Back in mid-February I was sitting in my living room when I’d normally have been in Arizona covering spring training when the phone rang. It was Reds radio voice Marty Brennaman who had taken notice that I was absent for the first time since 1990. I was delighted to hear from him and we had a nice visit. I assured him that my health was improving and that I’d attend some regular season games including Cincinnati’s traditional Opening Day.
One of the things I missed from Arizona was sitting behind Marty to observe a few innings from the booth during a game broadcast. The Hall of Famer had a remedy for that when he invited me to the to sit in during a game in Cincinnati later in the season. Perfect. I’d never been in the Great American Ballpark home radio booth and could do so toward the end of his 46th and final season.
I knew exactly when I wanted this to happen. North Star/Versailles product Craig Stammen and the San Diego Padres would be visiting in late August. If Craig wasn’t traded and Marty was scheduled to work, I’d be in business. Both dominoes fell my way and I was credentialed for the full three game set with a perfect outcome as Craig pitched effectively twice and I spent three innings in the booth at the Monday series opener.
I was a very early arrival for that first contest and got to spend lots of field time during batting practice on a hot and muggy late afternoon. Much of my time was spent sitting in the manager’s seat in the Reds dugout. Even at age 65 this was fun.
I eventually made my way up a few elevator levels to the pressbox, from where I entered the media dining room. The long table on my right was populated with Reds radio and TV on-air personnel. The closest seat was at the head of the table, vacant, and right between father and son radio and TV voices Marty and Thom Brennaman who invited me to join them. Marty confirmed that it would be a good night for me to visit “Reds on radio.”
The dinner baseball conversation eventually moved to high school football. “How good is Coldwater this year?” Thom inquired. Declining enrollment at many Catholic high schools was discussed by several, leading to whether publics and privates should have separate tournaments. Marty mentioned that his native Virginia used to have separation but later combined the two.
With less than six weeks remaining in his Reds career, Marty reminisced about how he got the job back in 1974. “I did not pursue it and wasn’t looking to leave Virginia. I was working at the highest level of minor league baseball (Tidewater, Mets) and really enjoyed calling basketball games during the winter for the Virginia Squires of the old ABA where our star was ‘Doctor J’ Julius Erving,” he began. “During baseball’s winter meetings in December 1973 our General Manager was talking to Reds Assistant GM Dick Wagner who advised that radio voice Al Michaels was leaving. The Tidewater GM mentioned me, and Wagner said to have me send a tape which I did. I eventually became a finalist and interviewed on a basketball trip to Indianapolis. Before we headed home I was offered the job and accepted. I believe in fate and destiny and this is an example.”
The youthful 77 year old then reflected on his broadcast partners over almost a half century. “My 31 years with Joe Nuxhall were so special including the pranks we pulled on him. I’ve enjoyed the others especially (current primary partner) Jeff Brantley. ‘Cowboy’ didn’t initially realize that he’d not just offer analysis but would also call three innings per game. Once we got past that early stage it’s been fine,” he chuckled in conclusion.
Marty then went to work and I rejoined him later for the middle three innings. When I entered the booth I surveyed the layout and saw Brantley and Marty down front, with host Tommy Thrall and engineer Dave “Yiddy” Armbruster in the second row where I pulled a chair between the two.
Various photos of personal and general significance populated the front and side windows in the Brennaman corner including one that made perfect sense to me, an image of noted rock thrower Ernest T. Bass of Andy Griffith Show lore. Marty and Ernest T. both have ties to North Carolina. Add that to Marty’s affection for notable characters and it all fit.
The unique and entertaining part of being with this group is what is said off-the-air during commercials. These guys don’t hold back since they know I won’t violate their confidence. From this encounter I’ll simply say two things. First, rookie Tommy Thrall will be ready for anything after a season of interacting with this trio. Second, there’s no shortage of discussion material when a makeshift left fielder drops a fly ball or a runner is thrown out by the proverbial mile at home plate, both of which happened to the Reds on this night.
Marty did mention my presence to his listeners and asked if I’d be at spring training in February. My reply of “yes sir” was heard on WLW and beyond. The senior Brennaman will also be there in his new role as a team ambassador. I thanked the group and departed after the sixth inning.
His final broadcast will end the home season late this month. He won’t make the final weekend trip to Pittsburgh. We’ll soon be hearing his signature call “and this one belongs to the Reds” for the final time. I was in college when he came to Cincinnati, and his retirement finds me on social security.
It’s been a great ride and a big part of my life. Thanks Marty.
Next week: The Sidney area helps welcome Neil Armstrong back to Wapak.
Sports Extra with Dave Ross appears each Friday. The award-winning columnist will be the guest speaker at Monday’s Sidney Rotary meeting.