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'F' as in Frank

Missing Spark(y)

It's a name you'd expect for a pet, or maybe a preppy fraternity brother.

It's not a name you'd associate with one of the best managers in Major League Baseball history, but such is the case for one Sparky Anderson.

He managed the Cincinnati Reds through most of the 1970s. As a young 40-something first-time manager in 1970 he took the Reds to the World Series and later won two World Series rings with the Redlegs.

With Sparky's death recently, I've been thinking back to the glory days of Sparky and the Big Red Machine.

As a youngster growing up in Indiana less than an hour's drive from Cincinnati, it was during the 1970s that I started my keen interest in sports.

Sparky and the boys were a big reason for that interest. It all began during the 1970 World Series when I heard my dad let out a whoop followed by a shout of disbelief. I don't remember which game of the series it was, I just remember running into the living room to see a brouhaha on TV as to whether the Reds' Bernie Carbo was safe or out at home.

The call, and the series it turned out, went Baltimore's way.

But I was hooked.

When the series ended I started following the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and their floor leader, Nate "Tiny" Archibald.

I kept tabs on the Cincinnati Bengals during football season.

But my favorite, always, was the Reds. I couldn't wait for spring training and even used to follow the Reds' Grapefruit League results in the morning papers.

I had the Reds batting line-up memorized top to bottom and listened to Al Michaels and Joe Nuxhall call their games on the radio.

The few opportunities to make it to Riverfront Stadium for a game in person was sheer, indescribable delight.

Always, always there was Sparky and his quick hook with the pitchers; a trait to love when we won - which was most of the time. It was also a trait to send a fan fuming when we lost.

Our family moved to Oregon later in the 1970s, so it became more difficult to keep tabs on the Reds.

Occasionally I would get a glimpse either on TV or catch an inning or two on late night radio when the Reds played the Giants. The late hour was when a San Francisco radio station could be picked up in our area.

By then Michaels was calling games on the radio for the Giants, so it was cool to hear his voice doing a game involving the Reds...even if it was for NL West rival San Francisco.

Maybe it was just growing up or living in a new area, but by the 1980s my favorite sport changed from baseball to football in following what at the time were hapless Seahawk and Oregon Duck football teams.

I catch a Mariners or Reds game every once in a while on TV - it's still fascinating to watch Ichiro's approach at the plate - but between player strikes and steroids baseball has taken a decided back seat.

But Sparky's passing recently caused me to pause and tip the proverbial hat in thanks to him and the Reds for instigating what has become a life-long enjoyment of sports.

Play ball!

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