Every year during Spring Break as a kid I would go down and stay with my grandparents for a week at their home in Deltona, Florida. Other than what seemed like daily trips to the farmers markets and bugging the ever-loving shit out of my grandfather to buy me baseball cards and other collectibles that would end up garbage (he was right), the highlight of the trip was riding my bike around their neighborhood and the annual day trip to Reds spring training in Plant City to see the Reds getting ready to start their season.
The year was 1994. I was 12 years old and I had spent the week dunking a beach ball (I did not have a basketball at my grandparents) through a child’s hoop across the street pretending I was Micheal Jordan and Charles Barkley. I actually became so bored at times that I provided commentary throughout an entire imaginary game–of which I of course was the only player for both sides.
That’s how the trips were to my grandparents. Lots of boredom. Lots of lulls. The week went by so slowly. As a kid you of course can’t appreciate what priceless times those were because you don’t know that the pure hustle and bustle of life lies ahead–and no one can avoid it.
During this Spring Break week, my grandpa had landed tickets to go see my Reds play. And he had another special gift for me (for which I assume he found on a clearance rack). He handed me a Rob Dibble Reds t-shirt jersey with the announcement that we would be going to see them play.
I couldn’t contain myself. It was too good to be true. Now my biggest stress for the next few days would just be rather or not I would actually get to see Rob Dibble in action on the mound.
The next few days went by pretty uneventfully. I would get in trouble for digging in the wrong areas and making sand castles where my grandfather so desperately was trying to get his grass seed to catch. I would throw the wrong thing into his compost pile–which for a bored 12 year old kid was just too neat for a few moments. And of course there was more exploring; which amounted to me trying to get lost on my bike in a small neighborhood consisting of mostly blue-haired senior citizens. I even think things got a little crazy one night and we went to Blockbuster video or something but there’s no way of telling.
Then the day arrived. Rob Dibble day. I donned my #49 jersey proudly. Look at me. I’m the biggest damn Dibble fan that ever lived.
Let’s keep in mind that I decided to become this huge Dibble fan only after Gramps had bought me that shirt, and by now the shark had jumped. Dibs was several seasons removed from his heyday of 1989 and 1990 as one of the Nasty Boys. I knew a few things about him. He threw hard as Hell. He threw at guys heads. And he was a big son of a bitch who didn’t worry a lot about form and mechanics.
But it didn’t matter. Dibs was my new favorite Red and I was there to see him and only him.
Dibble entered the game late in the action. It was probably the 7th or 8th inning. A guy sitting near us had clued us into the fact that ‘Dibble has been hurt and hasn’t been pitching much’. But this couldn’t be. He’s heading to the mound and I’m going to get to see the living legend pitch. This was going to be the greatest day of my life!
Dibble came in and threw a couple of balls that skipped before they got to the plate. The gun wasn’t exactly lighting up in fact he wasn’t breaking 90MPH. He walked the first hitter without throwing a strike.
Something had to be terribly wrong, didn’t it? C’mon Dibs, unleash the fucking viper!
Dibble threw four more pitches. All four were balls. One of them was about 12 feet above the catcher’s head and flew into the backstop (I’m not shitting you on that). Third hitter comes in and Dibble walks him as well.
By this point I’m really stirring in my seat. Grandpa could sense I wasn’t enjoying myself quite as much as I was during the anticipation of this whole huge event.
“Your boy RON Dibble sure isn’t looking too strong today, son”. No shit, gramps. And yes, he fucked his name up on accident and yes, Dibble probably deserved that.
The whole inning probably lasted around 45 minutes. There was a mound visit mixed in there, of which soon after Dibble FINALLY threw one across the plate and the crowd of about 6 or 7,000 exploded in an applause. What a disaster. I had cursed Rob Dibble, my newest favorite player.
He didn’t retire a hitter. He didn’t strike anyone out. I think he threw a total of three or four strikes on the day and then headed for the showers after walking maybe five guys. All that remained from all those years I had heard about this imposing, flame-throwing closer was a big leg kick and horrible mechanics.
I rode home wondering what the Hell had happened. And a few days later I read in the newspaper that Rob Dibble had torn several mighty parts of his arm and shoulder and he would be out for the year. He never pitched in a Reds uniform again. Things could have been perfect, but I was a few years too late in my fan-hood of Dibs.
Still a great spring training memory looking back. Even if I spent the rest of the week being harassed by grandpa to finish my RC Cola and grapefruits (lightly sugared) that I begged him to make me and never wanted after the first bite.