We were at the ballpark Thursday night with our friends from Northern Indiana, Tom and Char Kuhn. The Kuhns are huge Cubs fans, Brian is a White Sox fan, and I grew up a Reds fan. But for one beautiful, summer evening, I was simply a fan of the game itself, and of a special evening out with friends.
Tom is Brian's best friend dating from their high school days. Char is his fun-loving, vivacious wife. It's a shame we don't get to spend much time with them. Tom, Brian, and Brian's brother, Steve, take a fishing trip together every summer. Tom and Char are there for our family's big events such as the kids' open houses and Sam's wedding, and vice versa.
We always say we'll get together more. Now that three of the four of us are retired, I truly hope that can happen. Brian is so happy around Tom and the four of us get along great. (I mean, look, the man is letting me take photos of his smiling face and normally he's like "I don't like my picture taken.")
We enjoyed a stroll along the river walk which takes folks along a parks complex that ends with the city's signature ball parks. Pretty ingenious. This is Tom, Char and Brian before dinner and the game.
I grew up watching the Big Red Machine in the 1970s and my hometown of Liberty backed the Reds. When the Reds were in the Playoffs and World Series, TV monitors were set up in the cafeteria where students could watch day games.
I grew up occasionally attending Reds games with family. It was always a big event when we visited Crosley Field (I must have been all of age 5, but I remember it) and Riverfront Stadium. Even though my family has been to Great American several times, I had never been.
Baseball was a personally huge part of our family's life for a dozen years as our son, Ben, was talented player and every summer meant not only local league play, later high school action, but also travel teams that took us all over the Midwest and even Arkansas. Our summers revolved around his games. And then, it ended. Abruptly. A part of that broke my heart.
Once his baseball days were over, I could hardly look at a baseball game on TV, let along visit a ballpark. In fact, Thursday's game was my first return after eight years. Looking at that beautiful green field in Cincinnati brought it all back. As we walked to our seats a few rows from the field, the classic, "Put Me in Coach" played for the fans and yes, I felt a lump in my throat.
I knew I would enjoy the evening's company and the setting on a perfect summer evening, but I didn't expect to enjoy the game. To my surprise and delight, I did. I'm back!
After the game, we headed back to Indiana. Brian decided to take a different route to avoid a road-work detour. We headed north through Rushville, then hit U.S. 40 and turned west through Knightstown.
This was my favorite -- and most unexpected -- part of the evening.
We mentioned to Tom that the Hoosier Gym, the site where many scenes in the classic basketball movie, Hoosiers, were played, is in that town. So of course we drove up to it and at 12:30 a.m., Brian and guests went up to the doors and peered inside. I remained in the "getaway" car as we all felt as though someone might call the cops on us. We all giggled like kids.
Tom even took pictures in the dark night of the sign outside. We promised to take them back the next time they visit. Only we'll go during the day as paying customers.
It was a happy return for me to the majesty of a ballpark, and an unexpected ending to a lovely "double-date night." Next time, let's play two.