09/22/2002 8:29 pm ET
Fans bid farewell to Cinergy Field
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- This was for the youths, many of whom have grown into adults, who peddled Kid Glove Game tickets. This was for the fans whose baseball passion created Opening Day sellouts in hours, sometimes minutes. This was for people who think that Johnny Bench is the only catcher who ever lived, who hang on Marty's and Joe's every word and, yes, believe Pete Rose can do no wrong.
The postgame ceremony to celebrate the end of the Cincinnati Reds' tenure at Cinergy Field lasted barely more than an hour but was long on sentiment. Most of the sellout crowd of 40,964 who watched Philadelphia defeat Cincinnati, 4-3, stuck around Sunday afternoon to cheer their favorite players, absent or present, and to cherish the 33 seasons that professional baseball's oldest franchise spent in this ballpark.
They cheered for the greatness of Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Sparky Anderson, who took bows. And they cheered for the silliness of Chris Welsh, a broadcaster, former pitcher and Cincinnati native, who reminisced about buying standing-room-only
tickets for a World Series game and sneaking into the lower deck -- just as many of them surely did.
"This facility will be gone in a number of months, but they'll never be able to take the memories away from us," Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman, one of four emcees, said as he launched the festivities.
People came ready to express their gratitude with applause, laughter, or plain old hollering. They weren't disappointed.
Lasts from Cinergy Field
Sunday, Sept. 22, 2002
Note: All lasts are from Sunday's game unless another date is
Last visitors hit: Jason Michaels, Philadelphia, single, ninth inning
(off Chris Reitsma).
Last Reds hit: Aaron Boone, home run, eighth inning.
Last visitors double: Travis Lee, Philadelphia, fifth inning.
Last Reds double: Gookie Dawkins, fifth inning.
Last visitors home run: Tomas Perez, Philadelphia, off Joey Hamilton,
11th inning, game two, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2002.
Last Reds home run: Aaron Boone, off Philadelphia's Dan Plesac,
Last visitors RBI: Marlon Anderson, Philadelphia, eighth inning.
Last Reds RBI: Aaron Boone, eighth inning.
Last visitors run: Travis Lee, Philadelphia, fifth inning.
Last Reds run: Aaron Boone, eighth inning.
Last visitors stolen base: Bob Abreu, fifth inning.
Last Reds stolen base: Aaron Boone, sixth inning.
Last visitors base on balls: Travis Lee, Philadelphia, eighth
Last Reds base on balls: Kelly Stinnett, ninth inning.
Last strikeout of a Red: Gookie Dawkins, by Jose Mesa, ninth
Last strikeout by a Red: Doug Glanville, by Chris Reitsma, ninth
Last seventh-inning stretch: 3:23 p.m.
Last win: Brandon Duckworth.
Last save: Jose Mesa.
Last loss: Jose Rijo.
Last batter: Todd Walker.
Last pitch: 2-1 fastball to Walker, he grounds out to second baseman
Last out: Todd Walker.
1:06 p.m. -- Sparky Anderson throws out the first pitch to Hall of
Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
1:16 p.m. -- Game begins with Jose Rijo throwing a fastball for ball
one to Doug Glanville.
4:16 p.m. -- Game ends.
"Hello, hello, hello," said Joe Nuxhall, another emcee, upon his introduction. Though Reds fans are exceedingly familiar with Nuxhall, who pitched for the Reds for all of part of 15 seasons and has provided color commentary for 36 years, they roared as if he were a long-lost relative. Nuxhall, who retired in 1967, never played in this ballpark, which opened as Riverfront Stadium in 1970. But that hasn't dimmed its popularity with him.
Nuxhall gave fans another reason to bask in their Redsdom besides
his mere presence. Pointing toward third base, he recalled the 1970 World Series against Baltimore and growled, "I can still see Brooks Robinson over there, diving and making plays, the dirty rat!"
At one point, Nuxhall referred to Cinergy/Riverfront as the "old orchard" -- a quaint yet ironic designation for what began as a multipurpose stadium with artificial turf and dirt cutouts around the bases instead of a classic earthen infield.
As the emcees began to introduce current and former players one by one, the first player to draw enormous cheers just with the mere mention of his credentials -- before his name was even spoken -- was former shortstop Davey Concepcion, who spent 19 years with the Reds.
Reds fans with a keen eye for controversy probably were watching
when ex-infielder Ron Oester was waved onto the field. The Cincinnati
native was offered the Reds' managerial opening following the 2000
season, but was denied a chance to counter the Reds' initial salary
offer and was spurned in favor of Bob Boone. After jogging to the
first-base line to receive his applause, Oester shook the hands of the first 14 honorees who were lined up -- until he came to general manager Jim Bowden. Oester skipped him.
Oester declined to comment about this incident afterward, but said, "It was great to see guys I hadn't seen in a while -- guys like Eric Davis, Kal Daniels and Davey. It's sad to see this place go, but the new ballpark looks outstanding."
In fact, the transition from the old to the new was a significant part of the ceremony.
Tommy Helms, who hit the first Reds home run at Riverfront Stadium
(July 1, 1970 against Atlanta) and right-hander Ryan Dempster, who
recorded the last pitching victory at Cinergy (Sept. 14 against Chicago), threw ceremonial last pitches.
Before that, at 5:24 p.m., three club employees with pickaxes dug up home plate and transported it in the same Zamboni machine that used to suck up moisture during rain delays to Great American Ball Park, the Reds' new home that's located literally next door. Carl Lindner, the Reds' principal owner, was at GABP to place home plate into the ground.
This quashed rumors that Rose, the all-time hits leader who's under a lifetime ban from baseball for gambling activities, would meet the Zamboni to plant home plate instead.
Had this actually happened, construction workers wouldn't have had to implode Cinergy Field on Dec. 29, as is scheduled. The fans would have torn it down for them out of sheer, boisterous glee.
From all appearances, Rose was nowhere near Cinergy Field on Sunday. But his presence was felt constantly.
More than a dozen times -- sometimes spontaneously, sometimes when Rose's name was mentioned -- fans burst into chants of Pete-Pete-Pete!"
Several of the former Reds were interviewed on the field as a postgame
treat; eight of the first nine cited Rose as an inspiration or expressed wishes that he were present.
Tom Browning, who pitched the only perfect game in Riverfront/Cinergy history on Sept. 16, 1988 against Los Angeles, took a can of red spray paint and drew the number "14," which adorned Rose's jersey, on the pitcher's mound.
"It needed to be done," Browning said. "I think all of us standing
out here, as well as Marty and Joe and the 40,000 people here, wanted
some recognition of Pete Rose."
The appreciation lasted well past the end of the ceremony, which was marked by one final fusillade of fireworks, the kind that erupt after a Reds home run or victory. Former Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee posed for a photo at home plate with the great Bench. Ex-pitcher Ron Robinson lovingly scooped up dirt from the mound as a souvenir. Shortstop Barry Larkin, another local native who's reaching the end of his 17th season with the Reds, spoke fervently about the Reds' being "a huge part of Cincinnati society. It means something and holds a value to me to be such a big part of what they're doing here in Cincinnati."
The Reds' story and history will continue. They'll just have to unfold somewhere else.
"We say goodbye," intoned Brennaman in his closing remarks, "to
this fine old lady."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.