Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Number of Games: 1
First and Last Game: July 19, 1993 (Cubs 6, Reds 4)
Riverfront Stadium was imploded on December 29, 2002.
I was in the front row at Riverfront for a good game against the Cubs. I was down the right field line. You know that point where the seats jut out, where doubles down the line hit and sometimes ricochet back towards the infield, or suddenly turn left and zip in front of the right fielder, forcing him to change direction, making a double into a triple? I was right at that point. First thing I did was called my folks in Colorado and asked them to tape the game on WGN so that there would be hard evidence of (a) my presence at the game and of (b) any foul balls I would be able to grab. As it turns out, (b) didn’t happen. I came close (about 5 feet away) on a Rick Wilkins smash foul in the 9th inning. I forced my poor family to watch the foul ball repeatedly, repeatedly seeing me reach out from my seat to miss the ball by, well, a lot. But I made the effort, and I was on TV trying.
This will go down in my memory as the Larry Luebbers game. Larry Luebbers was making his third major league start, and his first start at home in Cinicnnati, where he grew up. I was sitting with every friend, relative, and neighbor of Larry’s (they all called him “Chip”) from Cincinnati, except for Larry’s dad, who had a different (and, I assume, better) seat. I habitually root for the home team at every game that doesn’t involve my Mariners, and at this game, it was more intense than usual. My seat was very near the Reds’ bullpen, and I was just a few feet away from Larry as he paced before warm-ups. I remember thinking he looked nervous and was trying to cover it with a look of intense concentration…and failing. Well, still, he had won his first two starts on the road, so I figured he had something going.
I cheered for Chip with his friends and family. Some of them might have even figured I grew up in the area…I was Chip’s high school buddy or some neighbor they didn’t recognize who’d faced Chip in Little League. Alas, a Chip Luebbers victory was not to be…I think Chip’s nerves got to him a little bit. He gave up five runs and walked 6 in less than 5 innings. One of the Luebbers’ neighbors went away for a couple of innings to find Larry’s dad and congratulate him for his son’s making the majors. “I told him that no matter what happens from here, Larry’s made it way further than anybody else.” Very true, but probably very unsatisfying for Larry that night.
Now that I think about it, I may have been the turning point for Larry’s career–for the worse. He was 2-0 before I sat with his family and friends–and he finished the season 2-5. He then went back to the minors, and I lost track of him and figured he was finished. Not so…six years later, in 1999, he was back in the majors with the Cardinals, for whom he went 3-3. He returned to the Reds as a reliever in 2000, but I could not find him on a major league roster as of July 2001. Isn’t that admirable? To get a taste of the majors, then toil for six more years to make it back up again? Way to go, Larry. Sorry I couldn’t see you win in front of your buddies.
This game also was my first of two consecutive opportunities to root for Kevin Wickander. Wickander started 1993 with the Indians, when his good friends, Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, were killed in a boating accident that March in Cleveland’s spring training. He was devastated, and suddenly couldn’t pitch. Mike Hargrove and the Indians’ brass thought that Wickander needed a change of scenery…you can’t pitch while everyone and everything you see reminds you of the death of your good friends. So they traded him to Cincinnati for future considerations…this, entirely a mental-health move on Wickander’s behalf. Just a little while before seeing him pitch, I had read a touching Sports Illustrated article about the tragedy and the Indians’ (and particularly Wickander’s) recovery from it…and then, that night, there he was, warming up a few feet away from me. He ran out to the pitchers’ mound, and I shouted as loud as I could…”All right, WICK! Go get ’em, WICK!” Here’s a guy who needs something good to happen to him. The subtext behind his appearance…well, it made it one of those moments that transcends baseball, at least to me. Ryne Sandberg was on second after a leadoff double, and Wickander was to face the lefties that followed in the Cubs’ lineup. He threw 8 pitches. All 8 were balls, and one was a wild pitch. He wouldn’t do much better a week later in the Astrodome.
It was one of the most poignant and tragic things I’ve ever seen. It was like watching somebody at work trying to do his/her job after a personal tragedy, doing a terrible job, but with nobody having the guts–yet–to say that he/she probably should take some time off. Except this guy was going through it in front of 31,587 people. Fortunately, nobody scored that inning, but Wickander didn’t throw a single strike.
Possibly more than any game I’ve ever been to, this one demonstrated that the guys out there are, in fact, human beings, like Chip and Wick–blessed with friends and families and facing their own demons just like the rest of us.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
The Reds almost pull off a comeback win, cutting an early deficit to 5-4 with nobody out in the 6th and a man on second. Then Reggie Sanders hits a fly ball to right-center, where Sammy Sosa, playing center, waves off rookie Kevin Roberson. He guns down Hal Morris trying to tag up to third, and the Reds never recover.
Kevin Roberson hits his second career home run.
Larry Luebbers is tagged with his first major league loss.(Written August 2001. Updated July 2005.)