Eyewitness: Johnny Bench Night

Johnny Bench poses with his family next to his newly-unveiled statue outside the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum on Saturday, September 17, 2010

Johnny Bench poses with his family next to his newly-unvieled statue outside the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum on Saturday, September 17, 2010

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.

I’m going to admit though – I’m at a loss for words. There has been tremendous coverage of this event, there’s really not much to add. The night was fantastic, of course.

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.

6 Comments

  1. SteveFNo Gravatar

    Thanks for all the pictures and comments. I was there Saturday as well as the the first JB Night and thought the unveiling and ceremony was first class all the way.

  2. Jeff SNo Gravatar

    While I agree it was a special night and well deserved tribute, I found the entire ceremony outside the park to be poorly planned. The crowd piled into the street. We were in front of the Holy Grail. We heard almost nothing of the speeches. The sound system was inadequate for that size crowd. The speakers faced the sun. You never have a speaker facing the sun. It was obvious it was hard for them to scan the crowd. The guests were seated. When introduced, I think I saw Davey Concepcion’s hand raised. Thankfully he was tall enough to be seen. Why not a dais for those dignataries present? And why have the statue in the Hall entrance? When the veil was pulled, we could see nothing due to the shadows. The ceremony inside the park was well done. Great videos. But outside the park? A very amateurish job.

  3. omgredsNo Gravatar

    Jeff – Thanks for your comments. I can totally see where you are coming from. we’ll make sure that your comments are passed along to the Reds HOF for future consideration.

    As for the statue at the Hall entrance, I really do like it there. I always thought that space needed something like that. I’m glad they found the right thing. It’s too bad it was in the shadows during the ceremony, but not much anyone could do about that, I suspect.

  4. Ray O'CNo Gravatar

    Thanks for sharing the pictures. I met Johnny at his Golf Tournament in Temple Terrace in 1972. He has been my favorite player ever since. I got to see The Big Red Machine play in Shea Stadium around 1975.

  5. Julia Rae GentryNo Gravatar

    As it has become a very bad habit of mine, I was late for the statue unveiling ceremony and so I was not able to get in a very good spot to see or hear very much of what was going on, but I was able to see the on field ceremony and get some decent pictures from the upper deck. It was great.
    I became a Cincinnati Reds fan from watching the 1970 World Series between the Reds and the Baltimore Orioles. I became a Johnny Bench fan because I felt sorry for him because Brooks Robinson kept robbing him of hits. I started listening to the Reds on a little transistor radio that somehow picked up the Reds games at night.
    The first time I ever saw Johnny in person was in 1973 when the Reds played an exhibition game in Evansville, Indiana, about 20 miles from my home in Fort Branch, Indiana. The exhibition game was played at Bosse Field against the Evansville Triplets. Johnny played right field on that day and I sat on the ground right next to the right field fence. Even though I was not normally shy or bashful and I had taken my little Girl Scout Kodak instamatic camera with me to the game to take pictures, I would not even yell to say “hi” to Johnny. Luckily my brother yelled to get his attention and took his picture.
    Living in an area dominated by Saint Louis Cardinal fans probably because of the fact that Saint Louis is closer than Cincinnati, I was one of few Reds fans in the area. But I was proud to wear anything Cincinnati Reds and/or Johnny Bench anytime.
    I remember ordering some Cincinnati Reds patches through the mail from Bazooka, I think. I found an old red baseball hat that someone had thrown in the trash out at the Fort Branch ballpark. I cleaned up the hat and sewed one of the patches on it and wore it all the time until my grandmother got me an official Cincinnati Reds hat a few years later. I think I still have both hats.
    After Johnny was named the MVP of the 1976 World Series, I bought a t-shirt that depicted his award. I wore that t-shirt until it was very thin in spots and the graphics on it were almost worn out, but I also still have that t-shirt.
    Among my most memorable Johnny Bench moments, and believe me there were several, was when my family went out to California on vacation in 1973. My uncle, who lived in the Los Angeles area and who we stayed with while we were out there, surprised us by getting us tickets to go see the Reds play the Dodgers. My brother was a Dodgers fan and my dad was a Red Sox fan who also just loved baseball.
    Our seats were a few rows back in the second level on the third base side of the field. Early in the game, probably the second or third inning, Joe Morgan hit a foul ball up our way. It bounced off the railing in front of us. I was keeping the scorecard as I usually did when I went to ball games, but I reached up and grabbed the ball with my left hand. There were some boys who were sitting in the seats in front of us who tried to get the ball away from me and my dad just laugh at them and told them that there was no way they were going to get that ball out of my hand. I was 14 years-old at the time and those boys were a few years older, but my dad knew that snce I was a left-handed softball player my left hand was very strong.
    After that, the game went on, and the Reds were one run down going into the ninth inning when Johnny connected on the game-tying home run. Even though the Reds lost the game in extra innings, that is still one of my all-time favorite moments in Reds and Johnny Bench history.
    Luckily I have had several other memorable moments including practically every Johnny Bench night that the Reds have hosted, Johnny Bench’s final game at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis where he also hit a home run, and attending Johnny’s induction ceremony into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I have also gotten to meet and have my picture taken with Johnny Bench a couple of times. So my Johnny Bench moments have been and still are very special to me.

  6. Love your Blog! Great work…

    I have been invited to 2015 Reds Fantasy Camp this year two fold…. #1 to help Manage a team at Camp(Coaching, Throwing BP, Hitting Fly Balls, Keeping Stats etc.)
    #2 to Represent The Reds HOF as a Featured Artist of theirs…

    I currently have some work at the Reds HOF…Please look for a lot more in 2015 and an Exhibit at the Hall about the Making of “Cincinnati Reds Legends Book” in which 13 paintings of mine are in …Due to be released March 15… Pre sale on Amazon NOW…
    Best
    Chris Felix
    chrisfelixfineart.com

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