Talk about work ethic. Pete Rose was definitely the hardest working baseball player I have ever seen. I don’t remember the exact year, but Pete was already an established superstar. It was sometime after 1973, the year he won the National League MVP award.
Anyway, Pete was going through a hitting slump. At around 11:15 pm (after an 8:05 p.m. game), he asked the head groundskeeper if we would stick around. Pete wanted batting cages set up and someone to shag balls so he could take additional batting practice. As a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ ground crew, I was still in the park and could help.
Pete proceeded to hit balls for what seemed like an hour, finishing well after midnight. I have seen a lot of great baseball players, but have never seen another with Pete’s passion for the game and for winning.
This is one of my favorite memories from my time spent with the Reds’ organization. But, let me start from the beginning.
A Lifelong Cincinnati Reds Fan
As a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan, I’ve been lucky enough to experience things that most young boys can only dream about. Born in 1956 in a suburb of Cincinnati, my father moonlit as an usher for the Reds; first at Crosley Field and then at Riverfront Stadium.
Because of this job, and all of the opportunities for me that followed, I was able to appreciate the Reds and major league baseball in unique ways.
It all started at a very early age when I was able to spend time with my father while attending a huge number of Reds games at Crosley Field. During this important time of my life, he passed down both his knowledge of baseball, as well his love for the Reds.
My father needed to be a the ballpark before the gates opened, so I always had the opportunity to shag foul balls and get autographs before there were many fans in the stands.
And, because my dad was friends with the Reds organist, Ronnie Dale, I often found myself sitting with Ronnie in the organist booth helping lead rallies for the Reds. Ronnie is generally credited as baseball’s first organist to lead the crowd in choruses of “Charge”!
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Arriving Early To Games
When I was young, the Reds would often run promotions that allowed fans arriving early to get their pictures taken with ballplayers. Because I always arrived early, I was able to take advantage of it many times.
During the ’60s at Crosley field, attendance averaged just over 11,100 per game, so it wasn’t too hard to find really great seats. Most of the time, I chose to sit in the front row on the left-field side right next to the Reds’ bullpen.
Jim Coker, the Reds’ backup catcher from 1964 to 1967, would sit out there and would always be very kind to me. We talked almost every game, he’d give me balls, and at one point he even gave me one of his baseball bats.
When I was 14, a school friend of mine approached me, indicating that he had an uncle involved with the concession company at Crosley Field. He suggested that if he could ride with my dad and me to the home games, he could get me a job selling coke, lemonade, or peanuts.
I jumped at the chance and began selling concessions during the last year of Crosley Field and the first year of Riverfront Stadium (the Reds switched ballparks in late June of 1970).
Many fans don’t realize it, but the people selling concessions in the stands are paid on a commission-only basis. When I was involved, I think that the value of a tray of Cokes was worth $6.00 and I got to keep 60 cents for each tray that I sold.
That entire year I made a total of $132 but loved going to work while being able to watch the Reds. On a side note, when a vendor came up short, it was up to them to make up the difference out of their own pocket. Normally, the discrepancies were small and had to do with giving out incorrect change. However, a friend of mine once dropped a full tray and spent the next 3 games paying off his balance due.
After the last game at Crosley Field, the ground crew dug out the home plate and it was transported to Riverfront Stadium via helicopter. As you might imagine, I was at both the last game at Crosley Field and the first at Riverfront Stadium.
Joining the Reds’ Ground Crew
When I was 16, I got a different job at the Reds, picking up litter during the games. We were dressed like the ground crew so that during really bad rain delays we could help out on the field.
By the time I was 17, I was asked to join the ground crew and performed in that role during my last year of high school and throughout my college years at the University of Cincinnati. I started as one of about 10 part-time ground crew members, but during college, I was one of three full-time ground crew employees. It was a great job and I was employed when the Reds – or the Big Red Machine as they were known – were the most dominant team in baseball.
Watching Hammerin’ Hank
Between time spent at Crosley and Riverfront, I was able to see Hank Aaron’s 3,000th hit and his home run that tied Babe Ruth’s record. I also saw Pete Rose’s National League record 44 games hit streak and his 3,000 hits. The Reds took part in six post-season appearances; five National League Pennants, and two World Series championships. I was lucky enough to see them all.
In 1979 I received a fractional share of the bonus granted to the Reds for winning the Western Division. This happens based upon a vote by the players, so even though the amount was tiny, it was a privilege. That year, the Reds won the NL West but lost the NL pennant to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Big Red Machine
During my tenure on the ground crew, I got to meet the best players in the world and engage with all of the members of the “Big Red Machine.” Many players on the Reds were approachable, but two especially stood out in a positive way. Tom Seaver and Pete Rose were just great guys. They would kid around with the ground crew and never put on any airs. They were both superstars but never behaved that way.
Tom Seaver’s No-Hitter
My favorite Tom Seaver story has to do with his only no-hitter, pitched on June 16th, 1978. It was a day game and I was directly behind home plate (where the ground crew stood to watch the game).
In the seventh inning, I was clowning around with another member of the ground crew, pretending to have a sword fight involving the putty knives that were used to clean off the home plate and the pitching rubber. In the middle of his windup, the sun reflected off my putty knife into Tom’s eyes.
He stopped his delivery, stepped off the mound, and pointed back to us. The home plate umpire came back and said, “I don’t know what you guys are doing back here, but its bothering Tom, stop it.”
Of course, I knew what had happened and spent the remainder of the game worrying that the Cardinals would get a hit and that I would be responsible. Needless to say, that didn’t happen and he went on to pitch the no-hitter. I apologized after the game and he was very nice about it (in fact, we had a bit of a laugh).
As an interesting side note, that year, Don Werner was a young backup catcher for Johnny Bench. Don was never a big star, but he was a nice guy who would “pal around” with the ground crew. Don was the catcher that caught Tom’s no-hitter and he later gave me one of his jerseys; which I have kept and will hand down to my son, Nick.
More Reds’ Memories
Being on the ground crew was an absolutely wonderful experience and left me with a lot of fantastic memories. Here are some of my favorites:
Ellis Valentine’s Coin Collection
Ellis Valentine was the right fielder for the Montreal Expos. During one game, he started picking up coins that the fans were throwing at him; which simply caused the fans to throw more. Each inning, he would stuff his back pocket, and each inning we (on the ground crew) would get mad.
You see, we normally picked up and kept the coins for ourselves after the game was over. The next day, Ellis came to the park and handed us three bottles of champagne that he had purchased with the change that he had picked up. As you might imagine, our opinion of him changed immediately!
Awarding Nosebleed Fans With Baseballs
At the end of each game, two ground crew members would go up to the roof of Riverfront Stadium to take down the flags (which were flown in order of the current standings).
To get there, we would take an elevator from the field level to the top section of the stadium. Then, we would walk up an aisle (through the seats) to get to the ladder which led to the roof.
On the way up, I would often take a baseball with me and hand it to a young fan sitting in the “nose bleed section”; way too high up to expect a foul ball. They were always completely surprised and the look on their face was always a fantastic treat.
A Photo With My Hero
On an off day, Tom Seaver was working out and I was tending to the field. The Cincinnati Enquirer was doing a story on Tom and had sent a photographer. I asked her if she would mind taking a photo of me with Tom and she said OK.
Later, I had it blown up and he signed it for me, writing “To Brad, a dynamic duo. All the Best. Tom Seaver.” Today, it hangs in my den.
Getting Some Ink
In 1979, there was a good write-up in the Cincinnati Enquirer about the duties of the ground crew. I was quoted in the article and my picture appeared repairing the mound. As one of the three full time employees, taking care of the mound was my primary duty. I would also go out to the mound during the game if there were any problems.
My Hall of Fame Ball
I also got to meet and talk to many great players and collected autographs of some of the more notable ones on a single ball that I called my “Hall of Fame Ball”. The signatures include:
- Pee Wee Reese
- Willie Mays
- Maury Wills
- Lou Brock
- Joe Morgan
- Johnny Bench
- Don Drysdale
- Steve Carlton
- Vada Pinson
- Tom Seaver
- Frank Robinson
- Pete Rose
As you can see as a lifelong baseball and Reds fan, I’ve been blessed. My experiences working on the Reds’ grounds crew were wonderful.
I now live in Charlotte, North Carolina but still watch most of the Reds games on television or listen to them on the radio. And, those that pass our property on their boats know it’s our house by the Reds’ flag proudly waving off of our dock.
By Brad Lozier
Brad is a retired business executive who has lived in Ohio, Florida, California, and North Carolina. Regardless of location, he has and will always root for his Reds.
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