During summer any pre-driver's licensed teenager living in the sticks of West Virginia needed to rely on his or her wits if they wished to be entertained. I coped by working on my jump shot during the day and watching the Reds at night.
It didn't just stop with watching the Reds. I taped the games and would take them to my bedroom and watch that night's game again—not all the way over, just the nice plays, my favorite hitters at bats, my favorite pitchers, and any commercial that showed a pretty woman...cut me some slack, my hormones were raging.
This went on from ages 12 to 15. At age 15 (1986) it became an out of control obsession where in today's over-medicated society my parents would have most certainly made an appointment with a specialist.
Why did it reach a head in 1986?
To this day I still contemplate the root cause of my summer of '86 obsession. I have come to the conclusion that it was not one thing in particular, rather a myriad of circumstances that led to my condition.
First, at 15, Junior High was over. I would be entering high school at the absolute bottom of the "having a life" totem pole. I had heard the rumors and, yes, they turned out to be true—girls in our sophomore class who were cool in Jr. High suddenly ignored you and started dating the older kids with cars.
Second, when you are that age being seen in public with a parent or anyone who could be mistaken as a parental figure was unspeakably uncool.
Lastly, the team itself—the 1986 Cincinnati Reds.
Pete Rose held the role as player/manager. I thought that rocked. Having been a student of the game since a mere tyke, Pete was the first player/manager I had seen.
The 1986 Reds were no doubt a transition team, but they were handling it well. I subscribed to Baseball America so I knew the prospects. Kal Daniels, Tracy Jones, Paul O' Neill in the outfield.
Mainstream media was saying that Kurt Stillwell would take over for Davey Concepcion and would end up with just as storied of a career as Davey.
Thanks to Baseball America I knew better. While they did have Stillwell highly touted, they also spoke highly of some guy named Barry Larkin who was in all probability a year behind Stillwell.
Both Rose and Concepcion had a couple of years left in their aging tanks, but 1986 would be the great Tony Perez's final year.
The player I was most excited about was Eric Davis, a skinny 24-year-old who was touted as the next Willie Mays. He had played in both 1984 and 1985. But due to a combo of poor performance and injury, he had yet to see 200 at bats in either season.
Eric Davis was electric.
It used to be that the Reds, since they were the oldest professional franchise in the Majors, played the first game of every season. Being a day game and opening day, I tried my hardest to get my mom to allow me to stay home from school.
No dice. So I set the VCR to tape it. Mario Soto vs. Steve Carlton was the match-up that would lead to my crippling summer obsession. In the second inning, Davis hit a three-run shot that gave Soto and the Reds a lead they would not give up.
In 1986 speak: Eric Davis had the GWRBI.
The school year ended and I immersed myself into that team. Bo Diaz, Nick the Stick, Ronnie Oester, Buddy Bell, Davey/Stillwell at short (until the late season call-up of Barry Larkin), the outfield suffered more injuries than a pack of blacked-out drunkards.
A solid pitching staff led by Tom Browning, Bill Gullickson, and Mario Soto (who hurt his arm during the season), and a B+ bullpen featuring Teddy Power, Rob Murphy, and closer John Franco paved the way to a second place finish in 1986.
They never really got close to the Astros, but they gave me the nightly fix that I so desperately needed.
Sidenote: Looking at tonight's lineup for the Reds at Phils game. The only player still left from that 1986 season is starting tonight against the Reds. Jamie Moyer.
Maybe this will send Dusty and the boys some good vibes and they'll be able to even the series.
Trust me, I am no longer obsessed.