Reds' storied history on display at Hall of Fame Gala
For this reporter, tonight's assignment was a bit different than most.
Not only did I don a dress, but my destination for the day was not Great American Ball Park.
No, no: I was headed for the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. More specifically, Ballroom A of the center. And even more specifically, the 2012 Reds Hall of Fame Induction Gala.
As my dad -- decked out in a tie -- and I entered the center, we were greeted by the sight of a silent auction chock-full of impressive Reds memorabilia.
A further glance revealed speed painter Mark Thesken, 49, a Cincinnati native who has been an artist for as long as he can remember, who was preparing to create his latest masterpiece, a portrait of the late Cincinnati legend Sparky Anderson, to be auctioned off for the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. I watched Thesken in awe as his fingers and paintbrushes flew across the canvas. Thirty minutes later (although it seemed like only 10), Anderson, as if by magic, came to life.
After watching Thesken, it was time to take our seats. I set up shop at the media table in the back of the room, and watched as the 1,400 guests filed in. The ceremony opened with a "grand march" of the over 60 current and former players present. I simply couldn't believe I, a mere commoner, was in the same (albeit very large) room with so many greats of the game.
An "Around the Horn" session followed, in which Reds TV and radio personalities interviewed the players, past and present. Reds Live TV host Jim Day asked third baseman Todd Frazier about his choice of Frank Sinatra songs as his walkup music. To everyone's delight, Frazier belted out an impressive rendition of Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon"!
As I milled around during an intermission, I was surprised to be greeted by Eric Davis, who I had the privilege of interviewing yesterday.
After a speech from the greatest catcher of all time, Johnny Bench, there was a video message from 2012 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larkin -- whose ESPN broadcasting duties prevented him from being here tonight.
First up was a video presentation to honor the late "Long John" Reilly, the Reds' starting first baseman from 1883-1891, the first inductee, followed by a speech from Reilly's great-great-great-great nephew, Kirtley Kinman. Then it was time to honor one of the men of the hour, Dan Driessen. Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman invited Driessen to the podium to say a few words.
Driessen, although "a man of few words, but meaningful and powerful actions," according to his daughter, Dominique, who introduced her dad, couldn't help but tear up while giving his acceptance speech. Driessen called Cincinnati "the greatest baseball city in the world" and took his seat to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Driessen, a guy who always flew under the radar, finally got the recognition he deserved.
Next, a video tribute to Sean Casey, "The Mayor" of Cincinnati, aired, in which Rob Butcher, the Reds' director of media relations, was asked to give two words to describe Casey. On screen, Butcher considered this for a moment, then answered: "Everybody's favorite."
Reds TV personality George Grande took the dais to do homage to "Case," as he affectionately referred to No. 21. Amid another standing ovation, Casey jogged to the stage.
Attending a game with his father, Jim, at age 14, young Sean Casey declared: "I'm going to be here someday."
Jim Casey laughed.
But it was the crowd in the convention center that was laughing tonight. Casey had the entire room in stitches. My personal favorite Casey crack: "Doc Kremchek [Tim Kremchek, Reds medical director], thanks for all the surgeries. They were great!" Twenty-nine minutes and 10 seconds after he took the podium, Casey bounded down the stairs with his typical vigor.
Finally, it was time for the crowning moment of the night: the red jacket presentation. It's a longstanding Cincinnati tradition that the Reds Hall of Famers sport red coats, and the night culminated with Driessen and Casey donning theirs.
The music swelled as Brennaman reeled off the names of every Hall of Famer present. Reds owner Bob Castellini thanked "Reds Country" for its support.
And so it was that the Reds Hall of Fame closed its doors to new inductees.
But come someday in 2014, that door will open again.
And when it does, Sean Casey and Dan Driessen will be there.
Oh, and one more thing.
Sean? Dan? Don't forget your red jackets.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.