice), and a cameo by five other randos. The past three championship games have been ‘Bama vs. Clemson. This year, in a shocking turn of events, the final game tomorrow night is… wait for it… ‘Bama vs. Clemson.

ESPN tries their best to hype the living daylights out of it, but fatigue has set in. Someone wake me when it’s over. Actually, strike that… don’t wake me when it’s over, because I’ll be fast asleep long before the game ends, and I don’t really care who wins.