The 2007 Cape Cod Baseball League season may be fading in our memories, but this year's MLB pennant race is heating up. Just as we did last year, we'll keep the baseball discussion going by following former and future Cape league players. I was in Cincinnati this weekend and caught a Reds game with the Florida Marlins. It was homers galore, including one of those sweet strokes by Ken Griffey Jr (his 591st). But it wasn't just any game. This was the game in which they retired the Big Red Machine's number 13 -- shortstop and All-Star MVP David Concepcion.
It was a special game for me. Growing up in Oklahoma, which is also the home of Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, I was a hard-core Reds fan through all of the 70s and much of the 80s (sorry Red Sox fans). It was made all the more enjoyable by joining my brother, Mike, who lives here, and my son.
Just before game time last night Bench, Sparky Anderson, Tony Perez, George Foster and other Reds greats gathered for a ceremony celebrating their teammate from Venezuela along the first-base line.
Concepcion, overwhelmed by emotion, could barely speak. His wife had to come up to join him at the lectern. It was a special night for Reds fans and for baseball. I was honored to be there.
In seeing his number retired, Concepcion joined six other former Reds: managers Fred Hutchinson (1) and Sparky Anderson (10), catcher Johnny Bench (5), second baseman Joe Morgan (8) and first basemen Ted Kluszewski (18) and Tony Perez (24).
It had been years since I watched Concepcion. His deep range in the hole and his powerful arm would place him among the best in the majors today. The Cincinnati papers yesterday morning and the talk this weekend is that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and some say he may be among the best shortstops of all time. He didn't do backward flips but if I had to take a national league shortstop I'd be hard pressed not to pick him. I believe his skills, his numbers, his many awards and his part in the Big Red Machine deserve a spot in the Hall.
This was my first visit to the Reds' new home, Great American Ballpark. Great American is not the greatest of the ballparks I've visited. But I have to say it's better than billed. When I told friends I would be visiting the park, many were quick to say it's not a great ballpark. I disagree. It's a comfortable, intimate ballpark, conveniently located next to old Riverfront Stadium downtown. It has a beautiful mosaic at the entrance featuring Reds greats and some terrific statues Ted Kluszewski (1B), Frank Robinson, Ernie Lombardi and Joe Nuxhall, the kid who broke into the majors at 15 during the War. Nuxhall was in attendance last night for the Concepcion ceremony.
The ballpark definitely has some downsides. The often heard complaint is that it's turned the wrong way. There must be engineering reasons why. Most downtown ballpark outfields frame the city's downtown skyline. Not Cinci. You basically see nothing in the outfield but sky. The scoreboards are hard to decipher, confusing. The ballpark, while functional, is not a beautiful ballpark.
The Reds' Aaron Harang, who played in Cotuit in 1998, had gotten the win the previous night in Cincinnati. There must have been other Cape league alumni in the line-up but I'm not sure who they all are. Did former Memphis star Dan Uggla, who homered last night for the Marlins, play on the Cape?
As in my other notes from major league parks, the connection with the Cape league is through its players. But a night devoted to Concepcion can also be an inspiration to players young and old.