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From left field

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The prodigal son returns

By Jimmie Earls

By Jimmie Earls

Sun Sports Writer

I can only take so much winning, so much success, so much happiness.

That's why I'm going back to being a Cincinnati Reds fan.

After spending the past eight years in St. Louis, I grew to love the Cardinals, seeing Albert Pujols make his major league debut, Mark McGwire's rise and eventual fall from grace, appearances in two world championships and finally winning it all in 2006. Enough is enough!

When I was growing up in Huntington, W.Va., the Cincinnati Reds were the kings of baseball. They dominated every other team they faced and won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. Nobody could touch the Reds.

As I opened every pack of Topps trading cards, I thumbed past anybody not in a Reds uniform. I tried completing the Reds team set every year, always searching for that last card.

I swear for every single Reds card Topps made, they also made at least 3,857 Ed Kranepool, Johnny Wockenfuss or Kurt Bevacqua cards – at least that many of those three players!

The wheels started falling off the Big Red Machine when Tony Perez was traded to Montreal in 1977. Eventually, skipper Sparky Anderson wound up in Detroit, Pete Rose went to Philadelphia, and Joe Morgan back to Houston.

The 1980s were dark times for Cincinnati Reds fans, yet I remained loyal. These were the days of Paul Householder, Nick Esasky and Kal Daniels.

Then a miracle happened in 1990. The Reds won the west division and beat the Pirates 4-2 in the NLCS.

They weren't given a chance in the World Series against the Oakland Athletics, who boasted powerhouses like Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Dave Stewart.

But against all odds, the Reds not only beat the A's in the World Series, they swept them.

The Reds were back!

Well, until the next season when the Reds finished fifth in the division with a 74-88 record.

Let the second wave of suffering begin!

The names were different but the results were the same. These were the days of Bip Roberts, Pokey Reese, and Sean Casey.

The Reds made the playoffs in ’94 and ’95, but never got past the NLCS.

In March 2000, I moved to St. Louis, and although I was now in enemy territory, I remained a Reds fan for another year.

I finally succumbed to temptation and, on Sept. 29, 2001, I attended my first game at Busch Stadium. I watched as the Cardinals hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning 2-0. Mark McGwire was still the darling of the town and Albert Pujols was in his rookie season; I was hooked.

There was still a love for the Reds inside of me, but after seeing the enthusiasm of the Cardinal fans, I fell right into the trappings of a winning team, caught up in the wave of success and a world championship in 2006.

How could this happen? I felt naughty rooting for the Cardinals, like I was doing something wrong. My brother-in-law in Ohio would occasionally tease me about the Cardinals and I returned the favor by reveling in how bad the Reds were doing. Pujols’ number 5 on my back now replaced Bench’s number 5. I had become a baseball Judas.

I always wanted the Reds to do well, honestly. But, as they say, "when in Rome…"

Now that I'm back in Reds country, I have to admit that I have strayed, become a baseball backslider.

I must repent of my sinful ways to the baseball gods and accept the fact that I am to suffer through season after season of disappointment, unrealized potential and constant rebuilding. In the words of Yogi Berra, “It's déjà vu all over again.”

It was nice while it lasted, St. Louis. I had seven good years. Thanks for the memories.

The prodigal son has come home to take his whoopin'. Go Reds!