Ex-Cincinnati Reds give back

MARIETTA – The sun was shining, baseballs were jumping off bats and former Cincinnati Reds stars Bret Boone, Don Gullett and Leo Cardenas were in attendance; all in all, day one of the 20th annual Reds Legends Youth Baseball Clinic at VFW Field Wednesday was a success.

“God is smiling on us today,” said camp director Mike Wagner.

Behind home plate, a pair of banners read “20th Anniversary” and “Cincinnati Reds Legends: Never Give Up On A Dream.” Among a table covered in Reds memorabilia was a yearbook and others items that reflected on the camp’s previous 19 years.

“Twenty, that’s a special number. That’s a lot of years,” Wagner said. “A lot of people, regardless of what it is, they get discouraged if they don’t hit a 20-year anniversary. When you hit 20 years, that’s special. We wanted to celebrate it up. I would like to do another 20 more.

“I’m close to 50 now, so I don’t know what my health is going to be like, but if my health stays there I’d like to be out here another 20.”

To kick off the camp, Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews presented Wagner and his staff with a proclamation recognizing 20 years of service in the community.

“Mayor Matthews was very gracious,” Wagner said.

“It’s nice when you get recognized, especially by the city, for what you’ve done in the community. I think that was special and I really appreciate him doing that.”

Following the opening ceremony, the area’s youth got the dream-come-true opportunity to learn from three of the top players to ever compete for the Reds organization.

Camp regulars Cardenas and Gullett offered instruction in hitting and pitching, respectively, while Boone focused on coaching up the middle infield positions.

Boone, a gold glove second baseman in the major leagues, enjoyed the chance to be around the game again.

“It brings you back,” Boone said. “This is the game I’ve played my whole life until recently.

“I miss playing. I wish I could still play, you know, but there’s a reason players retire.”

Boone, a resident of San Diego, Calif., said flying across the country to participate in Wagner’s camp was definitely a good decision.

“I live in San Diego and, believe me, yesterday I wasn’t excited about getting on a plane and coming to Marietta, Ohio. But once you get here and you start to talk to these kids…I like giving back. This game’s been really good to me and I’ve got a lot to give to the game. If I can come out here and help one kid today, then it was worth my trip here.”

Boone is a third-generation baseball player, his grandfather Ray and his father Bob both spending time in the big leagues. His younger brother Aaron is also a former Red and current ESPN baseball analyst, while Bob managed Cincinnati from 2001 to 2003. Needless to say, Bret Boone knows plenty about America’s pastime.

“I’ve been talking to five-year-olds and I’ve been talking to freshmen in college,” Boone said, “so you’re gonna have a range of people’s attention. But you know, I’m just here to give them what I was given and pass a little knowledge along. Like I said, if one kid can take something out of this and be better for it, then my job is done.”

Camp resumes today when former Cincinnati outfielder Eric Davis, a 1990 World Series champion with the Reds, comes to town.