I’ve been wrong about something. There’s not much unusual about that but, sadly, I was judgmental in my wrongness. I probably even judged you.
First, a quick story – which for me is oxymoronic – but I’ll try …
The Cincinnati Reds are in the World Series and it’s the night of the fourth game. These are the 1990 wire-to-wire Reds and they are putting the whomp on the A’s. I am working tables at a high-end restaurant on the second level of a downtown Cincinnati hotel. Delmonico’s at The Westin, or Del’s as everyone calls it, has floor-to-ceiling windows that look down upon our lovely downtown square with its sculpture fountain, cleverly (and with Midwestern practicality) called Fountain Square. The dining room itself is tiered so most every table has a view.
I am a “captain” on this night; my buddy, John, is my back waiter. We are assigned the coveted bottom tier station right on the window. It is a crazy night, and everyone wants a table on those windows. Needless to say, I am not keeping track of the game, but I do have an unprecedented view of the crowd outside growing and growing. The box score is on a big screen in a corner of the square I can’t see. All I can make out is a sea of red and I can hear the occasional roar when our team makes a play.
Around 11 or so we are winding down. A few tables are left watching the crowd and lingering over coffee. I decide to go downstairs to get a drink while John watches the tables. Are we allowed to do this? Well … let’s just say we all did.
The bar is called The Corner Bar because it is, well, on the corner of the hotel facing the square and the main street that led down to the colossal Riverfront Stadium, home of the Reds. I take the service elevator to first floor and head to the bar which has an entrance from the hotel atrium. It is important to note that I am wearing tuxedo pants and shirt — with studs — a black bowtie and a white waiter’s jacket and a long white apron, French bistro style. I look good and professional.
The hallway I walk down is angled a bit and I can’t really see into the bar although it is noisy, which I expected. I turn to walk in and, just as I cross the threshold, the whole place busts out in madness. Several tripods of camera lights flash on and a camera is pointed right at me as I enter. Next to the door is a reporter and he is saying something about the hometown crowd and “live from downtown Cincinnati …”
Yep, I’d blundered right into the live feed of the local crowd on the nationally televised game in Oakland. Literally, as they opened the feed, there I am in my full waiter regalia, nametag and all. I got calls for days about it. The first guy anyone sees in Cincy is a local waiter trying to get himself a drink.
I quickly duck toward the service bar, also ducking the reporter who was looking for someone to interview. Seeing as how I was on the clock, in uniform and all, that seemed like a good idea. I order a couple of Black Russians, put them on a tray and duck back out.
John and I spent the next hour or two watching and waving at the crowd. Even though I’d recently left New York City where I’d worked in bars and restaurants for the past four or so years, I’d never seen this level of fandom. People were so happy, marching triumphantly nowhere, jumping up and down, drinking and cheering. It was unforgettable…
I’ve told this story over the years a number of times, the focus, of course, being on me and the surprise and all of it. But recently when I told it to a buddy I hadn’t be in touch with for some time, something weird happened. The crowd looked different in my memory.
Where I’d seen chaos and a sort of madness before, now I saw the joy and unbridled excitement of the win. Where once I’d seen homemade banners and brooms (it was a sweep, remember?), I saw folks making those banners, lettering a bedsheet in there sleepy suburban home, and bringing it down to the big city. I somehow saw people stopping at a hardware store for a broom, or a liquor store for a flask.
In this most recent remembering, I saw the families. There were kids and teens everywhere, breathing in the wildness and screaming their hearts out. I saw high fives between dads and sons, hugs and kisses for the littles. I’d forgotten that.
What has all this to do with me being wrong and judgmental? When the world shut down in March because of COVID-19 and it became clear there would be no baseball Opening Day, no parade, no rallies, I was initially sad but quickly came to see that it was best and I didn’t miss the games that much. And then … the season began again, truncated and limping, and I was happy to see the games again.
Anyone who knows me knows I know baseball’s the best sport. I am quick to point out what I see as the flaws in football and basketball, hockey and soccer, and many other sports. Ipso facto: Your enjoyment of your chosen sport is inferior to mine.
But as golf and the NBA and the NHL began playing again this summer, I saw how much it meant to the fans of those sports. Here’s what I am most sorry about — missing the fact that all these sports bring great joy to families around the world.
Yours is not a failed attempt at mine, and vice versa. I shouldn’t question your choice of sport, your level of fandom. A friend of my wife works in the front office of the champion Bolts down in Tampa. He recently posted an image of his him, his wife and two young daughters posing with that big ole Stanley Cup won this pandemic season, they look so happy. Another buddy is an avid fan Manchester United and gets up early in mornings to watch the English soccer games; it makes him happy. A buddy in L.A. watches endless golf matches even though he has never held a driver in his life.
The sports thing — and the music thing and the art thing and the movie thing and, well, all the stuff folks love — it brings us together. My twin boys, pushing 16 now, are getting the short stick on this one this year. There’ve been no Friday Night Lights to get wild at this year; they’ve missed that. Even though some sports play on to limited crowds, there is no theater this fall, no music concerts, no quarterly art show. Clubs are not meeting, no debate, no chess or after school diversity programs.
I am sorry for them, sorry for us. I forget, my being a bit introverted, how essential “others” are to us, to them, to society writ large. Every day during this ongoing pandemic I see these kids get screwed and I wish something could be done for them. So, we’ll watch the World Series on TV together and I’ll tell stories and we’ll try to create community, remembering that in households across our home town and the country and the world, you all are trying to as well.
Hopefully, soon, we’ll all be able to rally at the fountain square or watch a sports game at the corner bar. We’ll meet you there, all right?