09/11/2002 2:38 pm ET
Pregame ceremony full of emotion
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Joe Nuxhall, the broadcaster, former pitcher and living icon of Cincinnati baseball, bustled into the Reds' clubhouse Wednesday morning and began pressing "Let's Roll" stickers, decorated with the American flag, on the chests of anybody who strayed near him.
"It's just a remembrance of the tragedy of a year ago," said Nuxhall, who received the stickers at a convenience store in Fairfield on his way to the ballpark.
That set the tone for an afternoon at Cinergy Field in which patriotism and baseball merged seamlessly, as those elements often do. But on a day when millions observed the year that has passed since the terrorist attacks upon America, the ceremonies before and during the Pittsburgh Pirates' 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds acquired added significance.
"It was special," Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. "I was kind of disappointed that we had a 12:35 (p.m.) game so we couldn't feel the full magnitude of a sold-out house and really pay tribute as a city as a whole. I think it would have been a little more emotional ... But the people in the stands were really into it."
Players, who endured the shock of last Sept. 11 just as much as anybody, knew emotion would grip them even before a single note was played or a flag was unfurled.
"I'm glad I pitched yesterday instead of today," Reds right-hander Danny Graves said. "I don't think I could go through with it. It hits you again ... It's going to take a lot of strength for everybody to play today."
The need to exude such strength was precisely why Reds manager Bob Boone took pride in leading his team against the Pirates.
"A big part of our healing process was getting back to normal, which was baseball -- not caving in to terrorism," Boone said. "I think playing on this day is an honor. Baseball's part of the fabric of our country. It's always been mixed with patriotism."
Said Graves, "People are relying on us to entertain for them."
Richard Beck was visiting from Jacksonville, Ark., but being in a baseball setting made him feel at home. "You can get into the mood of the country today," said Beck, who wore a American flag shirt as he roamed the grandstand with a camera.
The mood at Cinergy Field was thoughtful and poignant as the pregame ceremonies progressed.
Usually the duty of catching a ceremonial first pitch falls to a coach or a backup player. But this time, Larkin, the Reds' captain, did the honors as 14-year-old Andy Moskal went to the mound.
Moskal's father, William, perished at the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks. The elder Moskal was vice president of Marsh USA, the loss control consultant to Great American Ball Park, which the Reds will occupy next season. Hundreds of construction workers watched from the new stadium, which looms over left field at Cinergy. Before delivering his pitch from a full windup, Andy Moskal turned to the workers -- whose safe working environment was Marsh USA's responsibility -- and saluted them with a wave. He then brandished a triumphant fist as he strode off the field.
Both the Pirates and Reds stood at attention in front of their respective dugouts, caps removed, as the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Bagpipes and Drums Corps marched in from center field, playing "As the Caissons Come Rolling Along." Said Boone later, "The bagpipes are tear-jerkers."
Fans and players joined in applause as the band was followed by groups of officers from each of the Armed Forces, who lined the outfield warning track. Applause grew as members of the Cincinnati Fire Department and Cincinnati Police Department emerged from the gate behind the backstop.
After the musical corps delivered a rendition of "Amazing Grace," both teams' starting lineups were introduced individually, Opening Day-style, with Pirates players lining up between each fireman on the third-base line and each Red alternating with the policemen on the first-base line. Following the cue of Boone, the first Red introduced, every Red shook the hands of the policemen flanking him.
As the Color Guard from Dayton's Wright Patterson Air Force Base marched toward home plate, the silence was so complete that the commands barked by the unit's leader echoed throughout the ballpark. The park remained still as Jennifer Metzig of the Cincinnati Conversatory of Music sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Then, as the pipe and drum corps played "God Bless America" and the soldiers, officers and ballplayers left the field, fans spontaneously launched into sustained applause.
As the ceremony's participants dispersed, Larkin staged a personal, unrehearsed tribute as he shook hands with every policeman who had lined up with the Reds.
"Somebody had asked me what came out of Sept. 11, and one of the things I said was an appreciation for our forefathers who fought for our freedom and the people who are fighting for our freedom now and protecting and serving our community," Larkin said. "That was kind of a small token of appreciation."
The game began, but it didn't obscure the day's meaning. Metzig returned to sing "God Bless America" after a moment of silence and a video tribute during the seventh-inning stretch. Anybody watching a hitter couldn't miss the Reds' wishbone "C" logo etched in the grass behind home plate. It was redecorated for this occasion in red, white and blue.
"Without the games," Boone said, "you don't have the forum for honoring a lot of the people who are going to be honored today throughout the country."
Chris Haft covers the Reds for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.