Reds opener is family ritual for Chitwoods
Tony Sr., 53, pushing streak to impressive 48 years on Thursday
Whether he's just an hour away up Interstate 75 or on the other side of the globe, Tony Chitwood Sr. has a standing appointment with the Reds on Opening Day.As of Thursday, it will have lasted 48 straight years. Considering that Chitwood is 53 years old, it's a streak that essentially accounts for most of his life. Home of the oldest professional baseball franchise, Cincinnati is usually privileged to open at home every year and treats the event like a local holiday. Until the 1990s, it held the very first game of every season. When Chitwood began attending Opening Day on April 8, 1963, John F. Kennedy was president. That was the same month that the soap opera "General Hospital" premiered and the Beatles would have their first face-to-face encounter with the Rolling Stones.
As far as the Reds were concerned, it was the day Pete Rose made his big league debut as he joined a lineup that featured Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson."It's been a neat thing," Chitwood said. "We usually go to the parade. Sometimes, it's raining or snowing." And sometimes, it's historical. Chitwood has attended openers at Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium and the Reds' current home at Great American Ball Park. He proudly recalled being at Riverfront in 1974 when Braves great Hank Aaron hit career home run No. 714 to tie Babe Ruth on the all-time list. Chitwood, retired from the U.S. Air Force, lives in the Dayton, Ohio, area and is currently a junior ROTC teacher at Bellbrook High School. "My uncle Gene was the one to get me started with the Reds when I was five years old," Chitwood said. "By the time I was 10-11, I would go by myself. I would just get on a bus and go. I lived in Cincinnati back then. "I grew up in tough times. My only good memory I had growing up was baseball and the Reds on the radio." The streak has lasted through the decades and into adulthood as Chitwood married and had two sons and two daughters. It even survived despite a stint serving overseas. In the 1980s, when Chitwood was to be dispatched to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, it was just before another Reds opener. His flight out of Dover Air Force Base was scheduled to leave but was postponed. So he drove back to Ohio and made the game, but not before first showing up at daughters Amy and Elizabeth's elementary school unannounced. He took them with him to the ballpark. "It happened two days before Opening Day and I thought the streak would end," Chitwood said. Then there was the near miss another year. "My assignment was for a year when I got sent to Desert Storm," he said. "It ended on March 22 and I was there for 200 days. My biggest worry besides my wife and children was being there for Opening Day." Little did Chitwood's uncle know, he would begin building a generational love of the Reds within his family. Chitwood's sons began their Opening Day streak. Tony Jr. had a 19-year stretch that wasn't broken until a couple of years ago when he entered the U.S. Naval Academy. Younger brother Tommy, an ROTC student at the University of Tennessee, will be seeing his 17th straight Reds opener when he and his father make their latest journey down I-75, something the family often does throughout the season. "The greatest thing is just being there with the kids," Chitwood said. "I've been a varsity coach and baseball is real special. You cannot get the camaraderie in football or basketball. It's relaxing to watch and everybody knows something about it. It's very special to me and our family." In all likelihood, the Chitwood Opening Day streak could endure a few more generations. "I'm going to go as long as it's not a hassle for the kids to take me," Chitwood said. "I just want to keep going. I think my son will break my record. He's excited."