If you can't reconcile the idea of someone who has "really important" plastic cups but serves children from expensive china, you're not alone. I'm just quirky like that.
Big Guy bounced into the kitchen as I scrubbed away the grime. "What's this?" he asked, spotting one cup with both the Reds and Dodgers logos.
"What does it say?" I asked.
"It says, 'Division 1995 Series ... Cincinnati', " he read.
"It was a playoff game," I added. "Would you like to keep the cup, since it has the Dodgers and the Reds on it?"
His eyes lit up. "I sure would! Did you get to go to the game?"
"That's a long story," I replied.
***It was my most magical baseball year. The Reds were good, and I lived less than a three-hour drive from the stadium. Best of all, I had friends who were fans, too. My closest friend, like I, was a child of the Big Red Machine era, and we were convinced that our time had come again. Baseball-wise, life could not have been more perfect.
We went to a night game against Houston, where the gang ribbed me for drinking wine at a ballpark, and a day game against Atlanta that taught me the meaning of "masterful." You haven't lived until you've sat high above home plate and watched a top-notch pitcher. Greg Maddux and his Braves won that day, but I left more in awe of his performance than I did bitter about the loss.
Fall rolled around, and the Reds were headed for the playoffs. We ordered tickets.
Meanwhile, the wheels fell off at work. The small paper my closest friend and I both worked at had been sold, and it didn't take the new company long to come in and order three newsroom positions eliminated. The trio accounted for a third of our staff. We survived, but only by someone from the news side pulling an all-nighter Friday into Saturday during high school sports season. The one person left in that department was talented and hard-working, but even he couldn't work hard enough to go out and cover a game and be in the office to answer calls from the other schools at the same time.
The playoff schedule called for the best-of-five series to start with two games in Los Angeles before moving to Cincinnati on a Friday night. Damn. Didn't they know it was high school football season. "No problem," I told my friend. "No way the Reds sweep. One of us will go Friday and we'll both go Saturday."
But then the Reds took the first two in LA, meaning there might not be a Saturday game. My friend and I bickered for a solid 48 hours about who would go Friday.
"I don't do this often, but I'm going to pull rank," I said. "Me boss. You not. You're going to the game."
He wasn't happy. I wasn't happy. But what else can you do when it's a Friday night and coaches are going to be calling? I sat in the office, flipping between the Reds and high school football on the radio. For the only time in my life, I wanted the Reds to lose. It was not to be, though.
My friend got back to the office just in time to help finish the paper. "Sheesh, I send you to Cincinnati to get one loss and you don't do it. Thanks, buddy," I joked.
"I brought you a cup," he replied.
Over the years, the cup started to be less about a game and more about a great friendship. A few months later, when the budget grim reaper rolled through again and axed the two highest-paid managers - I was one of them - my friend and another co-worker we were close to showed up on my door step with a bottle of Malibu coconut rum. It would never have been my first choice, but given that we lived in a dry county and they had to call half the people they knew to find it, I was grateful.
And I was grateful for a lot more than that, both now and over the course of a very difficult six months. Great people rise to the occasion. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by several of the finest of human beings. Though I wouldn't want to relive that era of my life, there are times when I wouldn't mind at all spending one more Saturday morning sprawled in the office floor playing quarter bounce with coffee as we waited for the press run to finish, all of us too stupid-tired to go home.
***"So I get to keep the cup? Really?" Big Guy asked after I told him the story of fantastic friends, difficult times and games missed that really don't matter 16 years down the road.
"Yes, you do. But take good care of it. It has a lot of special memories for me," I said.
"I will. I promise!"
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.