By Larry Backus
I have never been a fan of nostalgia, history yes, but not nostalgia. Yet, during the last few days of April and first days of May 2013, my wife and I visited Cincinnati for an overdose of nostalgia. We were scheduled to visit the high school we attended and have lunch at a famous pizza parlor of our youth with five of our oldest and best friends; most of whom had also grown up on the blue-collar west side of Cincinnati. We would also be attending a banquet with fans and former amateur and professional baseball players from the west side of Cincinnati. Many of these gentlemen had graciously contributed their time, scrap books, photos, memories and great support of my effort to complete a book about their baseball history.
The keynote speaker for the banquet would be Jim Frey. Jim is one of 14 major league players or managers who attended our high school. Jim also married his high school sweetheart, who happens to be one of my cousins. I met Jim when I was 14 years old. He was playing minor league ball for the Boston Braves, before they moved to Atlanta. Jim became both a manager and general manager in major league baseball. He also spent a few years announcing baseball in Chicago with Harry Caray before he retired. Don Zimmer was Jim’s best friend in high school; he also married his high school sweetheart. Don is a coach for the Tampa Bay Rays and currently is in his 65th year of professional baseball. Jim and Don are two of the four former major league managers who graduated from our high school. The other two managers were Russ Nixon, who retired after 56 years in professional baseball and Pete Rose. It was Jim’s suggestion in February of 2012 to write the book that has become a focal point of my writing and research efforts.
The book will be a tome of unique baseball history. During this week however, the nostalgia was too much to ignore. My wife and I were not the only attendees at the banquet to reside in Fairfield Glade. We were there to meet Jim Frey as he flew in from Florida and get him back to the Airport Marriott where he could catch his late morning flight back to Florida. The other Fairfield couple was there to receive an award for one of the three former professional baseball players or managers being inducted into the Price Hill Old Timers Hall of Fame. The evening was very special. There was a videotaped acceptance by Zimmer, who was too ill to attend, and a humorous and illuminating presentation by Frey. I met with nearly every contributor to the book I am writing; a host of champions. It was near midnight as we left the banquet hall. My wife had given to our friends from Fairfield Glade, her best ideas on finding a way out of this deeply nostalgic old neighborhood on the west side hills. We set off to find a way across the Ohio River and at Jim’s request, a Cincinnati-style chili dog. This was not unusual; I once worked with a bright young man from Baton Rouge, La. He became addicted to Cincinnati-style chili. After our multi-week business trips to Europe, our traditional first stop upon our return to Cincinnati was for Skyline Chili.
We found the chili parlor but, sure enough, it was closed. As we dropped Jim off at the Marriott his problem solving ability was displayed. “I know what I’ll do, I’ll go to the airport early and get my Coney Island Chili Dog fix for an early lunch before my flight.” Problem solved. I sure hope our friends found their way out of the west side. They could still be lost and roaming those west side hills and neighborhoods of Cincinnati. The good news was that Jim called two days later to confirm that he had two cheese coneys and a Coke before he winged his way back to Florida. Oh, the book and baseball part…you may have to buy the book for that part; this is about the nostalgia.