By Jimmie Earls
Sun Sports Writer
It's been said many times before that you should never meet your heroes. People have a tendency to build their idols up and make them larger than life, only to see their dream crash and burn when reality sets in – mostly because said hero turns out to be an arrogant jerk. Thankfully, that old adage was proven wrong during a recent trip I took to Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
I never truly aspired to be a sports journalist – I still consider myself a photographer first. The writing just happened as I worked for my college paper. During my final semester, the staff was short-handed and no one was interested in covering sports, so I took over as sports editor/writer and got a little experience under my belt.
Some of my sports-related heroes include current Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman. Marty started broadcasting for the Reds in 1974, and at age 66, he's still doing it today. I used to listen to Marty and the late Joe Nuxhall call Reds games on the radio even when I would watch the game on television, I would put the television on mute and turn on the radio broadcast. Marty has always been more a broadcaster than a journalist, but he's always been a straight-shooter and tells it like it is. Marty was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in 2000.
At 44 years of age, I know I'm no spring chicken, but I don't think AARP is knocking on my door either. Sure, there's a little bit of gray in my beard and a few wrinkles around my eyes, but I still feel like a 20-year-old. I certainly don't feel like an old man.
This was my first trip to Great American Ball Park, so I needed to ask a few people for directions. I tracked down the first official-looking person to ask how I could get to the photographer pits in the dugouts. He must have been around 30-years-old, and seemed to talk slowly to make sure I could understand what he was saying, like you do with your hard-of-hearing grandpa who can't remember where he is or what your name is.
"You go down this tunnel and make a left," he said in an almost sympathetic manner. I thanked him for his assistance and immediately got a "You're welcome, sir" in reply. Sir? I look like a "sir?" I know we're taught to respect our elders, but is it that obvious in my case? I always thought of myself as one of the boys, a peer to those around me. Was I getting too old to run with the pack?
I shook it off and headed down the tunnel as it kept curving to the left. I couldn't see where to make my turn and ended up in a service area. I stopped another young man and asked how I could get to field level.
"You need to go through the umpires entrance up the tunnel," he said. I thanked him and he also shot back with a "You're more than welcome, sir." There was that word again. I felt like I was aging before their eyes. Maybe I should have come back with a "Thank you, sonny."
I found my way to the photographer pit at the end of the visitors dugout. I watched some of the Reds pitchers take batting practice and then spotted some activity in the Reds dugout. I walked over and noticed former Reds pitcher Tom Browning being interviewed by Jeff Piecoro of Fox Sports Ohio. I waited for them to be finished and then talked to Tom and got my photo taken with him. Although Tom is four years older than me, I was still expecting to get a "sir" from him sometime in our dialog - luckily, I didn't.
I watched the Reds take some infield practice for a while and enjoyed my time. That was when I made the mistake of saying hello to Reds first baseman Joey Votto. "Hi, sir," Joey said. That was my cue to find something else to do, so I stood up and felt my old tired bones crack as I hobbled my way up the tunnel.
I was getting a little hungry after the drive, so I tried to locate the press box and the dining room. After another young whipper-snapper showed me to the media elevator, I went to the dining room in the press area. I grabbed my tray and my silverware and made my way down the cafeteria-style line. I said hello to the young man behind me and got the now-obligatory “How are you, sir?” in return. I had come to expect it now. I was almost tempted to ask the cashier if I could have the senior citizen discount, but I knew my driver's license would tell the story of a young man who looks way older than his years. I went and found a seat at an empty table.
While I was eating dinner, I spotted one of my heroes making his way down the food line – Marty Brennaman himself. My mind was a fury of thought as I wondered if I should say hello, and if I did, what would I say? What if I got the dreaded “s” word from Marty? How would that make me feel? Dare I risk utter disappointment and humiliation from a man I've looked up to for so long?
At the table next to me were several people affiliated with the Reds' broadcasts, including Chris Welsh, who pitched for the Reds in 1986 and now does the television broadcasts on Fox Sports Ohio. Marty headed my direction, clearly homing in on the table next to me. I prepared myself to bombard Marty with a greeting whenever he got within striking distance. I made sure not to have any food in my mouth that may become a projectile.
“Hey Marty”, I said as he walked past my table. Marty replied with an authoritative “How's it going, son?”
Son? He said “son”? Yes! I could hardly contain my pleasure as one of my heroes came through for me. After an afternoon of being battered with generic geriatric jargon, it was such a relief to have someone acknowledge me without thinking I was a geezer. Leave it to a hero to make me feel better when I was down.
So how did I respond back to Marty?