Half my life ago, I won the "Milk Duds Celebrity Bat Girl Contest" and had the great fortune of getting to stand on the field during batting practice. I was 16 years old and I missed a soccer game for it - I was the goalkeeper for my high school team and we were playing a small farm school, but even if we had been playing for a division title that day, I think I'd have missed it. The day was September 16, 1992. Yes, I even remember the date, because it was an incredible experience.
Here is the official contest photo taken of me with "my favorite Reds player," Hal Morris. Actually, Paul O'Neill was my favorite, and Joe Oliver was second, but neither of them was "available," so the Reds deemed Hal Morris as my favorite. I didn't care. I loved Hal, too! As you can see, he does not look pleased to have been deemed "my favorite player." Yes, they made me wear the Milk Duds hat, which was made for a size 10 head, I think. I do not have it anymore. I do, however, still have the Reds jersey, and I'd wear it if it didn't have "Milk Duds Celebrity Bat Girl" on the back. It's no matter - I only have about 50 other Reds shirts to choose from. (Yes, that's hyperbole.)
I also had my picture taken with Chris Hammond - the promising prospect Chris Hammond, not the aged veteran retread Chris Hammond we saw a couple of years ago. It was 1992, and he had his whole promising career ahead of him. Now, HE was happy to take a picture with me. (I had one of those 110 cameras with the strangely-shaped rolls of film back then, and objects ended up on the left side of the pictures.) Chris was a guy I'd had high hopes for. Everything was high hopes then - we were only two years removed from a World Series title, and no one could have foreseen the 18 year drought we would have.
Barry had yet to become my favorite player, though he was extremely nice and autographed a ball and a photo for me, asking me how was school and engaging in conversation as he signed. Of all of the moments of that day, the moment I spoke with Barry Larkin is the most memorable, even as I was unaware of the player he would become. Lark deserves the Hall, and he better get it next season. HEAR THAT, SPORTSWRITERS?????
He also needs to get back to Cincinnati. I share the view of Redleg Nation when I say BRING BACK BARRY! I was disappointed to see that rather than making room for newbies like Barry, the Reds hired back all of the coaching staff from 2008. That coaching staff did such a great job, we only ended up in FIFTH PLACE out of SIX TEAMS. I want to see Barry's butt on that bench!
As I said, Paul O'Neill was my favorite player. Never did I think this day would be the last time I saw Paul in a Reds uniform. What a sad, sad day it was to learn that he had been traded. Even now, after Paul had all of those great seasons with the Yanks, after he won all of those World Series rings, I still can't view him as a Yankee. He was a Red. He was part of that very special 1990 team. He was my favorite! I am happy, though, that New York embraced him as one of their own. That's awfully tough to accomplish when you're an outsider.
The Reds played the Braves that day, the first place Braves, the Ron Gant/David Justice Braves. The Reds lost. Mike Stinkton was the winning pitcher for the Braves and Mark Wohlers got the save. Scott Ruskin blew it for Greg Swindell, my favorite non-Jose pitcher, by serving up two runs in the eighth, giving the Chopheads a 3-2 lead. The Reds fell the furthest behind the eventual division winning Padres that night - 10.5 games back - than they were all season. They'd been in first place until the end of July but started to lose more games than they were winning and ended the season in second place, 8 games back of the Fathers.
On that night, though, September 16, 1992, the standings did not matter to me.