09/13/2002 01:27 am ET
Rijo to start in Cinergy Field finale
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Really, could there have been any other choice?
Jose Rijo, one of the most popular pitchers in the Cincinnati Reds' recent history, will start the final game played at Cinergy Field (formerly Riverfront Stadium), Sept. 22 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Rijo, who has reciprocated the affection showered upon him by Cincinnati fans, was genuinely touched.
"It's more than an honor. It's more than a dream come true," Rijo said Thursday. "It's one of the most beautiful moments for any player, to be remembered as the last pitcher at a stadium -- especially in this type of city."
Rijo, 37, briefly held a spot in the Reds' rotation, but hasn't started a game June 1, his last outing before he went on the disabled list with shoulder problems. Since the Reds realize Rijo lacks the stamina to pitch deep into a game, manager Bob Boone explained that Shawn Estes probably would "piggy-back" by working in relief. "We don't expect [Rijo] to get five [innings]," Boone said.
Asked if Rijo's selection was a "nostalgic" choice, Boone replied, "Yes and no. Yes, because I think he deserves it, and I think this stadium and this city deserve it. But it's not just a gift. If I didn't think he could win ... I've got a lot of confidence in Jose."
Given the novelty and finality of the event, Rijo felt honored just to have a chance to take the mound.
"Who cares if I haven't started [in three months]?" he said. "If I give them three or four good innings, they're going to be happy with it. Even if I give them three or four good pitches. I just wanted to start the last game ... But I'm going to prepare myself a little better than I normally have [for] the bullpen, because I want to make sure those three innings are going to be enjoyable."
Most of Rijo's experiences at Riverfront/Cinergy indeed have been pleasant. He defeated Oakland there in Game 1 of the 1990 World Series and ultimately was named Most Valuable Player of that Fall Classic. He finished 9-0 at home in 1991. He started four consecutive Opening Days, always a huge event in Cincinnati. And, of course, he made his remarkable return to the Major Leagues at Cinergy last season on Aug. 17, after five arm surgeries and a six-year absence.
"All of my success and best moments -- they're all here, in this stadium, in this city," Rijo said. "Every day I come to the stadium, I'm happy and excited. Every day I come here is beautiful."
After that last Sunday, there won't be any more glittering afternoons or glistening evenings for Rijo or any other Major Leaguer. The singular -- and final -- nature of this game wasn't lost on Rijo.
"It's going to be like a World Series game, playoff game or Opening Day," Rijo said. "It's bigger than a World Series game. They're not going to see this stadium anymore."
Chris Haft covers the Reds for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.