Browning honored to toss first pitch in Cincinnati
Great American Ball Park full of famous Cincinnatians as the series comes to Ohio
CINCINNATI -- Bringing former players back into the fold was a priority for Bob Castellini when he bought the Reds in 2006, so it was only fitting that one of the most significant contributors to the club's history was asked to throw out the first ceremonial pitch of the home portion of the Division Series.
Sure, Tom Browning doesn't carry the same prestige as Hall of Famers such as Johnny Bench or Joe Morgan or Tony Perez. But his place in Reds history is undisputed and unforgettable, thanks to an historic night at Riverfront Stadium on Sept. 16, 1988, when he threw the 12th perfect game in history. It stands as the only perfect game in Reds history. Homer Bailey tossed a no-hitter nearly two weeks ago for the most recent Reds no-no.
Browning, who was inducted to the Reds Hall of Fame in 2006, laughed off the suggestion before Game 3 of the Division Series between the Reds and Giants that there was something other-worldly about him being there to throw out a ceremonial first pitch on the day Bailey could pitch the Reds to the National League Championship Series. But Browning did acknowledge, repeatedly, that he was thrilled to be there to enjoy postseason festivities with his former team.
"It really is an honor," Browning said. "The great thing is when the Castellinis took over, they really brought a lot of the tradition back. They made us feel like we're part of the family again."
That's putting it mildly. A slew of extremely recognizable names are peppered throughout the organization, either as Minor League managers and coaches, special assistants or Spring Training guest instructors. Browning was the Class A Dayton Dragons pitching coach in 2012. The list of others who are still around in some capacity includes (but is not limited to) Eric Davis, Ken Griffey Sr., Sean Casey, Barry Larkin, Morgan, Jack Billingham and Jim Maloney.
It's likely that as the postseason continues, the Reds, assuming they also continue, will keep bringing a lot of these fan favorites back. Tradition is a huge part of Cincinnati baseball, which could partly explain why this 2012 Reds team is drawing a lot of comparisons to the 1990 World champion team. Browning, a part of the '90 rotation, didn't want to take it that far. Yet.
"I want to refrain from making judgment until they get to where we got to," he said. "I can promise you, if they get to that point. ... Well, this is just a really good team. This is a team that has no holes, really. It's a good offense, and good pitching and defense. It's kind of fun to watch."
Sitting behind the netting near the seats by the Reds dugout was another Reds supporter, Kirk Herbstreit. A native of nearby Centerville, Ohio, the ESPN College Gameday analyst and former Ohio State quarterback calls himself a "baseball junkie" who grew up listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call Reds games on the radio.
Herbstreit isn't just a fan when his schedule allows. He starts following the teams when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training and he doesn't avert his attention until the season is over. His schedule obviously gets a little more hectic during the weeks when college football starts and the Major League regular seasons are winding down, but regardless of where he is, he'll always check in on the Reds.
"Even when they're not good, I still listen and I still follow," he said. "So for them to get to this, is like, ridiculous. "
Herbstreit vowed to be there in person as much as possible should the Reds advance.
"If it's Sunday through Wednesday," he said. "I'll be here as often as I can."
Singer Nick Lachey's schedule is a little less rigid, and he's hoping the Reds will ask him back in a similar capacity as he served on Tuesday. Lachey, a Cincinnati native and vocal supporter of all teams in this area, performed the national anthem before Game 3 and semi-jokingly mentioned he hopes there isn't a limit on how many times you can sing in one postseason.
"I said, 'If I say yes to the first game, do I take myself out of singing [before] the World Series?" Lachey laughed. "Hopefully if they keep going I'll get another run at it. It was fun to be a part of this."
Lachey, formerly a member of the boy band 98 Degrees, attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati and Miami University in Oxford. He's performed at key sporting events in the past, including one World Series, but singing in front of his hometown fans is always his preferred assignment.
"It comes with a lot of pressure, too," he said. "You want to do a good job. Heck, they won two on the road. I don't want to be the bad luck guy and they'll never ask me again."