Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, who's squarely in the discussion for greatest catcher in baseball history, spent his entire 17-year career with the Reds. Opening Day in Cincinnati is, suffice it to say, a special thing, even by the lofty standards of Opening Day, which is itself a special thing.
For a long time, Cincinnati was privileged to host the first pitch of every season. That tradition eventually faded, but the Reds have played their first game of the season at home every year since 1876, save for one lonesome season. As well, for almost the last 100 years the Reds and much of the rest of Cincy have been marking Opening Day with the Findlay Market Parade, which yields winning scenes such as this one ...
(Image via Flickr user 5chw4r7z)
People, there may well be wholesome, nutritious alcohol in that thing.
Oh, and speaking of the first game of every season, this exercise of boundless power happened in 1987 in an effort to preserve that tradition. Via the Orlando Sentinel ...
For the third time since '71, the first pitch of the season will not be hurled by a Cincinnati pitcher. That bothers the Reds and their fans, who believe it is their inalienable right to play the first game of the season, at least in the National League.
The city is so stirred by what it feels is infringement by teams such as Toronto and Detroit that the Cincinnati city council recently passed a resolution calling for ''the city of Toronto, the National League president and Secretary of State George Schultz, if necessary, to intervene on behalf of the Reds and the city of Cincinnati.''
So, as you might imagine, Opening Day is pretty special to Bench, the Reds lifer. The thing is, though, Opening Day is more of a "plural" affair now. Sometimes you get a lonely tilt the night before what otherwise looks and acts like Opening Day, but isn't really opening the season, since the season started the night before. Sometimes they do this in Australia or Japan. Sometimes -- i.e., this year -- they play three games before what passes for Opening Day comes around. Opening Night and Day is what we have now, or Opening Days. What we don't have is Opening Day as Mr. Bench conceives of it.
In fact, it's even worse than it sounds. We haven't had the majority of teams playing on the first day of the regular season since 1998, when 11 games started us off. We haven't had every team playing on Opening Day since way back yonder in 1968, which, coincidentally and not ironically, was Mr. Bench's rookie season.
All of that bring us to this, which is Bench's tandem effort with Kingsford to -- hashtag forthcoming -- #TakeBackOpeningDay. You see, Opening Day is not what it used to be, not what it should be, some would attest. Here's part of the list of demands ...
We are asking the powers that be to let TV rule every other night of the season, but let Opening Day remain Opening DAY. 30 Teams. 15 Stadiums. One Glorious Afternoon.
About that -- or, rather, the absence of all of that, Mr. Bench is angry ...
Not every team plays on what passes for Opening Day anymore. This elicits in Mr. Bench, in addition to feelings of anger, almost palpable levels of disgust ...
Sometimes a regular season night game happens before Opening Day does. Johnny Bench is already angry and disgusted at what he surveys. Now? Now he is reduced to sadness ...
Johnny Bench is all of those things, but he is also motivated to return Opening Day to what it ought to be, as laid out by the founding documents of Western democracies. To this noble end, Mr. Bench took a few questions via business telephone from this very CBSSports scribe ...
On how he got involved with this most righteous cause:
"Kingsford came to me because of Cincinnati and the fact that we'd lost Opening Day tradition. We were always the first game of the year, and then all of a sudden the Dodgers are playing in Australia or wherever, and the tradition was lost. It was very disappointing to Cincinnati and to all of us because we were known for that. So let's do this, I said, this is fun!"
On his preferred remedy:
"Let's have a National Baseball Day. We'll have 15 cities hosting games. We'll have a barbecue -- Kingsford said they'd do that -- and we'll have the biggest barbecue anywhere. We'll have hot dogs and hamburgers, and we'll have a tradition once again. People can take part and look forward to the season all at once."
On this scribe's idea to make the first Sunday in April -- which won't conflict with the NCAA Tournment and is of course on a weekend when most people aren't at work -- Opening Day each year, with all 30 teams in action:
"I like the way you think, Dayn. Now we've got a day. We're setting this up as we go, and that would be a great idea. Sunday would be great, so we can set that aside. Good man! Let's go, I'm going to make you my campaign manager."
[At this point, the writer informally accepted Mr. Bench's offer.]
On where he thinks he'd be so devoted to the cause if he hadn't played in Cincinnati, where Opening Day was so celebrated:
"Nah, I don't think so. I mean, there was a lot of pride in that, that we opened the baseball season each year. It brought us together, and everybody accepted that Cincinnati was the oldest team and will open the each season. I think that's why they chose -- that I'd be able to speak on it and that I'd be more involved in it."
On his obvious and undeniable ability to carry a tune:
"Well, I've always been a little bit of a ham. Bobby Goldsboro bought me a gold record for my retirement -- not for having sold a million records but for having sung 'Leroy Brown' a million times."
Urgent aside: Here's the splash page from Bobby Goldsboro's web site:
Oh, yes, at this point in our talk, Mr. Bench regaled us with a few bars ...
Excelsior! Note that his musical enthusiasms were such that he inadvertently hit a button on his landline. Avocational hazard, that, and preserved here for purposes of gritty realism.
On what he thinks are the realistic chances of having this nobel cause realized:
"Why are you asking me? You're the campaign manager."
On whether this at the conclusion of the top-most promotional video above ...
was indeed a kinda-sorta bat-flip, a gesture toward which Mr. Bench has previously expressed some professional distaste:
"I may have done that, yes. Right now, they can't knock me down anymore, so I'm safe. It's kind of a little spoof, so I'm glad you caught that. Not many people have said that yet."
On whether he would publicly endorse bat-flips in exchange for MLB's promise to implement that #TakeBackOpeningDay list of demands:
"I don't think that might happen. I'm not sure in my lifetime they're going to come to me and ask me that."
On being reminded that the previous question was purely hypothetical:
"Well, hypothetically I'll be the next commissioner, and hypothetically I'll get a $20 million contract just to do it."
On whether he, as an Oklahoma City native (2nd round; 1965; Binger HS; Binger, OK), will be pulling for the Sooners in the Final Four:
"Oh yeah, oh yeah! That would be great. It's fun to watch that team. Those guys have been together so long, I hope they can do it."
And that brings us to this, which is the Kingsford petition that the right-wise among us are asked to sign. The purpose? To take back Opening Day, of course.
As for our own temperature-reading on the matter at hand, please feel free to participate in the following deeply rigorous and scientific Internet poll ...
Take back Opening Day? Yea and also verily: #TakeBackOpeningDay, people of baseball.
(Wink of CBS Eye: Kingsford)