Monday, August 25, 2003

Radel: At least one Cincinnatian still spells summer R-E-D-S


The sound on the TV off, and Marty and Joe on the radio

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The Reds can stop searching for a new general manager. Margaret Taske is their woman.

She loves the team, knows the game of baseball and lives in town.

She's been a Reds season ticket holder for 24 years and a Rosie Reds rooter for 39. Plus, she can crunch numbers. She's a retired accountant.

Her qualifications surface Thursday night when the Summer Tour visits her Finneytown home. Margaret sits at her game-time post: a sheet-draped easy chair in one corner of her radio-TV room.

Radio to her left, television down in front, she is all set to hear Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call the night game from Phoenix between the Reds and Diamondbacks. At the same time, she watches the contest's telecast. With the TV's sound turned off.

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Margaret Taske watches the Reds play Arizona on television while she listens to Marty and Joe announce the game on the radio in her Finneytown home.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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"Have to hear Joe and Marty," she says of the icons of the broadcast booth. Margaret eases into her chair. The pre-game show murmurs in the background.

Margaret is a gamer. She follows the action on the field from the beginning until the end. No matter how long it takes. Thursday's game concludes on Friday, at 12:19 a.m. Cincinnati time, and ends badly, with a 9-3 defeat for the Reds.

Still, Margaret hopes the Reds can pull it out. There is no throwing in the towel. No turning off the game in disgust. Even as she watches the last pitch.

"You keep rooting," she says. "You never know - they just might win."

Greater Cincinnati used to be heavily populated with folks like Margaret Taske. On a summer evening, they would sit on their porches and struggle to keep cool. To take their minds off the heat, they turned on their radios and tuned in the Reds game.

Soon the night air filled with the same sounds. The crack of a bat and the smack of a ball into a glove mingled with the chirp of crickets, the cicadas' hiss and tree frogs croaking amid the leaves.

The great outdoors heard Reds broadcasts well into the age of Marty and Joe. Walking a dog as the game ended, you could hear Joe, the old lefthander, "rounding third and heading for home" after Marty, the younger lefthander, declared, more often than not, "and this one belongs to the Reds."

That was summer in Cincinnati.

But that was before air-conditioning became a necessity instead of a luxury and baseball knocked itself out of the batter's box with too many season-stopping strikes. This slice of summer also predated the spread of street crime and the West Nile Virus. The Reds have also contributed to this problem. Witness their string of losing seasons.

People still listen to the games. The Reds' six-city radio network pulls in 420,000 listeners per game. Including Margaret Taske.

She's been catching the Reds on radio, TV or in the stands for 65 of her 80 years. In high school, she played hooky to go to Opening Day.

"I especially remember Opening Day 1940," she recalls. "That was the year I graduated and went to the opening game with a gal from school. She's a nun now. So, I won't say her name."

Margaret and her pal skipped school on an important day.

"They were measuring us for our caps and gowns," she says. "Someone from school called home. They wanted to know where I was. We were down at the ballpark standing in line for bleacher seats."

Margaret giggles, then stops quickly. She hears a teen-ager, maybe as old as she was on Opening Day in 1940, singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Diamondbacks' stadium. The game is about to begin.

Marty Brennaman names the Reds' lineup. Mostly newcomers, from trades and the minors. By comparison, the game's starting pitcher, Danny Graves, is an old-timer. Margaret declines to predict how he was going to fare, "until I see a few pitches." A few pitches are more than enough. By the end of the first inning, the Reds are down, 4-0.

And, Margaret is ready to yank Graves.

She notices a TV camera panning the Reds' dugout. "Someone in there should pick up one of those phones on the wall and tell the bullpen to warm up another pitcher."

By the fourth inning, Margaret is giving batting tips. She shoots out of her chair to demonstrate two unorthodox stances. "They work," she insists. "I've seen guys get hits with them."

All this activity makes her thirsty. She goes to the kitchen during a commercial break and comes back with a soft drink.

"I always have a Coke right about now," she says.

Looking content, she settles back in her chair and scrutinizes the next pitch. "This," she declares, "is living."

This is summertime in Cincinnati.

Five facts about Finneytown

•  Population: 13,000, estimated since Finneytown is unincorporated and has no specific boundaries.

•  Origin of name: Finneytown takes its name from Ebenezer Ward Finney, a Revolutionary War veteran from Rensselaer County, N.Y. After inheriting 640 acres, including the site of present-day Finneytown, he moved to Ohio to settle his land in 1800.

•  Price tag: The original purchase price for Finney's 640 acres was $426.23.

•  Growth: In the 1930s, Finneytown contained 50 houses. Today, there's an estimated 5,000.

•  Winton Road: Runs through the heart of Finneytown and follows the path of a trail blazed by Indians.

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Cliff Radel, a Cincinnati native, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown.




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