Cincinnati did it again. As they have seven times previously, the fine folks in Cincinnati threw a parade for my birthday. They almost didn’t get it done this year. You see, they don’t have a parade on my birthday every year but they do have a parade on Reds’ opening day every year.
“They” are the folks over at Findlay Market. The market is even more of a Cincinnati institution than the Reds. It opened in 1855 and is the oldest continuously operated public market in the state of Ohio. The Findlay Market website contains some great reading on the history of Findlay and several other Cincinnati markets, too. Merchants from the market have been participating in the parade since 1920 and long ago became its organizers. They are, however, merchants first and paraders second and the original date for this year’s opener presented a problem. The original date was April 6 which is also Good Friday which is also one of the Market’s biggest days. They couldn’t afford to shut down for the day but it was unthinkable to scrap the parade. Fortunately Major League Baseball and everyone else involved agreed and the game was moved to the 5th and I get a birthday parade. There’s a good story about the date move here.
Even when it’s not on my birthday, Opening Day in Cincinnati is something special. The Reds are the only major league baseball team that starts each season at home. With one exception, they always have. The fact that Cincinnati is the birthplace of professional baseball surely has something to do with that but there were also practical reasons involved in the early days when many of the other teams were in cities even further north with even colder and muddier springtimes than Cincinnati.
I suppose I’ve been a Reds fan from the day I was born but my early exposure came from the newspaper and radio with a little TV thrown in as I got older. My first memory of being in Cincinnati for Opening Day was 1967 when I was co-oping with the Cincinnati Water Works. An unwritten rule was that any city employee who proved they were going to the game by showing a ticket could take all or half the day off without pay and without repercussions. I know that wasn’t absolute and that there were many exceptions but I do recall the office being rather sparsely populated that day.
The parade now has its own website separate from the one for the Market. It’s here. Click on that “History of Opening Day” link near the top of the page for some excellent reading. Highlights include the fact that the Reds (known then as the Red Stockings) held their first opening day parade in 1890 which was also the first year the current franchise played in the National League. Another Cincinnati Red Stockings team had been a founding member of the league in 1876 but that club was expelled in 1880 for ignoring a couple of league rules. The NL decreed that games should not be played on Sunday and that no alcohol should be available when they were played. A lot of beer drinkers in Cincinnati thought otherwise. Apparently that original franchise got moved to Detroit where, as the Wolverines, it folded in 1888. The sabbath slighting sots in Cincinnati formed a new team and helped form a new league. The new team reused the Red Stockings name and the new league was officially named the American Association. One unofficial name was the “Beer League”. It was during their time in the AA that the team played that lone opener on the road. In 1888, they traveled a hundred miles down river to play the Louisville Colonels. Financial problems ended the AA in 1891 after just ten seasons. The Cincinnati club had jumped to the NL two years before the end. On April 19, 1890, they promoted their first NL game with their first opening day parade. That inaugural parade consisted of one streetcar for a band, another for the home team, and a third for the visitors, the Chicago Colts (formerly White Stockings, eventually Cubs).
At two and a half hours, today’s parade was significantly longer. Former Red Aaron Boone was the parade’s Grand Marshall. Aaron had a pretty cushy ride compared to Bobby Ball Walker and Ronnie Ring Roller. If these guys walked and rolled their way through the mile plus parade route, they certainly deserved all the Cincinnati beer and chili they could eat — if any. The weather was great, the parade was great, and the Reds finished off a perfect day with a 4-0 win.
That’s not exactly typical. There is a list of all Reds opening day games here. The record isn’t glorious. The tally currently stands at 63-67-1. They last stood even in 1993 and the last time they could boast of a winning opening day record was in 1928 after they beat those Chicago Cubs to bring the record to 24-23.
Opening on my birthday hasn’t helped. Prior to 1961 the shorter season kept the two events from getting close and even after coinciding becoming a possibility it didn’t actually happen until 1971 with the Reds first opening day in Riverfront Stadium. Since then it has occurred in 1973, 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, 2010, and 2012. The 1993 game was extra special. Prior to today, that was the only birthday on which I could celebrate a Reds win.