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Molony: Reds say goodbye
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09/22/2002 8:38 pm ET 
Molony: Reds say goodbye
 

Jose Mesa throws the last pitch at Cinergy Field. (David Kohl/AP)
CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati said so long to Cinergy Field Sunday and like most partings it was an afternoon of sweet sorrow for this venerable franchise and their faithful fans.

A sellout crowd of 40,964 and dozens of former Reds turned out for an afternoon of baseball and memories. Though the Reds dropped a 4-3 decision to Philadelphia in the park's finale, that defeat couldn't dampen an occasion that was more celebration than wake.

"This has been a great home for us," said Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. "But it's been a great home not because of the ballpark, but because of the fans and the people of this great city that made it such a great place."

Back to: A Farewell to Cinergy Field
The fans certainly showed their appreciation Sunday. They started showing up four hours before game time and those who arrived early were treated to an entertaining news conference featuring Bench, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez, current shortstop Barry Larkin and Big Red Machine manager Sparky Anderson, another Hall of Famer.

Redlegs who called this ballpark home at one point or another since 1970 came back. In addition to Bench, Perez, Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Rijo and the rest of the current Reds, there were dozens of former Reds including Mario Soto, Danny Jackson, Cesar Geronimo, Pedro Borbon Sr., Clay Carroll, Ted Power, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Jeff Brantley, Tom Browning, Bernie Carbo, Eric Davis, Rob Dibble, Ken Griffey Sr., Todd Benzinger, Rawly Eastwick, Nick Esasky, Ron Oester, Joe Oliver, Don Gullett, Jeff Shaw, Tommy Helms, Frank Pastore, Hal Morris, Kal Daniels, Tom Hume, Paul O'Neill, Bobby Tolan, Will McEnaney, Jack Billingham, Jeff Reed and Jim O'Toole.

With a few notable exceptions, they were all here, several generations of Cincinnati's Riverfront/Cinergy years. Most of the Big Red Machine showed. So did the Nasty Boys, along with The Big Dog, the Hawk, the Chief, Eric the Great and Sparky. The organization had uniform jerseys and caps for each to wear and the fans, thrilled to see their heros in Cincinnati scarlet and whites one more time, loved it. It was a day for reminiscing and camaraderie and for everyone, including players, former players and fans, it was an emotional day.

"I will definitely miss Cinergy Field, I have some great memories that took place here," said Larkin, who left the game in the fifth, along with Rijo, to a standing ovation. "I remember that first game (of the '90 World Series) stepping into the batter's box and (Oakland's) Dave Stewart was staring me down and then Eric (Davis) came up and hit the home run and that was definitely the gate opener (in what would be a Cincinnati sweep in the World Series)."

Rijo received a standing ovation from the crowd when he was removed from the game with two outs in the fifth. Rijo answered a curtain call, and when Larkin also left the game moments later the crowd erupted again. Rijo and Larkin, two key members of the '90 World Champion Reds, embraced and waved to the crowd. The entire team waited for them in the dugout to exchange hugs and high fives.

In the bowels of the stadium a couple of hours earlier it seemed like old times for Bench, Perez and Anderson. Bench and Anderson are taking turns picking on Perez.

"He was a third baseman when I came up at Crosley Field but they moved him over to first because he couldn't throw it all the way over to first base in the air," Bench said.

Anderson asked Perez if he ever stole a base.

"See all the abuse I get?" Perez asked the media. "They blame me for everything."

Actually Perez probably has no bigger fans.

"He is the one person you can always give credit to for being the Big Red Machine and what it meant to all of us and how he held us together," Bench said. "He's like a brother to all of us. He's an antagonist, an agitator and he created more problems, that's why we stayed together and that's why we all loved and do all love Tony Perez."

"No question John is absolutely right," Anderson said. "We let him go to Montreal (in 1977). That was the greatest mistake we ever made."

"Tony had a way of keeping everything together. We had a game against Jerry Koosman (of the Mets) and (Joe) Morgan came in with a fever and he did, 103 (degrees) so I scratched him. Wasn't too long later I hear all this screaming going on. Tony had got him. He'd left (Morgan) a sleeping bag with a little note, a glass of water and two aspirins. The note said take these and see your doctor in the morning. And Joe played. He said 'That Perez will never insult me like that.'"

"Those guys had the most fun in the world getting on each other. I used to let all four of them (Perez, Bench, Morgan and Pete Rose) hit on one field during Spring Training so they wouldn't bother nobody else. I used to stop by there just long enough to hear their agitations. They were a team. If they had had some of the pitching staffs we had seen would they have won 130 games every year. I was smart enough to let them play."

The sellout crowd stood and cheered loudly as each player was introduced during a post-game ceremony and the loudest ovations were for Perez, Bench, Concepcion, Rijo and Davis.

The fans cheered loudly and often for a favorite son who was not in attendance Sunday: Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hit king.

During nearly every pause in the first five minutes of the postgame ceremonies the fans chanted "Pete, Pete, Pete." Later they chanted "We want Pete." At one point Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh told the crowd: "He was my hero too."

Long-time Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall drew a loud ovation when he said: "I remember Pete's base hit. Pete Rose. I agree with you. I wish he were standing here with us today. Pete Rose belongs here."

Rijo, O'Neill and Foster echoed those sentiments during brief stints on the stadium public address system as Browning spray painted a red No. 14, Rose's number, on the Cinergy Field mound in front of the pitching rubber.

After the player introductions, dignitaries, including Reds General Partner Carl Lindner, proceeded with the removal of home plate, which was then transported to the Great American Ball Park and installed in that facility, which will open next season.

"They can tear it down, but they won't ever take away the memories from me," Anderson said.

Fans were able to watch the home plate installation on the Cinergy Field screen as players continued to reminisce their favorite moments in this park. Nearly every player called to the mike mentioned Rose. Eventually the proceedings wound down with ceremonial last pitches from Ryan Dempster and Tommy Helms. After 32 years, this park had seen its last baseball.

"I wasn't happy when we moved here from Crosley Field, because Crosley Field was very very good to me," Perez said. "But to me, I never saw one bad day here even if we lost a ballgame because seeing the fans and the way their reaction was to you, there's no way it would ever be a bad day. It's (going to be) a very sad day when this ballpark goes down."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. He can be reached at mlbmolony@aol.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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