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Giant Red Sack: Installment II

In the life of a sports fanatic, there are varying degrees of success and failure. On one hand, there's the regular season baseball game disappointment that lasts for about a half hour, but is generally appeased with a post-game beer and the promise of tomorrow. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the college football loss, a brand of debilitating defeat that is rarely paralleled. One loss for a big time college football program usually signals the end of the season (that is, until the balance of power shifts away from the money-hungry BCS and toward a playoff). Sure, a high profile team like USC or Ohio State can make it to the National Championship game with one loss, but it becomes MUCH harder, and if they DON'T get a shot at a title, the season is generally viewed as a failure. Similarly, fans of different teams respond to defeat differently, their expectations conditioned over time. For instance, the New York Yankees organization sh!ts a brick if they don't end the postseason by popping champagne. Meanwhile, teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't had a "crushing loss" in the last 30 years, simply because they are so used to losing.

As an Ohio sports fan, I'm not sure I have ever experienced a loss like the one the Reds just suffered. Don't get me wrong; my sports lifetime (defined by the last 15 years where I've been conscious of players, standings, etc.) has been absolutely riddled with defeat. Before the Jim Tressel era, Ohio State football was repeatedly embarrassed by Michigan. And while OSU has enjoyed a greater degree of success during the era of the Vest, its consistent pattern of failure on the national stage has almost been worse (minus the brief hiccup in 2002.) Couple that with the embarrassing, stumble-bum history of the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns and you have enough sporting heartbreak to last a lifetime. This Reds loss, however, was different.

Maybe it was the way they lost; basically bending over and beckoning Charlie Manuel to enter them from behind. Or, maybe it was the fact that I had to endure such a crap festival while surrounded by the yammering baboons that make up the Philly fan base. Or, quite possibly it was as simple as the Reds hadn't been there in over a decade, and it was all over so fast. Regardless, immediately following the sweep, a little piece of me died inside. Now, in a different walk of life, the aftermath of such a letdown would play out differently than it did a few weeks ago. Had the Reds received a beatdown of such drastic proportions when I was in grade school, I probably would have cried, written a letter to the President, and dressed as a nerdy Phillies player for Halloween. If this apocalypse would have went down when I was in college, the next few weeks would be spent skipping class and adding liberally to the collage of beer labels taped to my dorm room wall. And, as recently as a few years ago (pre-shacking up with the fiancé), Doomsday 2010 would have sent me into a lethargic, bachelor-pad tailspin; eating ravioli out of a can, blocking ESPN on my television parental controls, and waking up from long couch-naps with Cheet-ohs stuck to my head.

However, once a man reaches a certain point in his journey of adulthood, it becomes unacceptable to mourn in such a way. We can't skip work, or our bosses will fire us. As much as we'd like to, we can't turn our homes into garbage-strewn hibernation holes, or our wives will fire us. And we can't block ESPN because, well, then we wouldn't know who to start on our fantasy teams. So, in the face of such tragedy, the adult sports fan is forced to embark on the slow, painful process of healing; not in the way that may feel most natural but, instead, in the mind. After huge sports losses these days, we must internalize our grief, muffle our mourning, and plod forward as the most somber of funeral processions plays out in our psyches.

I woke up this morning with every intention to write a column I have been formulating for the past few days. It was going to be a list of the worst moments from the recent playoff series, moments that will forever be etched violently into my memory like public restroom vulgarities. I thought maybe it would bring some closure to this whole saga; maybe put the issue to bed, so to speak. However, it hit me today that, as far as the healing process is concerned, rehashing things might be the single worst thing I could do. It would be like if I decided to celebrate the six months I spent getting over an ex-girlfriend by drunk dialing her to explain how much of a hag she was. It would be like making sure a gash on my elbow had fully healed by taking sandpaper to the scab. Or, more relevantly, it would be like getting my sworn enemy Jose on the horn to ask for a post-series analysis.

So, as much as I value my memories of Citizens Bank Ballpark erupting when Jay Bruce lost the ball in the lights, or the ancient drunk dude who stood beside me for three innings, patting me on the back every time the Phils did something good because he was too senile and wasted to realize I had a Reds hat on, I'll let the sharing stop there. The whole series was rotten, and the only thing worse would be to experience it regurgitated. SO…I've decided to give the people exactly what they want. The mailroom at Redsmix has been bursting at the seams since my first installment of the Giant Red Sack, and the Phillies loss almost signaled the tipping point. Many of you have e-mailed asking about my hopes, expectations, and dreams for 2011, or for a blueprint of the duct work at Citizens Bank (weird, I know!) So, with the limited space I have, I'll try to get to as much as I can.

Q: Yo' Reed. Outside of going all Clown Baby on Halladay or shackling Hamels to the clubhouse radiator like Black Snake Moan, what is the one thing the Reds could have done to give them a better shot in the Philly series? - Flo, Boca Raton

A: Aside from more playoff experience and less Halladay, I'm not sure the Reds could have done much. I was at Game 2, and had no idea about Utley NOT getting hit by Chapman's pitch, or about him actually being OUT at second, or about him allegedly missing third base. Those are the types of things that could have turned that inning around, possibly won us the game, and after that…who knows. However, even if we would have pulled out Game 2 (which I always contended was the pivotal game) I'm not sure we would have beaten Halladay in Game 4. He wouldn't have no-hit us, but I don't know that we would have won. That being said, I like your ideas the best. Halladay deserves a good beating and Hamels' pretty brown hair would substitute nicely for Christina Ricci's.

Q: As much as the NFL is cracking down on illegal hits and blows to the head in football, it's hard to argue that without such brutality the sport would be nearly as popular. Wouldn't it make sense for baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to consider allowing for a little more contact to improve ratings? Possibly fuse the game with UFC? Import a few rules from hockey? After all, everyone knows opposites attract, and all things being equal, I doubt many people would object. Your thoughts, please. - Boyd Dowdey, Piqua

A: Congratulations, Boyd, I'm officially speechless.

Q: You mentioned in your previous mailbag that Orlando Cabrera would be the Reds' starting shortstop next year because he was under contract. I assume that by now you have realized that it actually is a club option and the Reds don't have to keep him. Taking into account Cabrera's declining performance over the last half, who do you predict will be the Reds' 2011 Opening Day starter at shortstop? I'm just clueless on this one. - Dusty Baker, Great American Ballpark

A: It's hilarious to me how creative Reds fans can be when it comes to bashing Dusty. For the record, I really think he did a great job this year, and deserves any contract extension he is offered. As far as the shortstop question, if I had to predict, I'd go bold and say that Walt Jocketty will make a rather impressive trade this off-season to bring in a new starter. Just a hunch. If not, they sign Cabrera for less and let Janish battle for the job in the spring.

Q: Reed – Say you are planning a kegger and you can invite five current Reds. Who makes the cut, and why? - Tank, East Granby, CT

(First, let me preface this by saying that Tank e-mails me at least once a day. No joke. On one hand, I'm flattered that someone would e-mail me mailbag questions so frequently, knowing full well I have only ever published one, and may never do so again. On the other hand, I always get a little weirded out when I look at his e–mails and notice he sent them at 3am and cc'd himself…)

A: As far as social gatherings are concerned, I think Brandon Phillips has a ton of potential (his white, toothy smile and his natural swag certainly would make him a hit with the ladies) but the fact that he doesn't drink takes him out of the running. After all, this is a kegger, and the last person the host of a kegger wants around at the end of the night when its time to kick the keg by doing nonstop rounds of kegstands is the guy with his hands in his pockets who claims he doesn't drink. Where I'm from, we call those people LOSERS. Likewise, as much as I love Joey Votto, I think his stoic demeanor would prevent him from being the "fun, cool guy to have at a party." In all likelihood, he would fit more comfortably in the "dark, smoldering, complicated guy who attracts women even if they don't fully understand why" category and, let's face it, my party shall have none of that.

With those guys eliminated, I think I would lead my list off with Jay Bruce. I see Jay as one of those wholesome friends that comes over a few hours early to help set up the tiki torches, make the guacamole, and tap the keg so you don't get foam spatter on your new party shirt. Inevitably, Jay would be the one who would be tipsy by 5, drunk by 8, and passed out with penis drawings on his face by midnight. Next, I think Jonny Gomes is a must here. Gomes is known as a party guy, and his antics after the Reds clinched the division did nothing to quell that notion. (At one point he was shown spewing a geyser of champagne into the air like an inebriated porpoise.) Aside from being awesome, Jonny would also act as de-facto enforcer of the proceedings, keeping the locals in line and tossing any rabble-rousers out the back door by the scruff of their necks.

Also evidenced by their post-clinch celebration performances, I like the tandem of Yonder Alonso and Chris Heisey. While neither of these guys are Reds regulars yet, their youthful exuberance (Heisey) and willingness to double-fist Budweiser pounders (Alonso) would make them ideal keg party material. I envision Yonder picking up where he left off at Great American Ballpark by spraying the crowd with booze (and then whipping out the reserves he has in his back pockets) while Heisey stands next to him in goggles, giggling and egging him on. Finally, for my fifth selection, and in a surprising upset (Rolen, Stubbs, and the young pitchers were still available), I am going with first base coach Billy Hatcher. Every good party needs an older guy that can aim timely, cutting insults at the younger guys and spin yarns in the corner to the delight of a rapt audience. Being a former Reds great himself (at least I thought he was great!), Hatcher could regale guests with stories of Reds seasons past, as well as enlighten us on what exactly the first basemen talk to the runners about as they hold them on the bag. (Again, I love Joey Votto, but I am pretty sure he puts that info directly into the vault.) If nothing else, Hatcher packs a decent paunch himself (see what I did there?), so I'm sure he'd be willing to pitch in when it came time to chug a few.

As an alternate, I might consider Edinson Volquez, but only if he promised to teach me how to Dougie. (The only thing more amazing than seeing him do that dance on TV during the Reds' clubhouse celebration would be seeing it in person, so I'd say Volquez has a shot.)

***Note: For the record, my first inclination was to choose Bronson Arroyo, on account of the fact that his rockstar hairdo and refusal to pitch afternoon games make him a party aficionado and grade-A boozehound. However, after careful consideration, I've nixed Arroyo for one simple reason: he plays guitar. That's right, everyone knows that one dude in high school or college who would ruin a perfectly good house party by whipping out his guitar like a freakin' traveling minstrel. Let's face it, some guys try to woo the ladies like that, and at my college that guy was Mike Kwong. Kwong was a nice dude, but no one wants a sweet flip cup marathon to be interrupted by an awkward croonfest. It got to be so bad that my buddy Pick decided to start a rumor that Kwong poked holes in his condoms. Needless to say, Kwong immediately became much less popular with the females and the problem went away quietly. It was gruesome, but somebody had to do it.

Welp folks, that's all the time I have, but keep those questions coming and I'll try to answer them as fast as I can. Anything to speed along the healing process.

Reed Domer-Shank 10-21-2010

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