Nuxhall on Main Street

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Cincinnati Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall in a 1957 ...

I was watching the Cincinnati Reds clobber the San Francisco Giants last night, and it made me think how much I miss listening to Marty and Joe.

Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall called the Reds’ games on the radio when I was growing up and even after I’d grown up. Marty joined Joe in the booth in 1974, and they worked together for 30 years, until Joe retired. He passed away in 2007.

Marty and Joe talked about everything: tomato plants, movies, sometimes even the baseball game. I used to have a job where I had to drive halfway across the state and drive home at night, and in the summertime, if atmospheric conditions were right, I could tune in WLW-700 AM and listen to the Reds, not because I liked the team (although I do) because I liked listening to Marty and Joe.

Marty’s background was radio, but Joe’s was baseball, and here’s one of the coolest things about him:

He’s in the record books as the youngest player ever to appear in a major league game. He pitched two-thirds of an inning for Cincinnati in 1944, when he was 15 years old.

This was during World War II, and teams had to use players who were too young or too old for the draft or otherwise couldn’t serve. The Reds signed Joe when he was still in the 9th grade because he had an 85-mile-an-hour fastball.

Usually, he sat on the bench, but once, with the Reds losing 13-0 against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds’ manager, Bill McKechnie, decided to give Joe a shot.

It didn’t go well.

Joe quickly gave up 5 runs, but he did get to pitch against Stan Musial. Imagine being 15 years old today and getting to pitch in a major-league game against Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez. That’s what Joe Nuxhall did between his freshman and sophomore years of high school.

Joe returned to the team in 1952, and when he retired 15 years later, he became the Reds’ color commentator.

When he’d signed off, Joe would say, “This is the ol’ left hander, rounding home and heading for home.” When I’m in the car at night, I still try to find a baseball game to keep me company, but I don’t think I’ll ever hear a broadcast team that’s in the same league as Marty and Joe.

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‘He’s the best baseball player I ever saw’

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We went to our last Sounds game of the season Saturday night.

Nashville beat Memphis 6-3. We stayed after the game for fireworks and so Things 1 and 2 could join 1,000 other kids in running the bases.

Before we left the house, I read online that one of our best hitters, a guy named Taylor Green, had been called up from the Triple-A Sounds to join the Milwaukee Brewers, and I remembered the time we went to a late-season game 5 summers ago, and Thing 1’s favorite player wasn’t there.

Corey Hart (photo by majorvols/Flickr)

Thing 1 was only 6 years old, but she’d noticed that Corey Hart would usually get on base if not drive it out of the ballpark, and when he wasn’t there, she noticed.

When we got home, Thing 1 got ready for bed, and I went online to find out what had happened to Corey Hart.

“He’s been called up,” I told her. “He’s gone to play for Milwaukee.”

It was late, Thing 1 was tired, and she started sobbing.

“What’s wrong?”

“I miss him!” she said.

“It’s OK. This is a good thing. The guys who play for Nashville want to play for Milwaukee.”

“When’s he coming back?” she asked.

“Well, unless he gets hurt or something, he probably won’t be back. He’s playing for Milwaukee now.”

Thing 1 began crying harder and said, “I want to send him a letter.”

I thought that was very sweet. “What do you want to say?” I asked.

“COME BACK!”

“OK,” I said. “We can write him a letter in the morning. Time for bed.”

She was still crying a little when I tucked her in. “It’s OK,” I told her. “He’s happy. This is what he wanted.”

She said, “I miss him. He’s the best baseball player I ever saw.”

She was asleep before I could turn out the light.

A quick lesson in sportsmanship

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Photo by Skoch3 via Wikipedia

Thing 2 (the 5-year-old) is playing coach-pitch baseball.

This is where the coach pitches, and after 5, 6 or 7 strikes (the rules aren’t fixed), the batter uses a tee. They play 3 innings. No one is ever called out, and an inning lasts until everyone hits the ball and circles the bases. They don’t keep score, but if they did, each side’s score would be the number of players who showed up, multiplied by 3. It’s a practice league. They’re learning the fundamentals, and that’s about it.

Thing 2, though, has also learned something about sportsmanship.

Max Patkin

He was playing 2nd base the other night, and he didn’t have a lot to do besides watch the game and think of funny ways to wear his baseball cap (he settled on wearing it sideways, kind of like Max Patkin).

Midway through the 2nd inning, Thing 2 started high-fiving the kids on the other team as they jogged from 1st to 2nd.

He didn’t care that the kids were on the other team, and he didn’t care that they might be “winning.” He knows how hard it is to hit the ball, and he thought he ought to congratulate them for doing it.

I know he’ll eventually outgrow that kind of enthusiasm, but I kind of hope he doesn’t.