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Sliding into Tradition


Sports are a family affair for the Bolens, Cincinnati Reds fans from Indiana.

Tammy Bolen was there to see Pete Rose break the National League hit streak record. She was there to see the fans at Riverfront Stadium follow every pitch during every game like it was the last they’d ever see. She was there to see the cheers, the cries, and everything else connected to the baseball team y known simply as the ‘Big Red Machine.’

The crowd in Cincinnati that night in the summer of 1978 had been spoiled by two World Series championships in the past three seasons. But they weren’t satisfied. They wanted more, and the 37-year-old guy at third base named Pete Rose looked like their best bet to lead them back to the Fall Classic. Happily displaced 60 or so miles from her hometown of Connersville, Indiana, Tammy was there to see her Reds win a ball game.

Many years and championships later, Tammy wanted her three sons to experience that joy. She made baseball a part of their family. The four of them would watch Reds games together, follow the stats of the players and, when they could, travel from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to watch their team try to win.

To those not interested in sports, the fans can seem pretty ridiculous. To those fans, though, whether or not their team scores on this possession, drive, or inning means everything. Some of them dedicate a lot of time and money to their favorite team. Some follow that team like a religion of sorts, as do the Bolens.

Since the boom in the 20th century, sports have been embedded in the culture of America. They have been a center for debate on different political topics throughout the years and, in some cases, have allowed the country to unite and escape from the troubles of the world for a few hours to cheer on their favorite team.

A New Generation

Great American Ballpark, where the Reds have played since 2003, will always be the team’s “new” stadium to Tammy. She grew up with Riverfront Stadium, where the team played for more than thirty years.  But she still enjoys the new stadium and thinks it’s more family friendly than its predecessor. To her youngest son, Thomas Bolen, Great American Ballpark is a home away from home.

Around the time he turned 8 years old, Thomas had become the biggest Reds fan out of Tammy’s three sons. Even though he’s no longer a child, his bedroom shelves and dresser drawers are lined with bobbleheads and signed baseballs, along with mementos from his trips to Great American Ballpark.

Thomas played baseball himself until 8th grade and still keeps his Little League trophies on his lamppost. A 2010 National League Central Division pennant hangs on his wall; a bobblehead of former Reds All-Star outfielder Jay Bruce, who hit the walk-off home run that clinched the division that year, occupies one of the shelves. A white Aroldis Chapman jersey hangs in his closet, reminding Thomas of  that long-awaited Major League debut.

Thomas and Tammy keep up with the Reds through social media, where the team announces their picks for the Major League roster and other important news.

Geoffre Sherman, a sport management lecturer at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), says the strategies used to market sports teams have evolved over the past decade. Instead of using mailing lists and paper advertisements, teams use more social media in an attempt to keep up with how Americans find a lot of their news.

Sherman says effective digital marketing strengthens a team’s national brand while providing instant gratification and updates to fans.

Digital marketing, to Sherman, is less about how many followers a team has and more about how many people are engaging with their posts. Sherman used an example of a picture of the final score on the scoreboard in Marian’s football team’s road regular season finale in Des Moines, Iowa. This post was simple yet effective and recognizable for Marian’s relatively small audience. The tweet became their most most engaged tweet to date at the time.

A Loyal Fan Base

The modern-day Reds have struggled to put up a consistent winning team. The team has finished last in the National League Central in three consecutive years and has not won a playoff series since 1995. But even during their down years, the Bolen family doesn’t leave their team behind. Tammy and Thomas enjoy following statistical achievements of individual players, such as how many bases Billy Hamilton stole or Joey Votto’s on-base percentage. Thomas likes to follow the Reds’ top prospects in their Minor League system—most notably top draft picks Hunter Greene and Nick Senzel.

The Bolens are able to watch every Reds game in the Indianapolis market through the Fox Sports Midwest TV broadcast or on the radio through the Reds’ local radio affiliate, WNDE. Thomas says they try to watch or tune in, but admits that keeping up with all 162 regular season games is a bit difficult, especially when the team isn’t winning a lot.

Thomas says they just enjoy the game of baseball for what it is when they go to a game at Great American Ballpark, regardless of how well the team is doing that year. Whenever they go, the Bolens always park in the same parking spot and they always make sure to visit the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, located right across the street from Great American Ballpark.

Thomas says they feel as though they are a part of the Reds community whenever they go to a game in Cincinnati and often chat with other Reds fans at the game. Thomas enjoys talking to older fans about the team’s history and their favorite moments from seasons past. He also never passes up the opportunity to discuss the current state of the Reds and says it’s comforting knowing that his family members aren’t the only people who struggle through watching the lack of on-field success the Reds have been putting out the past few years.

Tammy says that one of the most identifiable traits among Reds fans is the high expectations fans have for the team every year. No matter the game, Reds fans expect pitchers not to walk batters or ever miss the strike zone, Tammy says. Thomas says the Reds and their fans expect the players to do everything in their power to try to win every single game.

Compared to other teams, Tammy admits that Reds fans, who have seen their team win five World Series titles and countless pennants, are relatively spoiled when it comes to their rich history.

Thomas and his mother once went on a tour of the Milwaukee Brewers stadium. He found the team’s less impressive record amusing. The Brewers, a division rival of the Reds, have only made the post season four times since the team’s inception in 1969. Thomas says the best thing the Brewers have going for them is that they boast the largest parking lot in Wisconsin, a tidbit he found hilarious.

A Different Game

Nearly 40 years removed from that summer night in Cincinnati, Tammy found herself in Greencastle, Indiana, to watch Wabash play DePauw in the Monon Bell game, believed to be one of the longest running rivalries in college football history. She was there to watch her son’s team win a football game.

Thomas isn’t hard to find on the Wabash sideline—number 76, a 6-foot 4 inch freshman—as he stands attentively with his teammates, hoping his team can bring the Bell back to Wabash in Crawfordsville.

Thomas, naturally, played baseball as a child, so much so that he never actually competed on a football field until his freshman year of high school. He says he wasn’t very good at first, but he learned to use his size to his advantage on the football field and tried to model his work ethic after Reds MVP Joey Votto. Thomas is continually inspired by Votto’s persistence of excellence on the baseball field.

Tammy had a hard time watching her son play football at first. She didn’t really understand the game very well and had to constantly remind herself which position her son played. Thomas, a tight end, proved himself on the football field and eventually earned a spot on Wabash’s roster. Generally, freshmen do not get a lot of playing time at Wabash. At that moment, however, he didn’t care about getting on the field. He was there to see his team win a football game.

Tammy chose to incorporate sports into her family. She’s been able to watch her son grow up as a sports fan, draw inspiration for his own character and work ethic from athletes, and turn that inspiration into his on-field and off-field success.

Tammy and Thomas don’t know what their lives would be like if it weren’t for sports. Tammy says that going to Reds games helped the family become closer with one another and was a release for all the stress and turmoil in their lives. Regardless of what was going on, any given day between April and September—and, if they were lucky, October—a Reds game was on the TV or radio and was there to take them away from their lives for three hours if they needed a break.

Photo provided by: Thomas Bolen

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