During the summer of 2009, I was in a Kentucky sports bar across the Ohio River and was gazing at Great American Ballpark. The new Cincinnati Reds park had been open for six years and shortly after ordering a cold one, it occurred to me that GABP had no special baseball memories for me after seeing games there for that period of time.
Nothing. No playoff games. Losing teams. Poor pitching. It was a nice ballpark and the Reds Hall of Fame was awesome but inside GABP?
Nothing. Six years of under .500 records. The best was 80-82 in 2006.
Then, I looked where Riverfront Stadium used to be. Our Riverfront Stadium. The one that was maligned by some by loved by a lot. And baseball memories were so thick in my mind having four or five more Budweisers wouldn’t erase any of them.
I can’t list them all. Not just of special games I attended but great players and teams.
Want a sample? Bench and Rose. The 1999 Reds. The Big Red Machine. Junior. Concepcion and Larkin, two of the greatest shortstops ever for the Cincinnati Reds. The Big Dog. Little Joe. Mr. Perfect. Chris Sabo in 1988. George Foster in 1977. The Nasty Boys. Hal King’s majestic home run in 1973. Tom Seaver’s no-hitter in 1978.
But a year before my reminiscing, Jay Bruce made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds. And he started with a bang. The Reds, slowly but surely, got better. Bruce was in the thick of it.
And then on September 28, 2010 it happened. The Reds just needed one win or a Cardinal loss to the Pirates on that night to clinch the National League Central. On a whim, I took the day off and made the five-hour drive to Cincinnati, ordering a ticket on the way. I got a front row seat down the third base line. The Reds were playing the Houston Astros, the team I love to hate.
That was the night– as most of you know– that Bruce hit the game winning home run off Astros left-handed hurler Tim Byrdak on his first pitch in the 9th inning and the city of Cincinnati celebrated, big-time. I did too. I joined a legion of fans who walked from GABP to downtown to celebrate near Fountain Square, just like I did during the days of the Big Red Machine.
It was a great night. It was a long night. It was worth it.
Jay Bruce retired from baseball last Sunday. It was just a ripple among MLB news of the day, but it was sad news for me. Bruce was my favorite Reds player for years. I met him once at Redsfest and our picture is in my sports room.
Bruce was traded from the Reds in 2016 during their “rebuild” which they blew miserably. Bruce’s trade was a perfect example. The Reds sent him to the New York Mets for Max Wotell and Dilson Herrara. Enough said.
That ranked nearly as bad as the Aroldis Chapman trade. And it was just as disastrous as the Johnny Cueto trade for three Kansas City Royal pitchers. (Oh, but they were all left handed!)
I’m not the first to say this– and admittedly I’m biased– but Jay Bruce should be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame down the road. I think his stats are worthy of it and the impact he made with the Reds. Along with Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and a great pitching staff, he was one of the centerpieces of those Reds teams in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He was a good right fielder and there were times I would sit in the right field bleachers just to cheer him on when I went to Reds games at GABP.
Looking back at Reds history—as I like to do– here’s where I would rank Jay Bruce with the right fielders in the modern history of Reds baseball. (That era is defined as since 1956– Frank Robinson’s rookie year.)
- Frank Robinson
- Ken Griffey
- Dave Parker
- Jay Bruce
- Reggie Sanders
Honorable Mention: Paul O’Neill and Wally Post.
I’m sure the Reds will honor Jay Bruce down the road. They are slow to make decisions, have trouble finding a shortstop and they love bobbleheads but they do the little things right. I’m confident in saying Jay Bruce will be a Reds Hall of Famer.
Now I can look at GABP and think of a lot of good things: the career of Joey Votto, the windup of Johnny Cueto, Homer’s two-years of greatness and at last, a Reds Cy Young Award winner although we weren’t allowed to be at baseball games in 2020.
But the top of the list? Jay Bruce’s home run in 2010. In a sense, it baptized the park and also led to a great celebration of a City and a fan base that needed a shot in the arm.