When I noticed “Johnny Bench Night” on the Reds promotional calendar early in the 2011 season, I didn’t think a whole lot of it. Seemed neat, but it didn’t make it on the “must attend” game list.
As the date came closer, I heard a little more about it here and a little more there. Details about the statue emerged, the on-field ceremonies, the who’s who of who also might be attending. All the while, I made visit after visit to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum and took in a little more of the “Bench” exhibit each time I was there, learning more and more about why Johnny Bench was the greatest catcher in the history of baseball. As if I had any doubt.
By the time the week of the festivities rolled around, I was pumped. Throw in a #RedsTweetUp and we’ve got one heck of a night on our hands, right?
Whatever expectations I built up in my head for Johnny Bench Night over those months, weeks, days, hours were blown away last Saturday night. As the Reds do so often anymore, it was a first-class night all the way.
There’s also my connection to Johnny Bench, or lack thereof. I never did see Johnny Bench play baseball. I was alive during the tail-end of Bench’s playing career and theoretically could have even been in attendance for the original Johnny Bench Night, but I wasn’t. This connection of Johnny Bench Nights 17 years apart is one I am unable to make. Saturday night I was an observer.
Now, don’t worry, I have as much respect for Johnny Bench and what he did for the game as any other fan, and possibly more. But I just don’t have that tangible connection. That little “I saw Johnny Bench do X one night down at ol’ Riverfront Stadium” thing I can go to when talking about the Big Red Machine over a couple of beers. I wish I did. You can watch all the old TV footage you can, but it’s just not the same.
So Saturday night I was an observer, and I was in awe. In awe of what this man means to the Reds, his teammates, this city and to baseball. It’s amazing that one man can garner the type of attention that Johnny Bench so easily gets. It’s easy for me to put a lot of sports icons up on a pedestal – Mickey Mantle, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson, etc., etc., etc., and never really to feel their greatness. Bench is on that same pedestal. Those of us that may not have witnessed his career first-hand got just a peek this weekend. We were able to hear him speak, maybe even to shake his hand. You could get a small glimpse into this greatness. You could feel it.
It’s these little moments that really make the game of baseball so special to me. You can go to the ballpark on any given night and possibly see greatness unfold right in front of your eyes. It’s also possible to get these very small, yet powerful, glances into the past. It’s what keeps me coming back for more.
Russ over at Reds Country did make it to Johnny Bench Night #1 and has the certificate to prove it. Pretty awesome.
If you were at the ceremonies and didn’t catch all the FS Ohio coverage, here’s an OMGreds run-down.
Below are a few photos I took during the statue unveiling ceremony. Hope you enjoy.